The Power of an Agri-Networker; Multitasking Abroad as a Woman in Agriculture
For Future Applicants: Thank you very much for choosing to read this comprehensive report. I was in your position not long ago, on the BBM website, searching all the scholarship recounts & trying to plan out the trip. I paid close attention to travel tips and key advice sections as they provided insight and guidance. Please take some of the information below, as I hope it provides forethought to the incredible opportunity that can await you.
“A web of intertwined Contacts is a Network. A Network is a Web in which you can catch Success to achieve your Goals”
BBM Global Scholarships transformed my life – Step out of your comfort zone, become independent, resilient and self-sufficient as I was able to. The knots in each strand of your ‘net’ created via this scholarship are forged strong by your own hand. Make them count, be proactive and chase your industry goals!
Where was I before this Scholarship?
In 2016, I completed a Diploma of Agriculture via TAFE, and after hearing about the BBM Global Industry Scholarships, was rather interested in applying. However, my commitment to an Agronomy Traineeship resulted in abandoning the idea temporarily.
In late 2017, I began completing an Advanced Diploma of Agribusiness Management. Once near completion, I began asking my excellent TAFE teacher, Mr. Paddy Fagan as to what he knew about the BBM Scholarships.
Within six months of inquiring, my application had been fully submitted. This was not done lightly. The pre-planning that went into the scholarship required focus and commitment from the start.
After the Award Submission date concluded there was a long and quiet period in which I didn’t hear from anyone. I was almost tearing my hair out waiting for a reply.
In September 2018, an email read:
Fast forward to May 2019, I completed a Diploma of Agronomy, and was heading overseas for the first time ever on a power trip through Western Canada.
I would like to formally thank BBM Youth Support from the bottom of my heart.
All the members, volunteers, donors and staff are incredible people with such true kindness. I cannot express my appreciation for providing young people, including myself, with such an open and self-directed learning experience. The support I received along the way, combined with the pride that the BBM community has in all their scholars, was inspiring.
BBM takes what they do so personally, it means something to them. And that meant something to me.
I’ve found a strength and a voice, I thought I would never have, from this program.
As a young woman in agriculture, I bloomed via this pathway. My confidence to jump on any opportunity and proactively seek the results I wanted, was cemented into daily practice due to this scholarship.
The words of wisdom received on this journey have already shaken up the foundations of day to day life for the better. Commitment to industry, acceptance of culture, willingness to help educate and assist others freely, are just a few humble messages I have taken home. My life direction has been refined, and I hope I can achieve a step toward that every day.
Thank you BBM, for allowing my goals to be realized, for this self-growth and ability to give back to others with real substance of experience. Your work is life-changing for so many!
Distance Travelled in Canada: 6,000klm
Days Spent on Study Tour: 50 Days
Time Frame: May-July
Focus Area: Agriculture – Speciality: Agronomy – Crop, Pasture, Livestock and Advisory Agribusiness.
Preface: Networking Case Study – This report contains scattered stories of individuals I met along the way. These stories are to promote positive messages of successful lifestyle habits. The stories are sourced from a range of careers related to Agriculture.
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.
It wasn’t long before I arrived in Calgary via a connecting flight from Vancouver. I had booked a hotel downtown, and after finally getting a good rest, decided to venture out the next day. As it turned out – Daylight was something that North America had plenty of. The sun doesn’t go down until 9:30pm in May and by the time my trip ended; it wasn’t going down until 11pm. This was something I was under prepared for, considering the dawn is at 4:30am. It did make for some excellent educational opportunities with the long hours– But left me exhausted by the end of the trip. Future Aggies, take note!
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 traveller. 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 Introduction – Alberta:
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.
Information: BASF is a company that creates chemicals 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 resellers and farmers at face value.
So, who was Ed personally, away from the BASF business? I would best describe him to you as youthful, enthusiastic and great starting note for this report. Ed had family based on a property near Wagga Wagga in New South Wales. Even though Ed attended school in Sydney, he always loved being able to return to the farm, but didn’t quite like the concept of farming in such as unpredictable climate. Deciding to broaden his knowledge, he came to Canada as part of an exchange program. This sounded similar to what I was doing minus the exchange.
