Congratulations to the local recipients of the BMO Calgary Stampede Farm Families.
On Monday, BMO Bank of Montreal and the Calgary Stampede recognized 17 southern Alberta families, including the McDougald family of Starland County, the Ferguson family of Kneehill County and the Praeker family of Wheatland County.
These families best represent the values of the family farmer to our society. Celebrating its 20th anniversary, the BMO Farm Family Awards were created to promote a renewed urban-rural relationship and focus on recognizing the contribution to the enhancement of quality of life as a family unit.
“The BMO Farm Family Awards are fundamental in recognizing the many innovations and world-class business and environmental practices Alberta farmers and ranchers implement every day,” said Susan Brown, Senior Vice-president, Alberta and Northwest Territories Division, BMO Bank of Montreal.
The Alberta Minister of Agriculture, Oneil Carlier, attended alongside Bill Gray, president and chairman of the board, Calgary Stampede, and Brown, to congratulate the winners of the 2016 BMO Farm Family Awards.
“Alberta farmers and ranchers are the backbone of our thriving agriculture sector and rural communities,” says Carlier. “These awards recognize their unwavering commitment to community and agriculture in our province.”
“For two decades, the BMO Farm Family Awards have recognized the important work done by families in the agriculture world,” says Gray. “They’re an important part of the Stampede and showcase the importance of sustainable agriculture and help bridge the gap between urban and rural communities.”
McDougald Family Starland County
He had a very successful career in the oil business, but in his heart Elson McDougald was a farm boy. In 1976, he and his wife Pat decided to purchase 1,400 acres in the Verdant Valley area near Drumheller and raise their three sons in the farm setting they both knew and loved.
Forty years later, 3MC Stock Farms Ltd. and Dave McDougald Farms Ltd. are still in the family and the McDougalds are the BMO Farm Family of the Year for Starland County.
Now comprising 8,440 acres, the McDougald family farm is a mix of grain, cattle and hogs. About 5,000 acres are seeded in a rotation of peas, wheat, barley and canola with the proportions dependent on market prices.
Since 1996, the farm has been no-till – quite a change from 1976 when the McDougalds were seeding 2/3 and summerfallowing the rest.
“You admired people’s black seedbed with not a speck of trash showing,” Elson recalls. “It sure blew when the wind came up.” Now, he says, “It makes so much sense to keep the wind and the hot sun away from the soil and conserve the moisture.”
The remainder of the operation is pasture for the cattle herd – 170 Angus/Simmental mother cows and another 80 open heifers.
“We have our pastures split up so we don’t move the cattle often,” Elson says. “There’s a lot of coulees in our country and coulees aren’t productive.” The other part of the business is an interest in three farrowing barns with about 3,000 sows each. Sons Brad and Cliff operate 3MC Stock Farms, the mixed operation, and Dave, the other son, focuses strictly on growing grain.
“When we moved out here, the water was terrible,” Pat remembers. “We hauled water by truck a lot of the time and a lot of our neighbours were in the same situation. Elson started talking about whether they could put in a pipeline from Drumheller.” It took two or three years of effort by the community, but there are now 28 farms in the area enjoying clean, fresh water from the city.
The whole family has been very involved with a wide variety of community organizations.
“You get involved in 4-H and the schools with the kids and it just goes on from there,” Pat says. “You need to put back. If you want it there when you need it, you need to be helping when someone else needs it.”
“After ten years of 4-H leadership, our kids were out of it,” Pat says. “I was thinking, ‘ What am I going to do with my time?’ That was in June.”
In July, she got a call from someone involved in the Canadian Badlands Passion Play. For the next four years, Elson was President and Pat was Treasurer. Both feel a real sense of accomplishment when they look at the success of the Passion Play today.
There is also a great sense of accomplishment when it comes to their children.
“The boys are all within two miles of us, up and down the road,” Elson says. “It’s very pleasing. It’s a tribute to their mother, because I was away so much in the oil business.”
Working side-by-side with his sons has been the best part of having the farm, he continues, and now his grandchildren are beginning to participate. “Some of them are becoming very involved, driving tractor and fixing fences – all the things we used to do.”
“So many years of participation together,” Pat says. “You just can’t get it anywhere else.”
Ferguson Family Kneehill County
It’s a long way from Nova Scotia to Three Hills, but that’s the trek Don Ferguson’s father Tom made at the age of 13 during the Great Depression. Today, the roots Tom put down have resulted in three further generations of farming Fergusons – the BMO Farm Family of the Year representing Kneehill County for 2016.
Travelling with his slightly-older sister, Tom joined an uncle and aunt who farmed in the area. Soon, however, he was living and working on a series of other local farms for room and board. Don recalls his father telling him that once he wrote a letter to his mother but couldn’t mail it for six months because he didn’t have a penny to buy a stamp.
At one farm though, Tom met Alice, who became his wife. Eventually, times improved
and Tom was able to purchase and farm his uncle’s half section, the base for today’s family operation to the southeast of Three Hills, as well as running a trucking business.
