When a young David Sibbald volunteered for the International Youth Livestock Committee of the Calgary Stampede back in 1990, he had no grand illusions about someday heading up an organization that today boasts 2,300 community volunteers and more than 1,200 employees. He was just committed to youth and agriculture.
Those commitments haven’t changed, but now — nearly 30 years later — he can share those passions from a different position after becoming president and chairman of the organization in March.
At the time, the Cochrane-area rancher was also president of the Canadian Angus Association, the country’s largest cattle breed organization, and had a busy few months leading both groups.
“It’s just a fact that I don’t know how to say no,” Sibbald said with a chuckle. “It was never the design, more of an evolution.”
He’s been a Stampede board member since 2009, and served on several committees (beef cattle, livestock evaluation, strategic agriculture planning, and rodeo). The board has evolved over the years from a collection of committee representatives to a strategic thinking group from diverse backgrounds. Sibbald said he gets to rub shoulders with lawyers, entrepreneurs, energy executives, engineers, and real estate developers — although many have farming backgrounds and connections.
While the Stampede stays closely tied to its proud western heritage, it needs to be relevant to an increasingly ethnically diverse and very urban community, he said. That’s why education has become a key priority and prompted a focus on creating a year-round gathering place for urban consumers and food producers.
“Traditional ag shows have changed,” said Sibbald. “Twenty years ago, cattle shows were what everybody did in the summer. Ag has changed. I’m excited about change, I have always been viewed as a change agent.”
Serving on the Stampede board has given him a different perspective that he tries to share with his fellow purebred breeders, he said.
“Ranchers tend not to worry about their product after it leaves their farm gate,” he said. “I’m on the other side — I’ve seen a million-plus people pack a 200-acre facility over 10 days and what their desires are from a food perspective. They’re shaping our industry and that’s good, but we also need to be part of that, in having conversations through the whole value chain.”
Even producers of Angus beef (“a brand second to none within the industry”) can’t rest on their laurels, he said.
“That’s what I’ve tried to push breeders to do: To think beyond their ranch, their farm, their program, to the collective and collaborative effort we can all have, and how that has impact.”
Sibbald is a fifth-generation rancher — his family has been in the Sibbald Flats area since 1875 — and raises about 500 head of purebred and commercial cattle with his family at Triple S Red Angus ranch. Telling the story of producers is key to the future of the beef business, he said, adding he’s proud the Stampede has been able to initiate conversations that increase awareness of the real story.
“In our education platform, we touch over 100,000 kids in a year from Grades 3 to 9, whether that’s with our Journey 2050 program, the Stampede School, our youth campus which just opened, or the OH Ranch Education program. The basis of that story is always ag and food. It’s not only necessary, but exciting to have those conversations.”
Sibbald is also hoping more people from agriculture, especially younger people, get engaged in leadership.
“We’ve got the best set of (young) leaders we’ve had for several generations,” he said. “They’re more educated, more connected to consumers, and on the right path. We need to encourage them to have a voice today, not 20 years from now.”
While experience is good, the old ‘wait your turn’ attitude needs to change, he added.
“We need to provide the opportunity for young leaders to have a seat at the table now,” he said, likening it to a breeding program and noting “pretty soon the cow herd is old” if you’re not bringing in new blood.
His family encouraged him to start volunteering early in life, and Sibbald said he’s both grateful to them and to wife Mary Beth and oldest son Dylan who manage the ranch day to day.
“I couldn’t do any of this without family support,” he said, adding, “I might have to go find a job… because I probably won’t have one… when I get back to the ranch.”
In an interview shortly before the opening of the Stampede, Sibbald also noted he was going to be the first president “in a long, long time” to ride in the rodeo opening.
“So I’d better not fall off!” he joked.
He didn’t, but offering to take part in the opening ride is a typical Dave Sibbald act.
“I love to contribute,” he said. “I want to be judged by the future I create. I really live by that.”