During Ed’s time in Canada, he was a farm manager and although he fell in love with the country, the idea of playing around with someone else’s money and future production wasn’t overly appealing. He did return to Australia, not wanting to be away from the base of family and friends, and took up a job as a travelling representative for BASF in NSW. For a time, he thought this was the right thing to do, but as he put it, the country just got into his blood and it wasn’t long before he was back in Canada. However, this time, he not only took on a similar role with a chemical company in Calgary but also his very own farm to run.
I rather enjoyed hearing Ed’s back story, and how it linked to the BBM scholarship 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.
It was time to hit the road. Off to Lethbridge, South Alberta
I decided to do 95% of my travelling via public transport due to age restrictions on car rentals in North America.
Jumping on the bus, I travelled south on a warm, clear day. The bus turned out to be excellent as I had the free time to study the landscape. In the distance I saw the abrupt and jagged outlines of the Rockies, still capped with snow. In the foreground were crops, all within 40mins of the city center itself.
However, it wasn’t the cropping country I was used to, and as the bus drive continued, the scene became so much more complex. The land was very undulating, but didn’t gain height, much like the surface of a golf ball. The land sloped and dipped often within a paddock. The further we drove the more extreme the rolling paddocks became. What a task it would be to harvest this country efficiently. It’d be a roller coaster ride to spray over. They didn’t appear utilize contour banks either.
It was when we passed Fort McCloud that the land took on a stranger shape. Almost wind battered, lacking any form of Trees and on a soil type that was almost sandy to sodic appearance in the grassy areas. Visually, the land differed from home greatly. It seemed as if the weather here had the strongest influence on landscaping. The landscape was also home to an extreme number of pivots. These pivots were moving, up and down, across the slopes. It sure was an impressive sight.
FARMERS EDGE – Agronomy Team:
Once in the Lethbridge town, the introductions to FarmersEdge began. 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.
Information: FarmersEdge is a complex farming App/ website platform intended to increase production with precise growing methods. The use of weather stations, variable application, agronomy scouting, satellite imagery, average crop yield and farm machinery data is combined to produce profit mapping and statistical information in order for the farmer to make competent and efficient decisions on production.
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.
The farm yards were emerald with grass, and the paddocks not far from being the same. 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.
It was almost lunchtime before we pulled up for Lunch. It was Kelsey whom suggested the Hoodoos at Writing on Stone for lunch. Apparently, the Indians on the Milk River had put carvings into these stones. Well, sandstones. They did have a very Australian vibe about them, and came up out of nowhere. So did the trees! They also survived in the low of the river where they must have had shelter from the Alberta wind. It was a pretty microclimate.
So, lunch was over – a very late lunch, it was 3pm. And we needed to take the 1.5hr drive home. So that concluded my first day with FarmersEdge.
Farmers Edge Continued:
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. This information was then sent back to the office via the App platform to be processed and used to calibrate the Crop Growth Prediction Scale, a tool for the farmer.
This crop wasn’t too advanced, perhaps 4 weeks at best. Some of the crop scouted was wheat and the other sections were Field Peas. I hadn’t had much experience with peas and their production so this was a fantastic learning process.
So, off we scouted, into the crop to see what weeds and disease we about. Once the Farm Command App was calibrated with observations, this would ensure that growers were updated with crop performance and potential weed/disease burdens.
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.
Once we had concluded our scouting for the farm command app, and looking into the “Blue Book” for the best times to spray, and when not to spray, we heading off to the Colony. For reference sake, the Blue Book is an agronomy Guide released every year on chemicals and crop practices for Canadian farmers. Agronomist and farmers in the area use it as a best practice bible. It is a very common sight in Utes (Trucks) everywhere.
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 bandana 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.
We sat down with the Crop Boss and went through what we had seen while the ladies treated us to a three-course lunch. For the most part I will say that the accent on the Huttarites is far thicker than the average Canadian due to their German heritage.
I had a wonderful day with Jen and enjoyed her company. I spent some post-work day time with her on several occasions. She was very embracing as she knew what it was like to travel alone. It was common to meet kind and open people whom were willing to spend the extra time to ensure you are safe and looked after while globetrotting.