These days, Don and his sons, Matt and Mark, don’t really have time for trucking. The farm has over 9,000 acres under cultivation – about 20 per cent in either peas or malt barley and the rest equally divided between canola and wheat. The Fergusons were early adaptors of the new notill technology Don says.
“As soon as the air-seeders came out, they offered a whole bunch of new opportunities we hadn’t had before. Soil conservation has always been our first priority. Look after the soil and it will look after you!”
He recalls days when extensive labour was required to repair washouts from the spring runoff and when any wind would pick up topsoil and blow it away.
The Ferguson's also make extensive use of GPS tracking.
“We don’t have anything on the farm that you steer,” Don observes. “It’s all auto-steer. My boys really like technology. If we can see it’s useful, we adopt it.”
Don says he often wishes his father could see the technology and equipment the farm uses today. Matt and his wife Jen also have a 150 head, grass-fed cow/ calf operation using Angus/Simmental cows bred Angus. Don’s daughter, Sarah Richardson and her husband also have a cow/ calf herd.
“All of us farm our own land and share machinery,” Don explains. “We all work together. We just do the work the way we think it should be done. It doesn’t really matter whose land it is. At the end of the day, the work’s all done.”
The Fergusons have been very involved in their community for many years. Tom was a county councillor for 18 years in the 1970s and 1980s. Don is approaching his 40th year as a member of the Elks Club. His wife Krista worked for many years in the lab at the hospital and still volunteers there. Their children, Matt & his wife Jen, Mark and his wife Jordana and the Richardsons have all been busy volunteering with local boards, 4-H, church and coaching minor sports.
It isn’t hard for Don to single out the best thing about being on the farm. “For me, it’s undoubtedly working with my family every day. I have nine grandkids now and they’re all within f ive or six miles of the house.” Even better is that some of the younger generation are showing interest in the farm.
“If there’s a job they can do, they’re more than happy to help out and work,” he says. “We feel very blessed to have that.”
Praeker Family Wheatland County
It doesn’t take Herman Praeker very long to identify what he likes best about being on the family farm.
“The best thing for me is seeing the next generation come up and want to take over and want to help,” he says. Herman is the third generation of the BMO Farm Family of the Year for Wheatland County for 2016.
Herman’s grandfather came to Strathmore from Iowa in 1911 riding in a railroad boxcar, attracted by the availability of irrigated land. Herman’s parents continued farming the homestead until 1981 when Herman and his wife Barb took over.
Of the 4,400 seeded acres on Praeker Farms, about 1,250 are irrigated using low pressure pivots – a major advance from the previous irrigation technology.
“I had a cream quota,” Herman remembers. “I got my first set of wheel lines and I said to my wife, ‘I can’t do both’, so I got rid of the cream quota.”
The cash crops are wheat, barley, canola and peas grown in a four year rotation.
Alfalfa and forage grass are also grown as cattle feed.
“We started the peas because they only take moisture from the top foot of soil,” Herman explains. It took a while to learn how to handle them, though. “If you had a good crop of peas then they were lying flat,” he recalls. “There was one year no one would harvest with me. We were picking more rocks than peas for a while.”
Technology has also changed things for Herman. “I used to spend all summer summer-fallowing,” he says.
He believes today’s GPS-guided auto-steer and no-till techniques, with proper crop rotation, now allow them to improve the soil, conserve moisture and control diseases, weeds and pests. He knows his father would find it all quite remarkable.
“The last time he drove a combine, he was amazed he could listen to a football game in an enclosed cab. He started with horses.”
The commercial cattle herd, 300 Red Angus and Simmental cross cows, grazes on native grass on another 1,500 acres of pasture. “We rent pasture all the way to Lyalta,” Herman says.
“We have some areas with trees and shelters. We’ll feed them on top of stubble so we’re not cleaning corrals all spring. The next year we’ll feed them in a little different spot. It helps the land and distributes the manure.”
The next generation of Praekers, son Francis and his wife Jena and son Cole and his wife Breanne, are very involved in the operation. Since both Francis and Cole are heavy duty mechanics, it’s a big help with the sophisticated, complicated and very expensive machinery on a modern farm.
“We’re pretty tickled that they’re both so enthused,” Herman says.
The rest of the Praekers’ five children help out regularly when needed. Over the years, the family has been involved with their church and their community, centred on the old Crowfoot School House just northeast of Strathmore. As the children grew, their teams, clubs and other activities received their parents’ time and attention.
“That’s part of it out here,” Herman says. “It’s just what you do. The girls were in horse 4-H. Barb used to start here and pick up about six horses between here and Cluny.”
“We’re so blessed out here to have irrigation and to be able to have both cattle and grainland,” Herman says. “It’s just fun to work.”
The McDougald family of Starland County was named a 2016 BMO Calgary Stampede Farm Family on Monday, along with 17 other southern Alberta farm families including families from Wheatland, Starland, and Kneehill counties.