It was Justin Rogers’ great-grandmother who named Picturesque Farms over 100 years ago when she turned into the drive for the first time and exclaimed, “My, this is a picturesque farm!”
More than seven generations after their ancestors purchased the land in 1843, the Rogers’ 300-acre grain farm in Brae, P.E.I. is still going, thanks to the business acumen and determination of Justin and Laura Rogers, this year’s Atlantic Canada winners of Canada’s Outstanding Young Farmers award.
It’s been a long road that’s taken some unexpected twists and turns, says Justin. When he was a child, he began to build his beef herd from an orphaned calf given to him by his grandfather and uncle, which gradually grew to 75 head of cows, calves and feeders. At the age of 21, Justin bought his first block of land, and over the last 20 years he’s leased and purchased other parcels of the family land in stages.
Back then, he already understood the beef operation was too small to stay viable long-term, but it was taking all his energy just keeping the business afloat. “We had very little to start with,” says Justin. “I purchased the land and equipment and built my own infrastructure. A lot of it wasn’t too fancy for sure. It was a startup operation even though we were the seventh generation.”
Because his land base was small, Justin opted to grow high-value pedigreed seed potatoes under contract for larger local potato farmers, but he and Laura had to work off the farm to supplement their income — Justin for the Soil and Crop Improvement Association and then as a schoolbus driver, and Laura as a teacher.
After eight years of growing potatoes, and facing major financial issues following the BSE crisis, depressed potato prices and potato virus issues, the family — which now includes Justin and Laura’s children Luke, eight, and Mary, five — decided to change directions. Over a six-year period Justin slowly completed training and put in plots to become a pedigreed seed grain grower.
“We tried to create a one-stop shop for pedigreed seed for rotational crops in our area — small grains, wheat, oats and barley, forages and corn. Our goal is that whatever leaves our operation is excellent. So far, so good,” says Justin. “It’s saved our farm. Had we not plotted that new path with seed production, we would not be still here. We’ve got a long road ahead, but I have a vision for how the farm can make it.”
Picturesque Farms is also in the final stages of converting to a dairy operation. This year, they sold off most of their beef cattle, and early in the new year they’ll complete the conversion.
The Rogers’ farm requires feasibility studies for their major projects, in keeping with their philosophy of environmental and financial sustainability.
“The dairy piece was the final piece of the pie that I wanted to try to get right for this farm,” explains Justin. “I like the supply management model. It’s probably the truest reflection of the actual cost of sustainable food production in our country, and I’ve been on both sides. I’ve been on the open market and when you put your heart and soul into growing an environmentally sustainable crop and you don’t get the cost of production, that puts pressure on everything else.”
Picturesque Farms has seen its share of hardships, but Justin says they’ve received blessings in equal measure. “When you stop and think about it, there’s uncertainty in everything, and there are long hours. But when you have your little ones beside you that’s quite the compensation. And Laura is the kingpin for everything. I feel like a pretty lucky guy,” he says.