The Power of an Agri-Networker
Ardina Jackson, 2018 Agriculture Scholar
This is a summary of Ardina’s scholarship journey. If you would like to read her full report you can do so here.
On the 25th of May, a Friday in 2019, I travelled alone from Brisbane to Vancouver. All the planning had finally come to reality, and I was setting foot on my very first international trip. I was certainly nervous.
The biggest hurdle with creating your own trip and heading overseas alone is that you are never really sure where you stand prior to actually meeting someone. So, the first person you meet will likely have a lasting impact on the trip.
To be honest, I was and did remain very nervous throughout my trip. I put this down to being a solo female traveler. Nevertheless, I was embraced by kindness and felt stronger each day, ensuring this fear didn’t diminish my ability to communicate with others. The consistent building of independence is something that you appreciate greatly once returning to Australia.
BASF is a company that creates chemistry for agriculture and pharmaceuticals. Their Agriculture portfolio covers herbicides, insecticides and fungicides and they assist farmers to sustainably increase yield and quality of crop. The company has many district representatives that assist re-sellers and farmers at face value.
On the first Sunday, I met with Ed Jones. Ed was a representative from the chemical company BASF in Calgary. The introduction to Ed was via a reference from another BASF Representative in NSW whom had known him from Australia. Ed was now more an ex-Aussie.
So, upon meeting Ed I felt a lot more comfortable in Calgary. I went for my preferred businesslike handshake introduction on meeting, and he went for a big hug. It did catch me off guard, but that kind of meeting was probably the best way to describe Agriculture and Canadians in general. Friendly, Genuine and Kind.
I rather enjoyed hearing Ed’s back story, and how it linked to the BBM award in a similar way of knowledge gathering. So, after our meet and greet, and general overview of his district of sales in the Calgary region, job role in which he spoke to customers and managed trial sites, as well as the general chemical portfolio for canola and cereal crops, we said our goodbyes. I would catch up Ed once again in July before I left to actually get an in depth look at what he did.
Farmer’s Edge, South Alberta
I made a call to Kelsey Neilson whom was the Customer Relations and Business manager for FarmersEdge here in Lethbridge. While prepping for my tour I was lucky enough to have the assistance of Kyle Hoyda. Kyle was based in Moree NSW, however had come from Lethbridge here in Alberta to set up the Precision Ag company further down under. With his attentive guidance and continuous advice, I was able to make connections with the FarmersEdge crew here. Particularly Ms. Neilson.
On calling Kelsey, she was more than happy to let me jump in the truck with them and head out into the paddocks. By next morning I was heading to the Canadian/USA Border near Milk Creek in the company of Evan Deit. Evan is another technical Customer Relations manager, and was a wealth of knowledge in relation to FarmersEdge as a business.
We met up with Kelsey at a service station on the border, and she jumped in with us for a scenic tour to all the clients. We came across the beautiful sweetgrass prairie hills. They jumped up out of the flat landscape like giant guardians of the border. Jagged in form, they captured and held the last of the snow on their very peaks. It was one way to be reminded that I was very far from home.
It wasn’t long before Evan and Kelsey were meeting with several customers and removing data off machinery while I was taking in the day. To gain true data for accurate farm decision making, some of the information in the tractor cab had to be downloaded. This could consist of fuel usage, planting rates, hours that tractor was planting or comparable spraying data.
I quickly noted that there were next to no trees in the area. Only around the houses did trees grow. The paddocks themselves were bare, and there was not a single standing tree anywhere across the landscape bar human intervention. Extreme wind prevented the tree growth along with fires in the past.
Majority of the customers were finishing the last of their seeding. The machines they were using were enormous in size. Not only were they large, but duplicated. Each farm had several of the same seeders and combine harvesters. Most of these were easy to see as they didn’t shed their equipment like we did at home. They left it out in the weather. It wasn’t the easiest thing to comprehend. We take our equipment and its longevity much seriously due to needing it twice in one year. Canadians however, only needed their equipment once and in a huge rush. The Snow would melt and everything had to be seeded on time, in order to be harvested before the snow was to fall at the bottom end of the season. If you were out by a week, you could lose your entire crop to the snow or hail.
On the second day I was collected at 7:30 by Jennifer Rasmussen. Or Jen for short. She was a female young agronomist with Farmers Edge and had been with the company for three months. I was excited to be finally able to jump into a truck with someone whom has a similar job to myself. We were headed out to Vulcan/Bo River area to see a Huttarite farm and colony. This was a Crop Staging mission, and as the name implies, we were there to stage the crop and to investigate what weeds had germinated.
