Alberta’s newest Outstanding Young Farmers don’t really see themselves as special. They see themselves as lucky.
“We’re not extraordinary by any means,” said Craig Ference of Double F Farms near Kirriemuir.
“We’re just doing what we love. We’re very fortunate to be Alberta farmers.”
But luck had nothing to do with the Ferences’ recent win at the regional Outstanding Young Farmers’ event earlier this month.
Craig — a fourth-generation farmer — and wife Jinel have been diversifying the family farm since finishing their post-secondary degrees in 2004.
Today, the couple has 10,000 acres of cropland, manages an 8,000-head feedlot, has 4,000 mother cows, and takes on custom farming contracts. But their success goes beyond simply expanding their farm (they recently set up a second operation in Biggar, Sask.).
They also see themselves as caretakers of the land who want to improve their operation for future generations, through things like annual soil testing and increasing soil organic matter up to four per cent.
The key to managing all those moving parts (as well as three children and off-farm commitments)? Rolling with the punches.
“There are day-to-day challenges and big-picture challenges, but we look at them as goals to accomplish,” said Craig. “It’s always nice to have some challenges to keep you learning, keep you interested, keep you trying.”
That’s just the nature of the industry, he added, but being part of the cross-country cohort of Outstanding Young Farmers will help the couple manage some of those ups and downs.
“We’ve always been excited about the future of agriculture, but being OYF alumni will help with some of those challenges,” said Craig.
“Agriculture is often about connections and connecting with people,” she said. “This is just another opportunity for us to be involved in the industry.”
The Ferences, who were nominated by a neighbour, knew only a little about the Outstanding Young Farmers program, but said they are excited to have the opportunity to advocate for agriculture and share some of the success stories from their operation.
“I think it’s great to recognize people 40 years and under, and try to inspire the younger generation to come into farming,” said Jinel.
The OYF program, which got its start in Alberta nearly four decades ago, recognizes successful young farmers under the age of 40 who exemplify excellence on their own farms and promote agriculture beyond the farm community. This year’s other finalists were Craig and Celeste Christensen, who have a 10,000-acre grain operation near Standard, and Red Deer County dairy farmers Roelof and Mary van Benthem.
“It’s great to see the calibre of the people involved — both past winners and fellow contestants,” said Craig. “It’s a very neat group of Albertans.”
The couple will be representing Alberta at the national event in Winnipeg at the end of November. And both said they are excited about the opportunities that will bring.
“There are so many wonderful people that we get to meet as part of the ag sector, and that makes us very proud to be part of this program,” said Jinel. “How exciting to become a part of this family.”