Diversifying an Alberta farm

“If you’re not growing you’re falling behind,” is an appropriate motto for how Michael Kalisvaart has managed his Edmonton, Alta.-area farm over the past 20 years.

When it became clear the economics just weren’t behind the long-time, family-run farrow-to-finish hog operation, he launched out in the mid-1990s to build a straight grain and oilseed cropping operation.

Along with his wife, Karen Jansen, and the support of his parents and other family members, Kalisvaart has built a successful and diversified farm business, which this coming year is expanding to about 10,000 acres. They were named Alberta’s Outstanding Young Farmers earlier this year.

“In the past few years we have made growth an important pillar of our business plan,” says Kalisvaart who operates Kalco Farms at Gibbons, just northeast of Edmonton.

The farm, which is growing by about 2,000 acres next year, produces spring wheat, yellow peas, oats and canola. Along with Michael and his brother Dan, the farm has three fulltime employees. At peak periods such as harvest they’ll have as many as 12.

“Part of the growth is to build capacity and optimize the equipment and facilities we already have,” he says. “And we’re also looking for greater scale so we can keep two more people working year round.”

Kalisvaart has adopted a Lean Farming strategy and views the farming operation as a manufacturing system. Lean production is centered on creating more value with less work.

As a small example, Kalisvaart analyzed the time it took for normal field operations. By reducing travel time and changing practices he saved a few minutes each time they had to fill the air seeding equipment in the spring. Those few minutes each time added up to an hour per day, which over a 20-day seeding season means he can seed an extra 800 acres with one machine.

Along with expanding the land base, another focus is to improve farm infrastructure.

“The largest area of improvement in our operation would have to be the construction of our central grain storage loading and unloading facility,” he says. The farm was operating with 75 different grain bins, at six separate locations.

That has all been centralized to one grain storage facility with capacity for 9,000 tonnes of various crop commodities. “It is a quick loading and unloading system, and we have the ability to move grain around easily which then allows us to blend various qualities to improve value,” he says. All grain is stored in one yard, the cycle times of trucks at harvest have been reduced by 50 per cent and sampling for quality and moisture is immediate and organized.” He also a grain bagging system.

Building a farm shop with proper office facilities was another important efficiency move. “We have a central location to operate our business out of that allows for hiring of non-family employees and provides everyone with space to work through the winter,” says Kalisvaart. “By centralizing, we have cut down on driving time between homes for bathroom breaks and for retrieving office paperwork. We have reduced the confusion among our suppliers and sales people as to where to deliver and meet.”

The farm’s leased equipment lineup is traded and replaced every year, ensuring not only new and reliable machinery, but also the latest technology.

Along supervising farm operations, Kalisvaart looks after all marketing and crop budgeting plans. He has worked with “the best crop consultant in Western Canada,” Emile deMilliano, for a number of years on production practices and inputs.

The farm was also an early investor in Providence Grain, a producer-owned grain company with grain handling and retail outlets in Alberta and Saskatchewan. Kalisvaart, who is chairman of the board of directors, says his involvement with the company has given him greater insight into marketing and the whole agriculture industry.

While his wife Karen Jansen has an off-farm career, she and Kalisvaart are actively involved in community associations and projects, as well as raising their three children, Anna,17, Marijke, 14, and Tim, 11.

While the children are a bit young to be making definite career choices, they are very familiar with the agricultural industry. Their oldest daughter has summer jobs around the farm and all are involved in producing natural pasture-raised poultry as a business.

“It is an excellent way for them to make a few extra dollars, and it also gives them hands on experience of understanding what farming is all about,” says Kalisvaart. †

THE OTHER NOMINEES, 2013

British Columbia: Troy and Sara Harker
Saskatchewan: Chad and Darlene Krikau
Manitoba: Tyler and Dorelle Fulton
Ontario: Dana and Adam Thatcher
Quebec: Luc Gervais and Kim Brunelle
Atlantic Canada: James and Amanda Kinsman, Nova Scotia

 

About the author

Field Editor

Lee Hart

Lee Hart is editor of Cattleman’s Corner based in Calgary.

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