Diversification: The key to success for Smoky Lake couple

NUMBER CRUNCHING Paying attention to costs 
and profitability of every crop and enterprise 
has been critical for Alberta’s 2012 Outstanding 
Young Farmer winners

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Paying attention to the details while letting their eyes drift to the sky.

That’s the motto of Angela and Robert Semeniuk, owners of RAS farms and winners of Alberta’s Outstanding Young Farmers competition for 2012.

The couple, along with children Gabrielle and Tristan, crop 3,400 acres near Smoky Lake, custom seed 1,000 acres, and custom broadcast fertilizer on more than 25,000 acres.

“The size of our grain farm alone wasn’t enough — the custom business gives us greater flexibility and a second line of income to carry us through,” says Robert. “If there is an opportunity, we try to take it.”

When he took over the farm from his parents 15 years ago, Robert had cattle but sold them in 2006. He started hauling grain in 2000, but quit two years later as profit margins were too slim. Custom work has proved to be a good fit, allowing Angela to quit her off-farm job three years ago and work full time on RAS farms.

“Buying and renting land around here is very competitive,” says Robert. “Going into custom work was a way that we could generate income and grow.”

The couple owns two fertilizer trucks and does custom application for nearby farmers. They needed a loan to buy equipment and spent a considerable time crafting a business plan — which was a hit with their lender, Farm Credit Canada.

“Show them a solid business plan and make them believe,” says Robert.

Their plan forecast spreading fertilizer on 9,000 acres in their first year, but they ended up doing 19,000 acres by the end of the season. That prompted them to buy a second floater and a fertilizer delivery truck in 2010. The goal for the 2012 season is 35,000 acres. The Semeniuks find their customers by contracting through local ag retailers, who book the appointments.

Angela’s business skills are critical to the farm. She is a certified management accountant and the couple keeps very detailed books and records.

“We always know what’s making money,” says Robert.

“Robert has always had a very good head for business,” adds Angela, who used to work for Smoky Lake County, sometimes works as a consultant for surrounding municipalities, and does some bookkeeping for other businesses.

The Semeniuks keep records of everything they do on the farm in order to track what’s working and what’s not. It’s also part of their risk-management strategy.

“If anything happens to Robert, I’ll be able to run the farm,” says Angela. “The more information I have, the more I can calculate our costs.”

They use a program Robert created called Marketing Tracker, carefully monitor costs, and know their break-even prices, which allows them to be proactive when marketing grain.

“This gives us the confidence to pull the trigger quickly,” says Robert. Robert says he is a fan of adopting new technology and the couple has also hired a contract agronomist.

“We believe in hiring team members who see our vision and are willing to invest themselves into our operation,” says Robert.

The Semeniuks will compete in the national Outstanding Young Farmer competition in Charlottetown at the end of November.

 

About the author

Reporter

Alexis Kienlen

Alexis Kienlen lives in Edmonton and has been writing for Alberta Farmer since 2008. Originally from Saskatoon, Alexis is also the author of two collections of poetry, a biography, and a novel called "Mad Cow."

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