This year’s Outstanding Young Farmers were a little apprehensive when their bank manager first introduced them to the program two years ago.
“At first, we were hesitant because we didn’t know what it was,” said Mary van Benthem, who operates a dairy farm near Spruceview with husband Roelof.
“But after coming in and learning about it, we realized how amazing it is and how supportive and knowledgeable the people are. It’s such a great program.”
And while the couple didn’t win when they were first nominated in 2018, they were finally welcomed into the Outstanding Young Farmers family this year thanks to a nomination from the previous winners.
“It’s exciting,” said Mary. “It’s a group full of farming excellence, and when you come in, you’re just amazed at all the other farmers. You really are put into a group of people who are categorized by excellence. To be included in that group is crazy.”
The couple launched Van Benthem Dairy nine years ago with a focus on genetics and superior animal care. Since then, they’ve grown their operation to a total of 840 acres, 120 milk cows, and 150 young stock. They attribute their success to the values that laid the foundation for their dairy nearly a decade ago.
“Taking care of the animals is really important to us,” said Roelof, adding the farm has a code of practice for the proper care and handling of dairy cattle. “We strive for the best and try to get the best out of our cows.”
Roelof, who moved to Canada from the Netherlands in 2000 and spent the next 10 years at Olds College, also does his own embryo recovery and transplantation, allowing him to improve production and conformation in a hands-on way.
“With embryo transplantation, I’m able to do that on the farm, and with the help of our genetic adviser, we’ve been able to accomplish those improvements,” he said.
The couple hopes to continue growing their operation with help from new technology, such as an automatic milking system that increased production from an average of 36 litres per cow per day to between 38 and 40 litres per cow per day.
“On a per-cow basis every day, that’s huge,” said Mary. “We’re able to lower our costs by reaching our same quota with fewer animals.
“Hopefully, we can continue to use technology to our advantage to make things easier and utilize our time better.”
The rising price of quota and recent trade barriers for Canadian dairy products have made the past few years challenging for the van Benthems, but they haven’t let those hurdles slow their momentum.
“We try to do our best and work hard, and it’s always worked out for us,” said Roelof. “We’ve always been able to grow — we’ve been able to buy a little bit of quota, a little bit of land, and then slowly build that way.”
“You have to not let the outside influences bog you down too much. You have to stay positive, do your thing, and continue as best you can, and you’ll get there.”
And support from other Outstanding Young Farmers from across the country will help with that, she added.
“Farming can be kind of isolated at times. To have a group that you’re able to fall back on where you’re able to support each other is so important,” said Mary.
“For us, our world is so localized, especially in dairy because you can’t travel very far. It’s hard to go anywhere.
“So being able to get that national level of diversity and education is huge. We can learn a lot from these farmers.”