Since taking over the fifth-generation New Brunswick family farm from his parents in 2000, Robert Anderson and his wife, Jill Ebbett, have focused on technological advancements to help them improve the quality of seed potatoes and other crops, increase productivity and improve soil health.
These investments have helped them gain recognition as innovators in their industry and earn them the title of 2018 Outstanding Young Farmers for the Atlantic region.
The farm, located near Glassville in west-central New Brunswick not far from the border with Maine, produces high quality seed potatoes along with soybeans and oats in rotation. They also under seed crops with rye grass and red clover as a plough down prior to the potato crop.
Anderson, 39, has continued the environmental stewardship work that his dad began on the farm, terracing a lot of the rolling fields, installing tile drainage and contour ploughing to help control erosion and build soil organic matter. They have also reforested 3,000 acres of woodland on the property.
Computers do the work
The biggest changes have come with the introduction of GPS systems to help track and manage just about everything going on in the field. And on the processing end, new Shaker Sizer sorting equipment can sort the seed potatoes into different sizes to meet the needs of different customers.
They have also invested in two new potato storage facilities supported by computerized storage management systems. Part of the system involves a new spin on old cooling technology — ice blocks. The modern version involves styrofoam blocks with a concrete core that help prevent temperature fluctuations in the potato pile.
It’s all paid off, says Anderson, saving him a lot of time and allowing him to provide a better quality product. “We let the computers do the work, they maintain temperature, which helps keep the physiological age of the potatoes very young so the grower next year has a strong, healthy seed tuber to start their crop,” he says. “One of the biggest things that’s changed my business in the last five years is being able to improve the quality product that I’m putting out the door.”
With regard to the OYF award Anderson appreciates people have noticed the work accomplished and being recognized by others in the industry that have similar outlooks. “It’s always nice to have forward thinkers in your network that you can call if you have a question or for ideas,” he says.
Not a lot of spare time
The days are sometimes longer than Anderson and Ebbett would like. Along with farm work, Robert is also involved with New Brunswick Potato Technology Initiative Board, Jill has a full-time job with McCain Foods as Customer Service Manager for Domestic and Export and they are also busy raising four children aged three to seven.
Anderson’s plan going forward is to keep expanding, but an ongoing challenge will be sourcing adequate labour. “When you get a great team and you have got good people with you, it’s no problem to grow and expand and look forward all the time,” he says. “But it can be difficult to find good people when you’re looking to fill vacancies or expand the work force. But my wife and I are building a legacy; we have worked hard and are respected in our industry, and we hope to keep growing.”