The next day Kelsey had organized I meet with Jed Wilde and go out collecting more data in the field and to see the FarmersEdge weather stations. FarmersEdge provides not only yield data, profit mapping, crop monitoring for health, stage and NDVI imagery, but also a comprehensive 5klm radius weather station. Cool right?
So, once our mission north of Lethbridge concluded we returned to the office once again. The rest of the afternoon I watched Kelsey demonstrate her managerial skills with her team. She organized and facilitated meetings and future planning for the weeks ahead. She checked and updated her calendar and e-mails while gaining reports from Jed on his day travels. Talk about an agricultural multitasker! She just never stopped. Her enthusiastic yet kind attitude, and her ability to know and execute plans made her an inspiration. She wasn’t deterred by any male influences in her position, even by the Huttarite community or men whom weren’t used to a commanding female in a leading role.
On Friday morning I had completed my first week. It had been 7 days since I landed. How quickly time was flying by.
Friday also meant that the wonderful Denver was hosting for the day. Denver was Jed’s brother, and the two were nothing alike. Peculiar that two brothers can work in the same industry and be so different.
Denver was a chatterbox and an excellent person to sit passenger too. He filled me in on all the ag-goings-on in the town, what company did what, and various other cool facts about the area and the climate. The agronomists sure made excellent tour guides. It seems as if the range around Lethbridge that I was travelling almost had their own mini-climates. Some areas received rain; some areas were very dry. It was easy to be fooled by the visual of green grass, especially coming from drought and dirt.
Denver was on a scouting mission the same as Jen had been previous. He was logging crop stages to match up with prediction data. This data provided the farmers and growers with the knowledge of how advanced their crop was, and could be used for irrigation schedules, spraying and harvesting plans. Crops could be set back due to weather conditions such as cold weather, overcast days or frost.
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. Denver also provided a weeds book to look at while we scouted so I could get an understanding of Canadian weeds. We both commented on the similarities of weed species between the two countries. For the most part, the weeds were visually similar and just had a variation of names.
Denver had been an educational host, running me through the farm command ap and their technology in an agronomist friendly way. It was a pleasure to spend a day in the field with him.
Australians in Canada – Weekend Farm Tour:
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.
Since the businesses with the most input to my learnings were only run during the week, I was afraid my weekends may be wasted – but with Ag they never were. There is always a chance to learn if you look hard enough.
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.
Some of the risks of breeding cattle in Canada involve the snow. During the winter, the weather can become harsh. Temperatures drop well below freezing, down to -30 and -40 degrees on occasion with extreme winds. If calves are born under these conditions, they can perish easily within 15 minutes due to freezing to death. Even calves born in less hostile conditions can lose the tips of their ears and tails to Frostbite.
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 got the full run down of operations.
The particular district that Wyatt’s family farmed in had been through a bad drought, and Wyatt was rather frustrated with the weather. He was also seeding with one of the very first Bourgault Air Seeder set-ups to be introduced to northern America. This fact alone was a testament to Wyatt’s mechanical abilities to keep the equipment in running and practical order decades later. On further discussions in the tractor cab, I quickly came to realize that the inventive and mechanical knowledge that Wyatt possessed also ran in other close family members.
STORY TIME: Wyatt began to explain the story of how his cousins farming operation decided to create their own high clearance crop spraying back prior to the availability of spray coups. I couldn’t quite put the story together as well as he did, but the gist was inventive men getting things done. A farm truck (also known as a common Ute) was mounted offset onto a pair of huge axles and tractor sized tires. It also carried a large water tank and fully operational booms. This cross species, mechanical masterpiece, was given the name “FrankenSprayer”. I think the name was just as inventive as the machine as well.
Another interesting fact was about the legendary old ranchers in the district called the King’s Brothers. They were original pioneers and owned massive plots of land in Alberta. There have been many stories written about them in the history of South Alberta. Wyatt’s family had a piece of land that originally had been Kings brothers land and was purchased directly by his great grandfather. Talk about a long history of farmers!
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. This day had been perplexing to say the least. Ranch Branding would take place on the following day, and Wyatt had secured an invitation for us to join.
Culture Experience: Ranch Branding 1:
The Cotter’s ranch our destination for 10am 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.
