Although Jean-Franois Lemieux got off to a young and difficult start in life and the dairy farming business, with the support of his siblings and in more recent years his wife, they have gone on to build a successful dairy farm in eastern Quebec.
After losing both of his parents before the age of 18, Lemieux was forced to make some tough decisions at an early age about his future in farming. But his unwavering drive along with important early support from brother and sister Jean-René and Kathleen, helped him realize his dream.
Earlier this year, Lemieux and his wife Mylne Gagnon were chosen as 2010 Outstanding Young Farmers for the Quebec region. They farm at Saint-Vallier, on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River just east of Quebec City. They consider being selected Quebec regional OYF nominees an honour.
“I was quite surprised,” he says. “The other two candidates were extremely strong and it was already quite an honour for us to have been considered for this award. Being chosen as the Quebec representative really went beyond our expectations.”
A TOUGH, EARLY START
Lemieux’s father died when he was 12 requiring him to step up his involvement in the family dairy operation. And when his mother passed away four years later, he had to choose between continuing his studies or working full time on the farm. With advice and support from his brother and sister, he chose farming, and Ferme Valmieux was founded by the three siblings in 1995. Ten years later in 2005, Jean- Franois realized full ownership of the farm.
Lemieux and Gagnon, now operate a milking herd of 46 classified, purebred Holstein cows, with a focus on increasing production. And the records clearly demonstrate their success — each cow now produces on average 48.1 kg per day, compared to 18.2 kg per day when they began, with average production now at 9,800 kg per cow per year. Their farm includes about 200 cultivated acres and they rent 45 more acres.
A NEW BUILD ADDS TO SUCCESS
One of the major steps contributing to the success of their operation today, was construction of a new dairy facility.
“We completed a major reconstruction of our facilities about 11 years ago,” says Lemieux. “It involved moving our farm across the road and building new facilities from scratch. We made these changes for a couple of reasons. First, our existing facilities at the time were old and outmoded. They were also too small for our herd. Secondly, there were environmental reasons for not simply expanding our old barn: we needed to build a manure storage facility and we just couldn’t fit it in at our former site because of a creek that runs through our land.
“The new facilities have been a major improvement for us. They have allowed us to become more efficient from the point of view of our labour requirements. They have also enabled us to provide a better environment for our herd. We have seen a major difference in our operation because of these changes.”
While Lemieux and Gagnon will continue to make improvements in production efficiency, he says expansion of the dairy is limited by location.
“Looking ahead we have no immediate plans for major change,” says Lemieux. “I would say that things will probably remain pretty stable on our operation in the foreseeable future. I am open to expansion but the truth is, we are not in an area where there is a lot of readily available land. But who knows?
“By 2012, all dairy producers are supposed to be implementing the Canadian Quality Milk program. Maybe some will decide to exit the industry rather than register with the program. If they do, then some land may become available. In that case, we might try to increase our land base somewhat. We’ll see, it’s not that we don’t want to expand, it’s that we can’t at the present time.”
CompiledwiththehelpoftheOutstanding YoungFarmersorganizationandRhéal Cenerini,writer/translatorinManitoba