Dairy farmer Richard Brousseau said what his visibly moved wife Nicole couldn’t upon being named Alberta’s Outstanding Young Farmers for 2014.
“At first… we didn’t feel we fit the bill, but when we looked into (the program) and what it stood for, we felt very fortunate to be part of this group,” said Richard after the couple was announced as this year’s winners for Alberta and the Northwest Territories.
“As a farmer, you never set out to get recognition,” said Nicole after the presentation in Banff last month. “You never set out in the ag industry to say you’re going to be an outstanding young farmer.”
The Brousseaus and their three young children operate Moo-Lait Family Farms near St. Paul, where they milk 50 dairy cows and grow their own crops for feed in partnership with Nicole’s parents.
And while both Richard and Nicole grew up on farms in the St. Paul area, neither expected to be milk producers.
“I didn’t know if I wanted to be a dairy farmer, but I knew I wanted to be involved in agriculture,” said Nicole.
Being a dairy farmer was “not something I thought I’d ever do,” said Richard, who grew up on a hog farm. He calls the road that took him back to the farm “a process.”
“Originally when I grew up, I thought I’d never leave the farm,” he said. But a struggle to find funding for quota led Richard to work off-farm jobs for 18 months, including one as a delivery driver.
“We struggled. It wasn’t an overnight thing,” he said.
“You keep working at it,” said Nicole. “There’s a bigger picture in mind.”
Eventually, Richard landed a job as the manager of the dairy barn at Lakeland College in Vermilion.
“It’s been dairy ever since.”
Since then, the Brousseaus have expanded their operation, doubling milk production and expanding their barn. Even as their operation has grown, sustainability has been the primary focus for the pair.
“We want to keep our environmental footprint to a minimum while still remaining profitable, efficient and sustainable,” said Richard.
Four years ago, the Brousseaus sought the help of a well-established producer in their area, who introduced the couple to crop management techniques that have improved the health of their soil — and their cows.
“We’ve seen the benefits of it already,” said Richard.
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For example, they had no cases of mastitis over six months, which Richard credits to soil improvements that have resulted in better-quality feed. The quality of their last oat samples was so high, their nutritionist thought there had been some sort of mistake in the testing process.
“There was no mistake,” said Nicole. “It’s just a healthier crop.”
The couple now grows as much feed as they can.
“It’s connecting back to nature,” said Richard. “If we have healthy soil and healthy plants, (we’ll have) healthy livestock and healthy product, which in turn makes healthier people.”
The Brousseaus’ approach to environmental stewardship and the success of their operation led to their regional win, but they weren’t able to celebrate for very long. Their new dairy barn was days away from being finished, and there was plenty of work for the young couple waiting back at the farm.
“We both feel it’s our calling to be in agriculture, and we’re very fortunate that we’re able to follow our passion and our dreams,” said Richard.
The national Outstanding Young Farmers competition will be held in Quebec City from Nov. 25-30.