My last day with Kevin was a little bit slower in speed. We spent the time cleaning cattle water trough, checking of cows and calves and taking care of general maintenance on the farm. The cattle water troughs had to be made of plastic or rubber, usually in the form of mining grade machinery tires, in order not to crack when the water freezes. That afternoon Kevin returned me to Lethbridge and I was off again on a new week long adventure.
Farmers Edge – Office:
Tuesday the 4th I spent with FarmersEdge at their office in Lethbridge. The office is 6klm away from my accommodation. I made a horrible mistake of thinking it was much closer than that on the map and trying to walk. 6klm was certainly enough physical activity for me on that day.
I was to meet with Guy Duke and Kevin Grant but sadly Kevin was sick but that didn’t seem to impact the meeting much. Guy had gone all out and organized a few of his employees to give me the full run through on how Farming Smarter works. That was once the hysteria of my long walk had lost it’s comical value in the workplace.
Laurens, one of the Technicians, was a terrific presenter. He gave a basic overview of how farm command works and why. Kelan, however, grabbed my attention. He had cats in his PowerPoint presentation. He explained that due to data predictions and machine learning, that PowerPoint can provide descriptions on photos of any cats due to Googles data study on cats. Strange, but true.
He linked this back to what farming smarter was trying to do in terms of crop scouting and satellite mapping and imagery. They were trying to find ways to diagnose the crop stage and health. This then would paint a picture of the farm and all its paddock on a daily or weekly basis to the farmer in a way of reporting.
The plan was to make it easier to identify problems with the crop before they get out of hand, or in areas that weren’t as easily accessible.
They also had weather alert and crop health alert notifications and were working on improving those. I think this could be well applied in the newly restricted 2,4-d spray market. I also met with Richard whom was British and provided several excellent insights into his travels and experiences with farmers edge along the way. It’s incredible the variety of people you meet along the way and what they have done in their lives.
Alberta Sugar Beet Growers & GHG Emissions project:
The following day 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.
INFORMATION: For those who do not know about Sugar Beets, they’re North America’s version of Sugar cane. The Beet is white type and is grown for the sugar located in its root. A quick growing crop in comparison to our cane, however. The aim is to produce a crop in the short growing season between the Snow events. The Beets have been grown in Southern Alberta with and without irrigation for generations and it is the only source of 100% Canadian Sugar. Alberta Sugar Beet Growers is a Company which overseas the production and monitors the industry.
Melody had been with ASBG for several years and knew the market and the production exceptionally of Sugar Beets well. Not only did our conversation span ASBG, farming and her role but ranged into personal life. She also personally has a 100 head horse breeding operation with a 60-day colt starting competition. This competition uses young, new and upcoming horse trainers and puts them into a large-scale competition to encourage newcomers to up their game and give them a change in the industry. She was a big ambassador for pushing youth into any agricultural industry. This seemed to be her true burning passion, the horses were just the sideline. All the colts are sold at the end of the program for funds towards the following year. I admired her admiration for youth. It’s certainly an interesting life she leads!
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. GHG was suspected to come from electrical and mechanical objects, whereas NO3 was a new topic for the research companies and was focused on Urea and other fertilizer sources. 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.
One of the members hired from Blue Source was a young, female Engineer. That was part one of our four strong female squad. Kelli was another ambitious woman in our team that day. She was approximately my age and Melody’s main organizer at ASBG. Kelli had put together the day’s agenda, travel itinerary and contacted all the farmers for pre-appointments for the Project. Her efficiency and dedication to her job was outstanding. It was lovely to see plenty of young women thriving in the agricultural sector, looking to change the way things were running. The SUV was literally alive with empowering females vibes.
We spent the day travelling around to various irrigation farmers in the district and asking them information about their farms. The Emissions project needed details about the running of the farm in regard to CO2 and NO3 emissions. The BlueSource and GreenPath teams were specifically looking at engines electric or diesel, houses, electricity usage, fertilizer and fuel to note all possible sites of pollution.
We collected the information that we required and went on our way. It was a terrific day filled with so much education and understanding.
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.
On Thursday, 5th of June, I attended an absolutely freezing cold Farming Smarter Plot Hop held at Lethbridge. 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!
Information: Farming smarter is a business that conducts research into inventive and productive ways to farm. It collaborates with other industries such as Canola, Pulses and Cereals in order to provide physical plot trials on new ideas and information. This company is highly educational and has a range of interactive learning online.
