St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador
Gerry Wicks grew up as a townie, never stepped foot on a farm. He graduated from high school and got a job at Central Dairies. Gerry loved his work, but at the age of 26, he decided to leave his job and attend Truro Agriculture College in Nova Scotia. He graduated with his Diploma of Agriculture Business with a minor in Animal Science.
He loved agriculture but Gerry didn’t want to be a farmer, his passion was finance and problem solving.
Gerry is an Agriculture Development Officer with the Department of Natural Resources, Government of Newfoundland and Labrador. He provides financial analysis, project management, and consultative work in support of the development of the agriculture and agrifoods industry in the province. He provides specialized agronomic and business expertise in promoting the agriculture industry. He is the first line of contact between farmers and the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador.
“The reason I love my job is the day to day interaction with farmers. Good mixture of office and field work. It is always a challenge.”
Agriculture Development Officers identifies, evaluates and promotes agriculture development opportunities in the industry. They provide an advisory service to clients on crops and livestock production practices and new technology. They deliver and participate in various education and informative programs related to the agriculture industry.
Gerry says, “different issues and different solutions arise on the farm everyday. Learning new techniques and technology will always be interesting and exciting.”
Degree in Agriculture or Business
As a kid growing up on a dairy farm in Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley, Gary Bishop liked to tinker with the machinery.
It turned out to be an apprenticeship.
“I’ve always loved working with machinery,” says Gary Bishop, an agricultural systems engineer at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Atlantic Cool Climate Crop Research Centre in St. John’s, NL.
“I was always trying to fix things around the farm so a career in engineering was natural fit for me.”
Bishop studied agricultural engineering at the Nova Scotia Agricultural College and the Technical University of Nova Scotia (now DalTech) before earning a Masters in Applied Science in 1986.
His first job at the research centre was modifying farm equipment to work on the province’s peat lands.
“There is a lot of bog land and it can be very hard to work with if you don’t have the right equipment,” says Bishop. “Many times we got stuck in the bog and it was always ‘fun’ trying to get the equipment out.”
His research gradually shifted to soil drainage (subsurface drainage) on mineral soils.
Mineral soils in Newfoundland often consist of a layer of topsoil over heavily compacted clay and other minerals that don’t drain well.
Bishop led the effort by the province to bring modern drainage equipment to the province. The buried pipes allow the land to be drained horizontally, rather than vertically, bypassing the compacted layer.
“Because of this new type of drainage equipment, the farms here have increased their productivity by 25 per cent,” he says.
He is currently working with other Atlantic researchers in the department on a project to give farmers more precise information on how to fertilize with manure.
“The goal is to have them effectively fertilizing their crops while protecting streams, rivers and underground water tables,” he says. “I find this research really interesting and we have a great team working together on it.”
That kind of collaboration is important to Bishop. He is a member of the Canadian Society of Agricultural Engineering, the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Newfoundland and the Newfoundland and Labrador Institute of Agrologists.
Bishop says the fun he had experimenting with farm machinery as a kid in Nova Scotia is not much different from the enjoyment he takes now from the job.
“The best thing about my job is that I get to design and adapt equipment and technology that can help farmers in an economic and environmentally friendly way.”
Cathy Whitehead and Ed Hutchings run a different kind of farm with a different kind of product. Their farm, located in Felix Cove on the Port-Au-Port peninsula, sells alpaca products. Their company, Alpacas of Newfoundland, is a farm and retail operation which began operating in 1998.
Alpacas, a member of the camel family, are farmed exclusively for their fibre, as the meat is not consumed in most parts of the world. The fibre is of tremendous quality at four to six times the warmth of sheep’s wool. It is lightweight, hypoallergenic, and non-absorbent.
The alpaca farm can trace its beginnings to when Cathy wanted a llama as a pet. While making plans to acquire one, she saw a picture of an alpaca in a magazine. This led to visits to alpaca farms in the United States to better understand what is involved in raising the animals. Ed and Cathy were quickly convinced that this was an endeavour they wanted to pursue and they set out getting the farm started.
After clearing several regulatory hurdles concerning the importation of animals into the province, in September of that year the alpacas arrived and the farm was in operation. Ed and Cathy started with five alpacas and a llama. Today, this has grown to 23 alpacas, two llamas, and two pygmy goats. At the beginning, the plan was to raise the animals strictly for breeding and selling. However, with limited markets available in Newfoundland and Labrador, their focus quickly shifted to secondary processing and selling products made from alpaca fibre.
