As with any family business today, a succession plan is so important – especially for a farm. For some, passing on the business to their children also creates the opportunity for new ideas and introducing innovation to continue growth and success. After Ron White retired in 2012, his son Brook and his wife Jen took over Borderland Agriculture, a 7500-acre farm located in the southwest corner of Saskatchewan along U.S. border. The young couple had moved back to the farm in 1999 after Brook graduated with an agriculture diploma. With the farm traditionally growing soybeans, winter wheat, corn, and fababeans amongst other crops, he introduced a non-traditional element to the farm – bison. The bison project used an innovative approach to regenerate the farm. “We are focusing on a system’s approach to get the biology of the soil to actually take over,” Brook explained. “In our approach, we are utilizing the bison to cycle nutrients back into the soil, reducing the need and use of synthetics such as pesticides and fertilizers.”
With the farm viewed as a whole, the initial challenge Brook added was to make it as self-sustaining as possible. “It’s all photosynthesis to start with, the more sunlight we can capture, the more diverse the cover of plant species. Then we can take that energy from the sun and convert it threw the soil into the plants and the bison graze and cycle the nutrients from the plants threw their manure.”
As a no till farm, Jen added, “And when they are grazing they trample the grass. It’s like a symbiotic relationship.” Today the farm is divided between 2500 acres for the bison and 5000 acres for crops. While the recent recognition for their work has been very rewarding, life on the farm was not what Jen had expected, and she credits all she’s learned from her husband. “He’s been a good teacher. Everything I know about agriculture is from him.” While she loves farm life, she is also happy to have the support system of the community and their parents who are close by.
“It’s been a pretty hectic lifestyle. We’ve learned there’s no such thing as work life balance in farming. We look at being effective with what we do at work and effective with what we do with our kids at home. Then we can be successful raising them here,” added Brook.
When the 2018 Manitoba Outstanding Young Farmer’s Award came along to the White family earlier this month, recognizing their visionary “Regenerate” approach to farming, it was rewarding “that somebody is recognizing that what we’re doing has value to it,” Brook said.
During the application process, they demonstrated three basics of their theory: (1) regenerate the soil and farmland using a system approach, (2) regenerate their business and increase value by learning new skills and gaining more education, and (3) regenerate the agricultural community where they live by being active members of groups such as peer groups with other members in the farming community. The competition also required that you were under 40 and operated a farm generating two-thirds of their gross income. Also while you needed to be nominated, they actually received two nominations.
While acknowledging it was an intense application process, Brook was happy to share the workings of his operation, “They want to know your community involvement on a local, provincial, and federal level. They also want to take a look at your financial records and the entire production process of the farm.” He added that a major factor in winning the award was environmental stewardship, “They want someone who protects the environment and we are definitely pro-environment.” Along with the provincial award, they are now able to enter the national competition planned for later in 2018.