The PlotHop day was filled with various speakers over various 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.
The Deep banded P results were also amazing, you could see the wheat plots were thriving. The treatments looked to be increasing plant biomass and possibly grain yield as well. However, the team at farming smarter was a bit nervous to go into detail on this one. That was a big shame just due to my interest in Deep banding P placement for my tour.
I also created a friend along the way, Paije Ottoson She was a young woman who was the only female financial Ag Lender in her business. It was interest meeting Paije as while the day wore on and we chatted more, she felt more comfortable telling me her story. She told of 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 face I met was Brian Kennedy from Alberta Wheat growers – whom I was eventually going to see again at the future 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 was talking in depth about weeds and their resistance. However, it seemed 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 received. 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 that I hadn’t had a chance to see previously. The most fascinating thing that I was shown was the vacuum seed planter. The planter had the capability of planting out induvial seeds by sticking them to a plate with air suction.
Jamie and Ken Coles, the big wig 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 recoding done by Ken Coles for farming smarter in which he interviewed Yvonne Lawley on the cover cropping movement. This process was far smoother and quicker than I imagined it would be. Lethbridge University certainly was speedy with Podcast production. One take and they had their product completed. Even those involved with Media can cover some of their favorite topics, be it Science, Agriculture or Fashion. 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 and for those who take the time to make a podcast. I can safely say my podcast preferences diversified after this trip
I am still so grateful to the farming smarter crew for their time. They took the chance to get to know me, provide the private tours, and also took me out to lunch. Their team was so close knit it was almost like a family. I’ll be forever grateful for their efforts. Especially Jamie and Ken. All in all, my day was exceptionally enjoyable and it wasn’t long before I was off elsewhere for the weekend.
Organic Ranching in 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 a recommendation 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 were collecting a calf for a cow whom had lost hers in birthing. The orphan calf was to be united with the cow when we arrived. It certainly was an interesting process getting them acquainted, and not for the faint hearted. 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 myself and one of the Ranch Hands, Oriel, to go and check out the cows whom were calving. It was also 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. Oriel was an excellent guide and I appreciated working beside him as we checked cows and moved them to a new cell for grazing. 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, where as in neighboring country, it had been lost.
On returning to the Ranch, I met Julia’s sister Oona and her parents. They were fantastic people. I spent the afternoon with Oona whom had just completed her Economics degree. She was a humble but fierce woman. As the only one to graduate in her year as a female, and the first in the family to complete such a degree, she was a trend setter and not to be held back. I enjoyed her company greatly, and could have chatted all day.
But all day just wasn’t possible. I had to earn my keep, so I was back to helping Oriel move bulls to new pasture and separating those who had foot rot. The work never stopped for proactive organic farmers.
The following day I went out to check the cows that Oriel and I had moved, with Julia’s father, Scott. Mr. Palmer was the original founder for the Ranch with his brother. He was a passionate Organic Rancher with an open mind and a well-balanced view on life. He was a good horseman as well, so we chatted about networking in the horse industry while on our journey. Hay production wasn’t far away either for the Ranch, and we talked about how much they could recover this year. After our ride, we took the time to check up on a cow whom had lost her calf and become a foster mother for a new calf. It was good to see the cattle husbandry skills here in Canada.
Mr. Palmer also informed me about the wind towers and gas pipelines in the area. It seemed that in Canada there was just as much controversy over renewable and non-renewable energy sources as Australia. It was good to get into a political conversation without the fear of offending anyone. Getting an understanding of the politics and economics of another country is essential to your BBM journey.
While I was in Canada, there was a political uproar over a ‘hostage diplomacy’ situation. Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou was arrested in Vancouver, BC while I was on my tour. The arrest of Ms. Meng on an extradition request by the U.S. had generated an angry response from Beijing directed squarely at Canada. That was how I interpreted it anyhow.
For example, all Beef and Pork imports were halted and US and Canadian travelers were being detained in China in an attempt to encourage Canada or the US to release Ms. Meng. This came closely after the import ban on Canola from Canada. Talk about a shaken market, I don’t think there was a day in Alberta of Saskatchewan that I didn’t hear of the impacts of Hostage Diplomacy or Trade wars. Canola is Canadas biggest crop, size wise and financially, so it sure was a tough time for farmers.
