Jason and Laura Kehler aren’t afraid to face new challenges and adopt innovative ideas, and that’s helped them earn the title of Manitoba’s 2016 Outstanding Young Farmers (OYF).
They grow four varieties of processing potatoes, seed soybeans, corn, canola, wheat, oats, soybeans and edible beans on the 5,600 acres near Carman that makes up Kehler Farms Ltd. Jason never wanted to be anything but a farmer, and after farming alongside his dad in his 20s, his dad made him a partner in the farm.
Laura grew up on a mixed livestock and grain farm in north east Ohio, and after earning her Bachelor’s of Science degree in Animal Science and her Master of Science degree in Meat Science from Oklahoma State University she worked in the Agri-Food industry for 12 years. She met Jason and moved to Manitoba in 2008, and has been full-time on the farm since 2011.
The Kehlers have always had an open mind to new ideas and technology. They were the first in their area to adopt variable rate fertilizer, which has made a huge difference to their production. “We have a lot of topography and different soil types in our fields from light to moderately heavy, and could not get consistent quality in our potatoes,” says Jason. “The variable rate fertilizer means we can apply the right rate of fertilizer to match the soil conditions. It has greatly improved the quality and consistency of all our crops.”
They hope to experiment with variable rate irrigation in the future to make more efficient use of water as they continue to add more potato acres.
The Kehlers have expanded their total crop production by 48 per cent since 2013, including a 103 per cent growth in processing potato acres. It’s the expansion of their potato business which they feel has had the biggest impact on the profitability of the farm.”It has made us more efficient and given us the revenue to do different things,” says Jason. “Our combine costs are significantly down because they are doing more work over more acres. We have a full-time mechanic on staff now who keeps everything rolling, and make harvest so much better.”
Jason and Laura have two young children — Paisley, five and Wyatt, two. Although it’s too early to say for sure whether they’ll want to farm some day, their parents are already thinking about how they can provide the best opportunity if they do. “We’re young enough that we still want to take on exciting opportunities, whether it’s new crops, or more potatoes or more land, but 10 years from now we want the farm to be in the position that if and when the kids are ready they can take over and have some financial stability,” says Jason.
Nomination was an honour
The fact that their accountant nominated them for OYF is as much of an honour as winning the regional title. “He works with such top notch, progressive farmers every day that it really said a lot to us that our accountant had that kind of confidence in us and that he thought of us in that regard,” says Laura, who adds the experience has been like adding a whole bunch of new family members.
“The highlight for me has been meeting all the awesome producers, and having the opportunity to represent agriculture in a positive light, which is something near and dear to my heart,” says Jason. “There is such a small percentage of people in agriculture versus the urban population, and anytime we can help them better understand what we do that is a good thing and OYF certainly showcases the best, most progressive farmers.”