The Drumheller Mail - - FRONT PAGE - Sub­mit­ted

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.

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