Again, BBM Travelers – get an idea of the politics in the country you are traveling beforehand. Its very important, it could be related to dollar values for the longevity of your bursary, commodity behavior, conversation pieces, or even your safety.
Once back from the political dealings of the day, and a wonderful ride with Scott around the cattle, I was in need of a cool beverage. It just so happened, Andrew, Julia’s husband, brewed his own beer. This took my fascination as I had never seen home brewed beer before. Rest assured; he was an expert, being Scottish he had incredible patience. I certainly learned a great deal, and tasted a fair bit more! He made gluten free beer and organic style stout with fruit infusions. It was good to see different needs catered to, and how adaptable the beer brewing process can be.
The beautiful holiday of the organic farm was over almost quicker than it began. I was catching a ride to Calgary with Andrew and would be boarding my flight on Monday Morning and headed east to Saskatoon.
Although upon leaving, Julia left me with a most curious quote. She said the Australian youth were far wiser and more worldly than any Canadian youth she had ever seen. They have great logic and freedom, which made them very successful. Her exact words were something along the lines of:
“Australia’s go Walk About. They aren’t anchored in place; they want to experience the world first with a deep curiosity and learn so quickly. There isn’t much that a young Australian we’ve met here hasn’t achieved with time”
With BBM as my key to a worldwide gate, I was indeed baptized into the spirit of Walk-About.
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.
On arriving at the airport, I hopped in a taxi, booked in at my hotel and then hit the streets. Luckily, the street I was on was directly across from the University, so I dashed over to be a tourist and maybe run into a few contacts.
On arrival I fell in love with the older style buildings on the campus. Their design was stunning. I found the Geography building first and became so lost in the stones and materials that they comprised of. It was incredible, so many shapes and colours and patterns of metals and stone I’d never known even existed. Even the Gypsum and Copper were wildly unique, especially to an agronomist whom is used to seeing them in application form. I did find the agricultural building eventually and went for a stroll, but Mr. Eric Johnson my contact was unfortunately not in. So, I sent him and e-mail and confirmed to meet up the next day.
University of Saskatchewan:
The following day I returned to the university campus and went on a tour with Mr. Johnson. It was terrific to see their endless maze of growth chambers and varieties the Uni were breeding and testing. We also looked at some of the young graduates and their studies on weed seed predation and imagery on drones. One of the teams had created a phenotyping drone that could fly over plots and create data on an individual plants or whole plots performance compared to others. I thought this was a very unique way to scan and process breeding potential plants.
From the university we headed out into the field. The first field we arrived at, thee graduates were undertaking a cover cropping program with the use of clovers as green manure. The second field contained forage plots in which they were looking to study triticale, winter wheat yield, and inter-rowed cropping with peas.
Unfortunately, the drought had been so extreme that these experiments and their data were not likely to provided very many conclusive results. I watched them cut the silage and looked at the weighing and recording process. It was sad to see everyone so disheartened by the results.
The following day I returned to the farm’s Uni and we went out into the paddock with the phenotyping drones. It was impressive to see them in action, and note how correct and detailed all the imagery was. The afternoon was Lentil Beer time, so I tried one of the Uni bars favorites and said goodbye to my hosts, Eric Johnson and Shaun. Off to the next adventure.
Black Fox Distillery, Marketing & Nuffield Ag Scholars:
Saskatoon’s Thursday presented the opportunity to meet with John and Barb from the Black fox distillery. This may seem a bizarre place to conduct studies, but don’t judge my choices yet. This Distillery has an impressive background and two terrific scholars behind it. John was kind enough to give me a ride out from Saskatoon to their business, which gave us plenty of time to chat about life in general as well as the Ag industry.
I immediately queried where the name ‘Black Fox’ came from, and John provided and interesting answer. Apparently back on their family farm there was a black fox which was a local legend, and after having this unique little character on the farm, the name for the business was modelled around it. Excellent marketing in my opinion. Marketing was sure the theme of the day and provided a whole bunch of insight on. From brand creation, to sourcing the bottles they needed, through to design of their building and right down to flavors and colours of the brews, marketing was used.