The secondary processing started when a lady requested some fibre for knitting. When she was finished, Ed and Cathy quickly discovered that the finished product was an easy sell. Their craft store actually started in the hayloft of their barn, and then moved to their living room. Soon after, they built a 1,200 square foot dedicated craft shop to sell their products. At the craft shop hats, mitts, gloves, scarves and sweaters are sold, all made from alpaca fibre, as well as several non-alpaca products. The alpaca products are created by up to 13 different knitters, while the socks are made by a Montreal company.
In addition to selling at their craft store, Ed and Cathy sell their products at various trade shows around the province and beyond. This includes agricultural shows like the Agrifood and Garden Show, craft shows like ‘Christmas at the Glacier’, and two shows a year in Halifax.
Luckily for Ed and Cathy, the animals are low maintenance, allowing them to spend more time at the craft store and trade shows. During a typical day on the farm, the biggest task is making sure the animals have enough hay and water. Additionally, every four to six weeks, the alpacas’ toe nails must be cut. The biggest job on the farm though, without a doubt, is shearing. This takes about a week every time it must be done to work through all the animals. The only other regular task is a check of animal health every few months.
Those interested in purchasing alpaca products can visit the Alpacas of Newfoundland Craft Store, located 20 minutes from Stephenville, in Felix Cove, or buy online. For online sales, hours of operation, and directions, please visit www.alpacasofnfld.ca. Alpacas of Newfoundland can also be reached by telephone at (709) 648-9414, or you can find the company on Facebook.
As a former RCMP officer from New Brunswick, Jeff Milner is not your typical Newfoundland and Labrador farmer. His core product is also different. What sets his frozen blueberries apart from most others is both the blueberries themselves and how they are processed.
Frosty Wild Blueberries are low bush blueberries. Most of what is sold in grocery stores, in this province and across the country, are high bush berries, which are generally a planted crop, instead of wild. Blueberries are a natural health food, due primarily to their high antioxidant count. But it is in this very area where the low bush berries, like those Jeff is producing, are superior to their high bush cousins. Recent lab tests have confirmed that Newfoundland low bush blueberries are higher in antioxidant value and other pharmaceutical values, primarily due to the skin of the berry.
The other big difference between Frosty and its competitors is in the processing. Most berries are cleaned to remove leaves and stems using a water process. Jeff prefers to use an air-based process which means the berries will retain more of their natural colour and won’t stick together when frozen.
Jeff went through the RCMP’s Regina Training Academy, and requested a posting in Newfoundland, coming here in February, 1981. He has been here ever since, and retired from the force in 2005. While blueberry farming is not in Jeff’s family, farming certainly is. Jeff grew up on a beef farm in his hometown of Sackville, NB and has always had a love for farming.
The berries found under the Frosty brand are grown at Jeff’s farm, called Jumper’s Brook Blueberry Farm, which is located in central Newfoundland, west of Bishop’s Falls. Jeff’s farm is a 470-acre operation which usually employs 50 to 60 staff. He is predicting that this year will be the busiest year to date with about a hundred workers on staff for varying lengths of time.
Jeff cites new markets discovered over the winter for fresh and frozen Blueberries as being responsible for this increase. He went on to talk about a staff position that he sees as vital, “The most important employee this year will be a marketing person to assist in promotion, and all other paperwork which comes with farming, and running a large crowd of workers.”
Frosty Wild Blueberries have been available in stores across the province for about a year. Shoppers can find them in five-pound boxes in the frozen-food section of Costco, Sobeys, and some Co-op and Coleman's stores.
In the future, Jeff hopes to expand the business into further secondary processing. His plans include juices, dehydrated blueberries, blueberry barbeque sauce, and even nutrition bars.
Jeff’s plans for the future don’t even stop at blueberries. To extend the season beyond the times when blueberries grow, Jeff is looking at expanding into cranberries, partridgeberries and sea buckthorn. These plans involve utilizing the existing processing infrastructure to process the other berries.
With a very solid foundation already built, including wide distribution and availability, and ambitious plans for the future, Jeff Milner’s Jumpers Brook Blueberry Farm looks poised to enjoy continued and even greater success in future.
