Expert Advice Contributes To Successful Farm Business

Matt and Tara Sawyer have been introducing environmentally-sound production practices and drawing more on outside expertise on specific management issues for their south-central Alberta farm, as they build a well-run, profitable family farm.

The Sawyers, along with their three children, and Matt s parents Glenn and Joy Sawyer run a 4,500 acre mixed farming operation near Acme, about an hour northeast of Calgary, that includes 4,200 acres of annual cropping and a 50 head commercial Black Angus beef herd.

Their focus on improved management and sustainable production practices, was recognized earlier this year as they were named Alberta Outstanding Young Farmers (OYF) for 2011. They will represent the province as regional nominees at the national awards competition in Brandon, Manitoba in November.

Even as we go through a transition as my parents become less involved and we take on more of the farming operation, I think the strategy is to keep it simple, says Matt. As dad is less involved in the day-to-day operation, we ll need to look at hiring a good qualified fulltime person, and with that we will need to expand our farming operation, but keep it all manageable.

Matt, who is the third generation on the farm, began farming fulltime in 1993 after graduating from Olds College. In 2003 he and Tara bought his grandparent s 2,400 acre farm, which they farm in conjunction with his parent s land. At one time they ran a 150 head cow-calf operation, but downsized after the BSE crisis, and now have an established 50-head cow herd, which they hope to expand.

The Sawyers have been working to reduce the environmental impact of their farming operation. In recent years they have developed a no-till annual cropping system for grains and oilseeds, they use GPS and field guidance systems to improve seeding, fertilizer and chemical application efficiency, and working with the provincial delivery agency developed an environmental farm plan. Part of that planning process led to developing a recycling program for all unwanted materials including empty pesticide containers, and relocating fertilizer bins and fuel storage tanks to spill-containing concrete pads.

More recently through the Growing Forward program, the Sawyers have accessed funds to help with the cost of upgrading water pumping facilities so they are above the rising water table on the farm.

The beef operation works well with their land base, as cattle can graze marginal land not suited for crop production. And again, because of the rising water table following successive wet years, Sawyer has had to deal with increasing areas of salinity, which aren t suitable for annual crop production. So far about 60 acres has been seeded to salt-tolerant grass species, which not only help lower the water table, but also make excellent feed for cattle.

While Matt majored in agricultural production in college, he realizes he neither has the time nor expertise to focus on every aspect of the farm business.

One of the best decisions we ve made in recent years has been to hire the services of a crop advisor, says Matt. On some parts of the farm we were having a real problem with wild oats. Now in working with the crop advisor we know we are applying the right chemicals at the right time to control weeds.

I know some people may say, why hire someone when you can do it yourself, but I like having that professional advice in developing a weed control program and you also have that expert standing behind you if there are any doubts about product effectiveness. There is a lot to do on a mixed farming operation, so it provides peace of mind knowing you have that specialist providing advice.

On the other end of the production cycle, Sawyer also relies on crop marketing services to help with marketing decisions. We still have to make the decisions, but we ve been using ProFarmer Canada (Mike Jubinville) services to help in the process, says Sawyer. We get three market reports per day which keeps us current on what the markets are doing, and also helps explain why markets do what they do. We look at other free services as well, but it is the combination of information that hopefully helps us make the best decisions about when to market crops.

While Tara manages the household for the family, which also includes children Emmett, 11, Cassidy, 9, and Quinton, 8, along with school, sports, community and 4-H activities, she is also actively involved in many aspects of farm management. And if that wasn t enough to keep her busy, she has also developed a successful catering business, Eclectic Catering Inc. an incorporated company that specializes in business luncheons, open houses and private dinners. One of the features of this business has been to incorporate as many farm-grown products as possible, into a largely home-cooked menu.

Looking ahead, Matt sees continued growth of the farm business. I don t know if any of our children will be interested in farming, but that option will be there if they do, he says. We plan to increase the beef herd and will farm more acres as the timing is right. We re not planning to farm half the province, but just work on well-managed growth.

LeeHartisafieldeditorforGrainewsat Calgary.Contacthimat403-592-1964orby emailat [email protected]

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Field Editor

Lee Hart

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

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