Black Fox distillery was a creator of world recognized Gin and Whiskey. They had no.1 on England’s list of ‘World’s Best Gin’ and Silver and Bronze medals for a few of their main brews as well. They certainly had put the effort in. It was interesting as John and Barb downsized from a larger grain farm to smaller production on acreage as they knew they would be able to make more on less land. That particular thought was a great concept.
Both John and Barb were both recipients of the Nuffield Ag Scholarship in Canada and had travelled internationally to look at the best possible way to increase business growth and investigate thriving business models. They were investigators, researchers and successful producers because of the first two factors.
Barb certainly was most potent on the subject of business success, and gave some truths that were not in the slightest bit sugar coated. She was direct and blunt on business. I really adored this trait in Barb, as you could tell it had made her into the formidable businesswoman she was today. She spoke of the issues that would arise with a business that needs constant human interaction, that an -on-farm business was hard work and you rarely get any personal time. She also mentioned the need to streamline and focus with some diversity but not so much that it will cause hindrance. Diverse incomes are one thing, but nature has a way of playing havoc with any form of crop, so keep it simple but adaptable. Her most critical comment that John constantly echoed along the way was Long Term Planning. The ability to plan diverse incomes and potential options well into the future was essential for her. This may be in the form of Tree crops, or infrastructure. They all take time and funds to plan for. Well done Barb, you certainly taught me a lot.
John was also a wealth of expert knowledge, especially with brewing. I noted how beautiful the copper features on the brewing containers were in general conversation, and inquired whether he brought the equipment for the athletics looks. He laughed, and said that the colour of the copper and its condition actually has a serious effect on the brew itself. A well-polished and clean copper surface will cool quicker and produce a lighter spirit. A dark and stained copper will cool slower, resulting in a deep rich colored brew. This left me stunned for the rest of the day, how marvelous the smallest things can be!
John and Barb toured up the hillside to where they grew Rhubarb and Haskap berries. The berries and Rhubarb were both used in their spirits in an attempt to flavor and colour the Gins. It is worth noting that the distillery uses at least 90% of their own farm-grown produce to create their own brews, which are also done on farm. They sustain their business, with their own ingredients and produce all the spirits on farm. Even the Gins are brewed in a transparent room, so visitors can have a ‘paddock to glass’ experience. This was an incredibly talented and incorporating process.
John and Barb were using the Rhubarb to create pink gin and looking at using the protein rich leaves of the Haskap berries to stabilize the colour. Pink Gin was a sought-after commodity, and worth investing in, if the colour can stay. The high level of conversation between us three was enthralling, ideas bounced back and forth the whole walk as I baptized my ears in the advice of the two successful scholars. No matter what I said, John and Barb would take it and throw as many scenarios – good, bad and otherwise out there for discussion. If you want to know where my Travel Concepts came from – well most of those ideas came from my chat with John and Barb. All the while we strolled around their 80-acre farm. It seemed wherever we turned, there was another business avenue.
They also grew cut flowers in which clients could come to the farm and collect their own bunches. Additionally, they had a pumpkin festival. John and Barb treated me to a taste of their gins and I took a few samples back to Alberta to share amongst the new friends I had made. As I said earlier, a gift for your host is always welcome.
This part of my tour was very impacting and the lessons I learned in half a day will stick with me a lifetime.
On Friday June 14th I met with Dr. Jason R. whom was another ex-aussie. Dr. Jason is manager to the Lima Grains Research Center in Saskatoon. Jason made an excellent contact as he was capable of explaining the vast differences between Australian and Canadian seed businesses and how they work at a higher level. The plants breeder rights and royalties’ program were also very different in Canada. We toured around the facility, looking at the accelerated growth chambers where they were growing wheat varieties, as well as their new Plot Harvesting machinery.
I was also lucky enough to join the field scientists and technical team in applying inoculum of various rust varieties in the in-field trials and new seed varieties. The process used inoculum in glass bottles mixed with Mineral oil and spayed through a handheld stick sprayer. It certainly was an excellent experience to be up close and personal with the production of the trials. Tatianna was also an agronomist and plant pathologist whom was showing me the ropes of how to apply the inoculum.
