Wanted: Energetic, inexperienced couple to work long days with few days off and no assurance of success.
Interested? If not, you’re not alone, and you’re definitely not Gary and Marie Baars. The 2017 Outstanding Young Farmer Award winners from Chilliwack, B.C. didn’t let long odds and a shortage of experience hold them back, and now with a successful dairy operation they’re reaping the awards.
“I didn’t grow up on a farm,” says Gary Baars. “Dad never touched a cow or tractor in his life.” But Baars didn’t let that deter him from following an ag career.
“I started working on farms when I was eight and got my first real job at 12 with a dairy operation,” he says. “Though I always loved agriculture, I was told that if my parents didn’t own a farm I could never start a dairy business of my own.”
Undeterred, Gary kept milking every night despite taking social work at university during the day. He also started contract unloading of hay and sold his first bale to a dairy farm in 2006. In 2008 he began TNT Agricultural Services in Chilliwack, hoping that he could cash in on hay and cattle sales in BC. Two years later he met his future wife Marie, and by 2011 they had rented their own farm, bought 13 cows and begun milking in earnest while still selling hay.
As their business grew, so did their confidence, prompting them to buy a farm from Marie’s grandmother and merge it with their own.
“We went from milking 40 cows to 200,” says Gary. “It was a big expansion for us as it provided a place to move more cows through and boost our cash flow on the milk side. We now sell about 5,000 cows a year and recently started an organic dairy where we milk another 100 cows.”
They were thrilled to win the regional Outstanding Young Farmer Award.
“We’ve worked so hard over the years and rarely stopped to think about how far we’ve come,” says Gary. “The award is a good chance to reflect on that and on all the people who have helped us along the way.”
After all that hard work, the next step is a natural one: work even harder.
“Our No. 1 goal is to buy a farm where we can milk our conventional quota,” he says. “I’d also like to see us diversify and farm other commodities so we don’t put all our eggs in one basket. I don’t think the latter is Marie’s goal though!”
Even if they don’t do everything on their list, they’re not about to complain.
“When I started in farming I didn’t have a family, but I dreamt about letting my kids grow up on a farm and seeing them work alongside me,” says Baar. “At age three, my son Noah is already helping to milk and haul cows, and while his sister Hannah is only one, we hope she will follow his lead.”
Their story could well serve as inspiration for those new to the business. If you have a vision of where you’d like to be in farming and how to get there, and are willing to work for it, you’ve got all you need to succeed.