Jen was kind enough to fill in all my ignorance around Canadian cropping. She informed me on what Koshia weed was and how resistant this plant was to Glyphosate. She also pointed out common weeds such as Lambs quarters, Canadian Thistle and Flick’s weed. That was fabulous, and it was also different to walk into a field and find moisture. My boots were soaked through to the socks. After being in a two-year drought back home in North NSW it was such a relief to see moisture and healthy green crops.
The Huttarite colonies consists of entire family groups on one farm. They can house up to 150 people. They live, eat and work together in a massive group. It is a German religious group. As individuals they do not earn or have money to spend, but they all work hard at their tasks for the collective farm. They money is made and spent by the group with approval of their head minister. They buy the most modern sprayers, headers and seeding equipment on the market. They’ve also got a reputation of being ruthless in the purchase of land, buying up anything available at impossible prices.
It was a very conservative cultured group. The ladies styled their hair in two peculiar braids with a bandanna over their head, while wearing long dresses. The men dressed in overalls of black with matching black hats while sporting colorful flannelette patterned shirts. They seemed like a more vibrant and modern version of the Amish on first inspection.
On Friday, Denver was hosting for the day on a scouting mission the same as Jen had been previously. One of the strangest things about scouting is that we were going from two leaf canola, to early tillering wheat and barley, through to node and flag emergent crops within a day in the same location. That was horrifying! It was like a whole season within a few kilometers. You had almost every crop stage possible. I’ve never witnessed that. It was insane.
Weekend Farm Tour, Claresholm
On Friday evening, Denver dropped me off and a fellow Aussie by the name of Kevin collected me for a trip out to Claresholm over the Weekend. This town was located about half an hour from Lethbridge toward the north east. It was, in Canadian opinion, a small town in the middle of nowhere but this town turned into a goldmine for my studies.
Kevin was a well-travelled and well-educated young man. His time in both rural and city areas, as well as working and living in Canada made him an incredible textbook of translated knowledge. He took every opportunity to explain differences, elaborate and discuss various difference between Canadian and Australian farming. He loved to teach, and was an excellent teacher to his credit. His choice to go overseas was solely his own. Kevin was younger than myself and had travelled prior to commencing any studies, simply for true experience. He saw it as a working study tour and had also learned so much and planned to apply this to his future goals in Agriculture. He could only be described as an open minded, but practical young explorer.
As soon as we arrived on the farm, Kevin provided the grand tour. Pivots were the main features. Unlike Australia, the climate and water availability cater for mass irrigation in Canada. They have access to snowfall which provides the ability to irrigate often and over a large district. Majority of the crops can be irrigated, as well as pastures for hay production. The particular farm that Kevin worked for was a mixed cropping and livestock Enterprise. It held a 200 head cow breeding operation. They generally used heifer bulls as preference. A heifer bull is a bull that will produce smaller sized calf for young heifers to make calving easier and less hazardous. Kevin noted that using the heifer bulls in the current year saved them having to assist in the birth, or pull calves, by at least 15% or more.
The farm also had a 2000 head Beef feedlot in which they grew out steers and heifers for 10 months on grain. A lot of Alberta beef is raised on Grain. The particular region of south Alberta was commonly called Feedlot Alley. Other than the livestock, the farm utilized pastures, which couldn’t be grazed, for hay production. They also cropped wheat, barley for feed, canola and field peas. I was lucky enough to jump in the spray coup with Paul, one of the property partnership owners and do a few laps of a barley paddock.
Kevin was also an exceptional networker. He understood the power of contacts. As they saying goes, it isn’t always what you know but who you know. This being the case, my contact with Kevin placed me into a whirlwind weekend with incredible company.
First up we met Wyatt. Kevin drove to a nearby field so I could jump in passenger to a rough seeding process for forage. Wyatt is a descendant of farmers who have been in Alberta for many generations. This linage was his pride and joy, and farming was deep in his blood. You could see the dedication and work ethic Wyatt possessed from the get-go. It should also be noted that he was very intelligent with machinery. His down to earth nature ensured that it was easy to learn from him. Within the first five minutes I understood the full run down of operations.
It was also in the company of Kevin and Wyatt that I came across a Coyote. Just looking at this animal, I could understand why Alberta wasn’t somewhere you could own and run sheep with success. Many people I had spoken to along the way had never tasted lamb either. It’s surprising what you take for granted at home.