As the day drew to a close, the administration of Limagrains Research, Jess, offered to give me a ride to the bus station. I was very grateful to her, and also off on my next adventure. From here I would be heading south to a farm and then onward to the Farm Progress Show in Regina.
Gust Farms – Politics and Farming
So down to Davidson on Friday the 14th I went. It wasn’t long before I had arrived at a contact that had been passed on by a fellow Aussie. Gerrid Gust of Gust farms and his wife Monica met me at the gas station. Gerrid and Monica were the most beautiful people, and I felt instant relief being in their company. They were quick to drive across the road to the farm – literally, and into the main work shed.
Gerrid just couldn’t wait to show me the Australian pride and joy which was the Wall of Aussie Pins. On the wall of the work shop office was a massive map of Australia, and close to 100 pins showing where all the Australian visitors had come from in the past. I was completely stunned, and took a moment to breeze through some of the names on the list. A few were locals I knew too!
From there, Gerrid and Monica took me to the local Restaurant Diner which was actually family owned. The wall was also decorated with the history of the Gust family farms. I admired the informative history on the wall while Gerrid explained how his father and great-grandfather had worked and lived on the land too. Our dinner was lovely, and it wasn’t long before we retired for the evening and prepared for the following mornings crop tour.
We headed off early for the grand tour of the farm. From Canola to Peas and Wheat, we crop-hooped for a few hours discussing soil types and paddock history along with chemical use and rotation. I also used this opportunity to pick Gerrids mind on Agriculture, networking and his involvement with both. Gerrid had spent a lot of time on various agricultural boards and was working himself into politics to help shape the future direction of Agriculture in his province. He had sacrificed a lot of his time and been away from his family to do so. I wish him the best of lucky in his future endeavors, he certainly was a wonderful representative for Ag and I learned so much from him.
“I’m running because through my involvement in provincial and national farm policy organizations, I’ve developed a skill set of leadership and strategic planning that the people of Arm River can benefit from. I’m a fiscal conservative. Believing in small government, personal responsibility and freedom. At the same time knowing that a healthy business climate and tax base, can be used to build strong public services and social programs.
I’ve spoken publicly on trade and technology promotion. I’ve spoken against the Trudeau carbon tax since inception. I think the residents of the Arm River constituency can use a new set of eyes looking at our issues. Someone who is as comfortable speaking in public as they are speaking with constituents. I’ve represented Canadian farmers in front of House of Commons Finance Committee the Senate Ag Committee. As well I’ve represented Canadian wheat and pulse farmers in Africa and China promoting our world class farms and distribution systems.”
Gerrid also made sure that I met with his workers, which were all fellow Aussies! I couldn’t believe how many there were on the farm. There were five staying on-farm with several others all close by. I felt at home among the accents, it was a raucous reunion.
We were the proud mob of Galah’s among the Maple Trees.
All of the Aussies were also young, between the ages of 18-25 and were out in Canada studying and working for similar reasons that I was. Many hailed from Victoria, some from NSW, one WA and another from QLD. It was a diverse crowd, and we never stopped chatting.
Almost all of them were from farms and studying at Markus Oldham or Longerenong College. They were looking to improve and broaden their knowledge before returning to the family farm in order to run it with more accuracy. They felt it was essential to understand world marketing and farming practices relating to sustainability for the future of their enterprises. What an excellent and inspiring group they were. It was so similar to what I was doing with BBM that we all kept in contact long afterward, wearing our self-directed journeys with pride. I would see them again at the Farm Progress Show in Regina. So off I headed again, South.
On the Bus to Regina I met a lovely young woman whom had a service dog on Board. Her Border Collie assisted her in her travels. She did a lot of Hiking to raise funds for Aboriginal Indian Youth which was beautiful to see, but she also had plans to hike 1000klms which was just unbelievable! I really wanted to keep in contact and wish her all the best on her future endeavors, so we exchanged details and said our goodbyes in Regina before heading our separate ways.
I booked in to my Hotel in Regina that Monday afternoon to catch up on some Zzz’s as the following day would be full of new people as part of the International Program prior to the opening of the Farm Progress Show. I was unsure what to expect, but with the itinerary for farm tours in the program, I was excited to say the least.
Canada’s Farm Progress Show:
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.