Turning challenges into opportunities is something Franck and Kari Groeneweg are very good at. It could be one of the reasons the couple from the Edgeley area of Saskatchewan (northeast of Regina) were named as the province s Outstanding Young Farmers (OYF) for 2011.
Our motto, in some ways, is to try and make lemonade out of lemons, says Franck, who grew up on a farm in France. It s not so much how you do in good years, it s how you manage the bad years.
Kari and Franck have had a few of those. The couple had long dreamt of owning their own farm and moved to Saskatchewan in 2003, from Iowa, to make that dream a reality. In 2004, an early frost in late August significantly reduced the quality of their grain crop, seriously affecting their cash flow into 2005 and 2006.
In 2005 they bought a grain-burning stove so they could use their low quality grain to heat their home. Realizing there were plenty of other people in the same situation, the Groenewegs decided to start a business selling the stoves, which, as it turned out was a good decision.
We went to the (Western Canada) Farm Progress Show in 2005 and a lot of people were interested in it, says Franck. Then hurricane Katrina hit in the fall and the price of natural gas went up 40 per cent. So it was the perfect time to start that particular business and it provided cash flow and optimism and helped keep us afloat.
It s that perseverance, along with their obvious passion for farming that drives the Groenewegs and has helped them expand from their original 1,880 acres to 9,000 acres in just eight years. Green Atlantic Farms currently consists of owned, rented and custom managed land in about equal thirds, on which they produce spring wheat, canary seed, canola and peas.
They have embraced innovation by custom designing a seeder, which matches the width of the field sprayer and reduces fertilizer and chemical overlap. They have also invested in a rubber track tractor to reduce compaction on their sensitive clay soils. A lack of permanent grain storage at the farm has been alleviated by use of a grain bagging system, which Franck says also lowers fuel consumption costs during harvest and increases efficiency. They use social media tools to stay in touch with trends and promote the farm.
Along with the equipment and technology they have never lost sight of the importance of building relationships with people. A great part of our success has been the people who have come alongside of us, says Kari. We have surrounded ourselves with people who have worked closely with us, given us ideas and strengthened our courage.
Kari is a big part of the team and balances the farm bookkeeping duties with being a mom and home educator to the couple s four children Luke, 7, Julia, 5, Emma, 3 and Solange, 1. The Groenewegs are both active in their local church, and Franck is president of the Indian Head Agricultural Research Foundation and a director of the Saskatchewan Canola Development Commission.
The farm has one full-time employee and various casual helpers and usually hosts a few farm trainees each year from Holland, France or Germany. Motivating workers to feel a part of the farm is also a big part of the Groenewegs philosophy. They are taking it one step further by experimenting with a mentorship program, which involves renting a quarter section of land to an employee.
We want to help young farmers who want to get started in agriculture, says Franck. And it s a mutual benefit. We can work together and benefit from some economy of scale, make better use of equipment and good farming practices. Young people, who are looking at getting into the industry, see the limitations of so many things, so we are thinking about how we can bring them into our operations and make them feel like they are accomplishing something for us and for themselves.
The Groenewegs are very proud of their OYF award and give huge credit to the many people who helped them along the way, and has motivated them to help establish tomorrow s Outstanding Young Farmers. The title is a great thank you to all those people who have stood behind us through thick and thin and all the rough times and hard years at the beginning, says Kari. It s very fulfilling for us and gives us lots of encouragement for the future.