Intermission: Cultural Experience – Ranch Branding
The Cotter’s ranch our destination for 10 a.m. the following morning. There was an excessive amount of Horses and people gathering as the morning wore on. The Ranch branding was very different here compared to Australia. Our cattle processing was highly mechanized and required minimal physical effort or personnel. Meanwhile in Canada, they utilized ropes, manual labour and horses to capture the calves and give them their immunizations and castrations.
I tried my hand at a few of the tasks, but it was very high paced and different from branding back home. Time to learn from scratch and assume nothing. I was fortunate that the people around me were happy to teach.
It was also due to the crowd we were in that I met with Shauna Burton, whom had also travelled to Australia. She was very keen to get me to another Ranch branding and this time to be on horseback! Shauna had invited us to a branding on the 22nd of June so I booked a flight to Lethbridge from Regina, SK that day and returned to the farm with Kevin.
Alberta Sugar Beet Growers & GHG Emissions Project, Alberta
I met with Melody from the Alberta Sugar Beet Growers Association (ASBG) in Taber, Alberta. Melody was a homely and welcoming character. She was strong, opinionated and powerful. Being a rather potent and direct character, I rather liked her from the get go.
Melody is also a huge advocate for women in Agriculture, which was no surprise after the direction of our first chat. She encourages women to get out from behind the shadows of men, and away from the ‘Just a farmer’s Wife’ mentality. She said herself she wants women who work on the farm, driving a tractor, doing the bookwork and looking after the husband and children to stop thinking of themselves as someone who doesn’t contribute to the farm. It’s not ‘Oh I’m just the wife, not the farmer’ as if what they do on the farm doesn’t contribute to its success or sustainability. She encourages them to think of themselves as a part of farming, giving themselves a worthy title and being good leaders for future women in Agriculture. It was also why Melody spent time with me on that day, as she loved to see young women taking control of their future and chasing their agricultural goals and ambitions. She certainly became an influential mentor from that day.
It was very convenient that a meeting with Bluesource and Green Path had been planned the day I was joining ASBG. The companies were called together to do a large-scale Carbon Emissions Project into Irrigation in southern Alberta. It was put together by Alberta Sugar Beet Growers, Potato Growers and Canola Growers. They were looking to get a correct two-year gauge of emissions in the irrigation and farming industries.
The aim was to see what agriculture and irrigation truly contributed to world pollution. This involved measuring Green House Gas Emissions and Nitrous Oxide emissions. The project had been put in place to hopefully show truths of the irrigation industry via factual information and remove the stigma around Ag as a large polluter. It also had the potential to use as a government-based standard to help with future planning in an appropriate and considerate way, or perhaps fund better industry practice schemes.
“I think this is the one day where I felt like I was a part of something that was making a difference in Canada and in agriculture’s future sustainability. That was a humbling feeling.”
Farming Smarter, Lethbridge
On Thursday, 5th of June, I attended an absolutely freezing cold Farming Smarter Plot Hop. So far, my trip had been warm and cozy, so much so that I was almost regretting bringing warm clothing. Thank heavens I did pack those thermals and big coat!
The PlotHop day was filled with various speakers on numerous subjects. From the impact of Flea Beatles on canola, to crop sequencing, to chemicals and their loss of function from soil throw and cover cropping movements. It was huge day with over 100 people attending. The most fascinating thing about the tour, I found, was the pastures section. There is a plant called Sainfoin which is capable of creating non-crystalizing honey and is also fantastic to pollinators and livestock alike.
I also made a friend along the way, Paije Ottoson. She was a young woman and the only female financial Ag Lender in her business. It was interesting meeting Paije, as the day wore on and we chatted more, she felt more comfortable telling me her story. She told me about how she had a bit of a mid-life crisis and quit her job to open a gallery and art school. I thought that was beautiful, especially considering it had been going on for 5 years now and she had only recently returned to work. She had enjoyed that change.
Another person I met was Brian Kennedy from Alberta Wheat growers – whom I eventually saw again at the Palooza event a few weeks later, and the Calgary Stampede. A lot of these faces, Including Mr. Charles Geddes, were ones I was getting to know well. Dr. Geddes talked in depth about weeds and their resistance. It seemed, however, that because Canada didn’t have a double cropping season, they hadn’t been subjected to a rapid buildup of chemical resistant weeds like Australia.
At the end of the day I finally met my original contact for Farming Smarter, Jamie.
Jamie picked me up the following day and conducted a tour of their facilities. The most fascinating thing that I was shown was the vacuum seed planter. This planter has the capability of planting out induvial seeds by sticking them to a plate with air suction.
