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Running a small-plot crop research business

Stephanie Kernaleguen’s off-farm job is on the farm, running SM AG Research

SM AG Research operates small test plots, testing pre-commercialized products for agricultural clients.

Life is busy for Stephanie Kernaleguen and her husband Marc, who are raising a family, running a business and are fourth-generation farmers on the family farm near St. Brieux, Sask.

Kernaleguen graduated from the University of Saskatchewan with a degree in Ag Business. After working in ag research jobs, she says, “I saw an area where I could be profitable.”

Started in 2015, SM AG Research conducts small-plot crop research and testing before products are commercialized. The company operates from Marc’s family farm, a 2000-acre mixed cattle and grain farm in northeast Saskatchewan. They began with fungicide trials, and have handled more research projects every year since, specializing in pesticide experimental product research, seed treatments, fertility and variety trials.

“Everything a large farmer has we have on a really little scale,” says Kernaleguen. SM AG Research manages these plots with a line of specialized, small equipment, including a variety of small sprayers.

Kernaleguen’s first clients came to SM AG Research through mutual contacts. Since then she has focused on networking and ag events and offering the best quality research to attract new clients and gain repeat business. Building a strong network has been incredibly beneficial for Kernaleguen; she is always able to reach out to with questions about business or ag-related problems.

The Kernaleguens are looking at ways to expand their business by getting into new areas of experimental pesticides, looking deeper into fertility and variety development. They are currently working with seed companies to develop varieties for their region.

As a seasonal business, SM AG Research keeps Stephanie busy from April to November, along with two full-time and three part-time employees. This spring, they hope to hire another full- time employee. “There are lots of jobs that are very seasonal, so finding qualified employees for seasonal work is tricky,” says Kernaleguen.

Stephanie Kernaleguen balances family, farm work and SM AG Research. photo: Courtesy Stephanie Kernaleguen

When she has a spare minute from her young son and the business she is swathing, haying and vaccinating along with all the other daily farm responsibilities. Trying to find work and family time is always a struggle. “The crops don’t wait around for you, so if you want to take the weekend or week off the crops keep growing and so do the weeds! ”

Kernaleguen is aware of the challenges women face in the male-dominated ag industry, struggling to complete for wages and respect. Studies show, she says, that women have to work twice as hard and get paid 10 to 15 per cent less for doing the same job compared to males. However, Kernaleguen feels the industry is slowly starting to change as more women join the ranks.

Kernaleguen’s advice for other women? “Don’t give up, and family support is key,” She also recommends that you have a good accountant, and a financial institution that you trust. “Without that support it is pretty tough. And, develop a strong working network.”

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