There’s been a changing of the guard, but last year’s winners are still pumped about their experience as the province’s Outstanding Young Farmers and their trip to the finals in Quebec City in November.
“Phenomenal is the best word I can find,” said Nicole Brousseau, who operates Moo-Lait Family Farms with husband Richard near St. Paul. “We were very welcomed in Quebec. The whole event was put on where we just were able to network and connect, and constantly build relationships.”
Although not selected as national winners, getting to know progressive young producers from across the country is what the program is all about, they said.
“Not just at the national event, but even here this weekend,” Richard said at the provincial event in Banff in early February. “A lot of the discussions go around working with family members and making that work. Succession planning seems to be the hot item now, so there’s some discussion about that.
“But some of it was just simple, innovative stuff that wasn’t necessarily for our industry, but we could take parts of it. Everybody is so open to sharing ideas.”
“It really rejuvenates and lifts your spirit, and brings back a new energy to keep going,” added Nicole.
At Banff, the Brousseaus gave the presentation they delivered in Quebec City, showing the path to the recent addition of a new barn at the dairy farm they operate with Nicole’s parents. They’re also active in sharing the story of agriculture by regularly hosting school tours at the farm. Both see that as an important piece of everyday farming today.
“I think the biggest thing we like so much about this group is the people we’ve met,” said Richard. “But at the same time, we see winning it as a responsibility. We’re ag ambassadors. We use that now. It’s our responsibility to be out there and be a voice, and we really like that aspect.
Patrick and Cherylynn Bos were chosen as this year’s Outstanding Young Farmers for the Alberta and NWT region. The Ponoka couple operates Rock Ridge Dairy, which includes 1,400 dairy goats and the largest goat milk-processing facility in Western Canada. They also make cheese and process organic cow’s milk from a neighbouring farm.
“Change is the only constant on our farm,” said Cherylynn. “This spring, we’re going to be introducing our new rotary parlour, which will be the first of its kind in North America. We’ll see our operation changing from milking about 180 goats per hour to 900. So we’ll have international interest in that venture.”
Milking 600 goats now, the new goal is to increase that to around 1,200 next year.
“We have four other farms that ship milk to us that we process at the plant,” said Patrick. “Four years ago we were doing 30,000 litres a month. Now we’re doing 120,000 litres of the goat’s milk a month, so we’ve expanded a lot on the milk processing, too.”
The goat dairy owners see more potential for both milk and cheese products, but they’re also very aware they’re serving a niche market. So they don’t want to “sink the boat” and are approaching expansion carefully. With expansion happening nationwide, and the fact Alberta’s goat industry has taken several major body blows in the past, getting more stock is a challenge. So is taking their own product to the marketplace.
“(We’re) learning about marketing and that whole new aspect that we knew nothing about before,” said Cherylynn. “But it’s really important just to build another cornerstone of your business, so you’re not relying on just custom work to see you through.”
Two new barns are being built now on the farm, with equipment installation scheduled to start this month. The commitment of preparing for the national OYF program — to be held in Edmonton in November — comes on top of an already busy schedule for the parents of four.
But it’s worth it, they both said.
“It will be really exciting, especially actually that it’s hosted in Alberta,” said Cherylynn. “Everybody thinks, ‘Oh that’s kind of boring to be in your own home province to go to nationals.’ But for me it’s great because that’s our home province and I want to represent it, and do the best we can for it.”
“It’s the most exciting farmers in Canada that we’ll be meeting with, and talking with, for a week, and that’s always an encouraging thing to do,” added Patrick. “It’s going to be fun.”
The other nominees for the regional OYF program this year were Randy and Tasha Alexander, grain farmers near Grimshaw; and grain and purebred Angus producers Kurt and Becky Pedersen of Edgerton.
The national event will be held Nov. 17-22 at the River Cree Resort in Edmonton.