Jamie and Ken Coles, the big wigs of the Farming Smarter team, provided a private and in-depth tour of the plots that had been sown with the precision planter. The transformation in plant stand and consistent emergence was impressive. The difference between the chickpeas, faba beans and canola that was planted was significant on visual inspection. There was only a need to use half the rate of normal planting due to the perfect spacing between the plants and less competition.
From there, I managed to weasel my way into a Podcast recording done by Ken Coles, interviewed by Yvonne Lawley, on the cover cropping movement. This process was far smoother and quicker than I imagined it would be. Podcasts can be helpful for anyone and readily available these days. I’m glad I was there as I learned plenty about the cover crop movement.
Organic Ranching, Southern Alberta
That afternoon I was collected by Mrs. Julia Palmer of Palmer Ranch. This would be my weekend stay from the 7th-10th of June. Julia’s family ranch was recommended by a friend. as they ran an Organic beef and grain farm down near Pincher Creek. I was very excited to get out of the city.
But first, we collected a calf for a cow whom had lost her own in birthing. The orphan calf was to be united with the cow when we arrived. It was certainly an interesting process getting them acquainted, and not for the faint of heart.
The calf, however, was beautiful. A Speckle Park heifer among the red and black Angus.
The night that I arrived at the Ranch, it snowed in the mountains. Waking up to the white capped mountains was something out of a dream. I couldn’t believe my eyes. We were also right near Waterton National Park. It was such a tranquil environment. I was so pleased to be away from the rumble of the city areas.
Julia organized for me and one of the Ranch Hands, Oriel, to go and check out the cows whom were calving. It was a prime opportunity to gain an in depth understanding of rotational cell grazing. The process of Cell grazing in the Ranch country was a very new and taboo topic. But this didn’t stop the Palmers. They were committed. It probably was a grand help that Oriel was excellent with the cell grazing management and very diligent at moving stock.
You could see the productivity they were gaining from the neighbors’ fence lines versus their own. The grass was by far more resilience and some of the native flora remained with the cell process, whereas in neighboring country, it had been lost.
On Monday morning I boarded a flight to the city of Saskatoon in Saskatchewan, a state over from Alberta. To be honest I’m still terrified of flying to this day, but navigating the Calgary airport was so much easier the next time around. I was far calmer than I had been on my trip 3 weeks ago.
On the fight across, I noticed it was becoming dryer along the way. By the time we had reached Saskatoon there was rarely a patch of green anywhere in sight. It was depressing. After the beauty of the Rockies and Lethbridge, seeing a drought impacted region again almost made me teary. The drought at home in NSW was still too real, and was going on the worst in recorded history
Canada’s Farm Progress Show, Saskatchewan
The International Tours kicked off Early on Tuesday the 18th of July from our Hotel Lobby. Standing among a variety of cultures, from African, to Indian, to Chinese and German, I waited patiently for the day to start.
I felt a bit left out as I appeared to be the only Australian, but also included too, as collectively, we were all in a foreign country and all very excited to look at agricultural related business and equipment. It was a confusing feeling.
It was in that moment of reflection on the journey, that a rough accent broke through my pondering and brought attention to two younger men standing in the lobby. They seemed just as bewildered as I was, and after hearing the accent again I was almost certain they were from the southern hemisphere. Possibly Aussies?
Wasting no time, I strode across the floor and introduced myself. That’s BBM confidence for you, we don’t waste any time now. Luckily, they returned the same exuberance, and I found out they were both New Zealanders. Well that’s close enough to Australia, right? They agreed, and for the next couple of days we enjoyed each other’s company and exchanged some ridiculous banter. Dion was a farmer from the Northern island of NZ and grew corn regularly. He was in Canada looking for some large-scale grain drying equipment. Hayden was an equipment importer and a part of a strong family business that provided imports and grew vegetable seed. His involvement was over a wide range of subjects and he was continuously inquiring, scrutinizing and hypothesizing options for the NZ market. It was fantastic to chat with them; they were both sharp minded and but inclusive.
The international tour took up all of our Tuesday. We travelled first to a Huttarite colony to get an in-depth look at the colonies day to day lives. From how they ran their kitchens in bulk, were self-sufficient with their produce to feed the colony and how they farmed, everything was fascinating. Their meat was processed in bulk with minimal waste. Excess fat was reduced to make soaps with. Green waste was preserved for feeding the egg laying hens. They even had their own dairy to produce milk, cream and butter.
Tuesday ended quickly and spun into Wednesday. We were back at the farm progress show investigating the maze of technology, machinery, businesses and equipment available. Hayden, one of the NZ chaps was quizzing away at any stall he could, while Dion and myself reserved ourselves and toured around in a more informal style.
It was great to see the Ideal FENDT header, the WEEDIT camera sprayer and a collection of other Canadian specific grain moving, harvesting and seeding equipment. The day rolled into evening, and we headed to a huge event at the Bushwackker Brewery held for the International guests. It was a stunning evening, with a keg tapping ceremony accompanied by bagpipes.
It was at the brewery that I made what I feel were some lifelong contacts. HoneyBee equipment and header fronts had their crew at the first table as I walked in. Earlier that day, Hayden and his Quizzing had led me to an introduction to Colin, a team member exhibiting the equipment at the show. He quickly invited me over to meet Trevor, one of the major players in HoneyBee equipment.
Trevor was an inspirational man and a great networking contact. He had a strong respect for women after being raised by his mother in a single parent household. He admired confidence and ambition of women, and encouraged myself to chase any dream I desired, especially in Agriculture.
I exchanged email contacts on a napkin – what a fine way to Network, I know! But it worked. And we were able to keep in contact. A week later at the Canola Palooza I’d heard word back that Trevor and Colin were speaking very highly of me. That’s the importance of Networking, and your ability to present yourself well in any situation. People remember you more than you’d realize!
Calgary Stampede, Calgary
During my last week I spared some time to sightsee before leaving Canada. This was highly recommended by all BBM scholars in the past. It was a good way to get immersed into the local culture and see the traditional sights and heritage rather than the hard focus we had been on for the tour.
So, I eventually found myself at Calgary Stampede. Seeing as I didn’t get to see any agricultural Fairs or Shows during my trip, this was the first time I felt a connection to the Showgirl history I had in my community back home.
Due to the nature of my past experiences with shows, I was quick to throw out the idea of being ‘on holidays’ and got to work networking. It wasn’t long before I found the International Agriculture Room at the Calgary Stampede. A well-known secret that was introduced late, I found it the perfect venue to hunt the information I needed.
Once in the International Room, I was impressed by the quiet vibe of true agriculturalists. The stampede venue was large, the crowds were huge, but the people were not the country folk I was used to. They had their cowboy attire on, but were unlikely to have a clear idea of how their vegetables were grown. However, in this International room, I knew I was surrounded with people who still had a daily connection to the land and the production cycle that was farming.
The first person I met who was willing to talk was Mr. Rick Smith. He was an older gentleman, with kind eyes and a sun-worn face. He was on the International Agriculture and Agri-food committee which was hosting and promoting Agrifoods here at the show. Mr Rick Smiths involvement with the show had spanned 30 years, from volunteer roles to more serious roles as the years went by. His Show committee years were up to 15 now, he was proud to say.
As I conducted my interview with Rick, I took the time to ask deeper questions. I quizzed as to what his specific focus was on in regards to the Agrifoods role. His comment was that first of all, he enjoyed what he did, and so too did many other members. It was important to them to keep the show thriving in order to have a connection with the country and western environment, by hosting it in the center of the city. Without the Calgary Stampede, the connection with food, animals and farms would be lost.
The Calgary Stampede may only be a city highlight for 10 days of the year, but Canada’s western heritage operates year-round, every year, and has done so for centuries. This shouldn’t be lost. Stampede caters for everyone, and puts on demonstrations from Grain and Animals, to food and farm work. Very similar to CanolaPalooza, there are learning stations on grand levels with a way to educate any age bracket. Rick made an excellent comment during our time; that the Stampede had evolved to cater for everyone this way, and that’s why it had become so popular.
I’m looking forward to presenting some of the tips and tricks I had learned from the Stampede to the small-town Agricultural Show back home in Warialda. I can proudly say I’m the first Showgirl Ambassador to bring back a depth of knowledge from a show the size of Calgary Stampede, to the benefit of my little local town while still in my Ambassador role. What a marvelous experience this has been.
In Conclusion …
Once again, my thanks goes out to BBM Youth Support, my TAFE teachers, my close family and friends and the network of people I met during my journey.
My thanks are also to the kindness of strangers willing to give a helping hand. To those in high management positions taking a young lady under their wing for the day. To those who answered all of my questions. To the powerful, sharp and focused Women in Agriculture whom have set benchmarks for my professional and personal life. They’ve been excellent mentors. They have become a second family.
Because of BBM, I have learned, thrived and grown as an individual. This, was my self-development. I’m very grateful that, through the generosity of BBM, I could find myself and be a better help to others because of it.