Darryl Legge operates ChrisDarMar Farms Ltd., a chicken farm in Holyrood. The farm spans two locations, has over 100,000 chickens at any given time, and covers about thirty acres. Darryl decided farming was the best career for him after giving it up for about five years and exploring other career options. As he tried on other careers for size, he saw more and more of the value in farming until it was clear that it offered him the best fit.
Darryl is a third generation farmer. His grandfather got into farming in the early 1970s after moving here from Toronto. Darryl’s parents started farming about ten years later and bought his grandfather’s operation. They combined the operation they had with his to create the farm that exists today.
A day on the farm for Darryl usually begins at about 7:30am. He starts by cleaning the equipment, checking air quality, feeding the birds and refilling their water. This is repeated three or four times throughout the day. He then moves onto his paperwork, then does any necessary maintenance. His day will usually end at around 8:30pm. If you were to ask Darryl what is the main objective in doing all this work, he would tell you it is to “create a high quality, safe product for the Canadian public”.
Being safe, clean and responsible are all priorities at ChrisDarMar Farms. Biosecurity is the primary focus. The farm is On Farm-Food Safety Assurance Program (OFFSAP) approved, it is gated at all times, and the doors are locked with access only provided to authorized personnel. Upon entry, clothes and boots must be changed to ensure no disease is able to enter or leave the farm. In 2006 the Farm completed an Environmental Farm Plan which involved safeguards such as reducing the potential for manure leakage by paving around buildings. These principles also extend to community support, as ChrisDarMar Farms supports local sports teams and charities.
When he is not on the farm, agriculture is often not far from Darryl’s mind as he is also very involved in local farming organizations. He sits on the Board of Directors for the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Agriculture and he is the Vice President of the NL Young Farmers’ Forum.
Darryl sees some challenges in running his farm. These include labour concerns, time management, money management (squeezing every dollar), and animal welfare. He mitigates these issues as best as he can from day-to-day and has long-term ideas for handling them as well.
In the future Darryl would like to build new more efficient farm buildings which would help to reduce labour and utility costs. He would also like to diversify the business into forage and organic to capture new market opportunities and reduce costs.
Qualifications: Certificate, Diploma or Degree in Agriculture or Business and/or relevant work experience.
Walter Calloway is a cranberry and sod farmer based in Terra Nova, where he operates Pinedale Farm. Walter got his start in farming while growing up and helping out on his father’s farm. He began his own sod operation in 1988. His farm dates back to 1944 when his father began farming with eggs and vegetables. Walter’s father passed away in 1982 and his mom then ran the farm until about 1993.
Walter began cranberry production in 1999 when he availed of a government initiative to encourage development of the cranberry industry in the province. He currently has about 10 acres of cranberries in production.
A day on the farm for Walter usually consists of cutting sod, irrigation, cranberry maintenance and construction for cranberry production. This construction involves the use of an excavator and dump truck to make the terrain suitable for cranberries.
When it comes to producing cranberries, less conventional equipment is used, as a lot of the work at Pinedale Farm is done using homemade equipment. There is not much equipment commercially available for a smaller scale cranberry producer, so Walter makes a lot of his own equipment. Walter has made equipment to aide in various parts of the production process including a picker for harvesting as well as a cranberry conveyor.
After the product is harvested, much of it is sent to be processed, where much of it will eventually end up as juice. Indian Bay Frozen Foods buys most of the cranberries produced in Newfoundland and Labrador, and all of the berries produced at Pinedale Farm. Walter would like to one day see all the secondary processing done in this province, so his berries will go from being grown within the province to leaving with a UPC code on the product
Pinedale Farm is fortunate to have reliable, steady employees, and thus labour is not of much concern to Walter. He has had the same crew for many years, some having been there over twenty years.
One challenge that Walter does see, however, is dealing with the Newfoundland and Labrador climate, saying “Mother nature is always your best friend or your worst enemy.” He cites bugs, diseases, unseasonable frost, and an uncharacteristically warm or cold winter as challenges to his operation.
In the future, Walter would like to expand to 40 acres of cranberries in about five years, and he would like to produce a million pounds of cranberries a year. Walter says his “passion is to work with cranberries.” This enthusiasm combined with his goals puts Pinedale Farm squarely on the path to continued success.
Crosbie Williams owns and operates Pondview Farms Ltd., a dairy farm located in the Goulds. Crosbie is no stranger to agriculture. He is a fourth generation farmer, and has also worked with both the provincial and federal agriculture departments.
After graduating from college in 1989, Crosbie took the knowledge he gained from the Nova Scotia Agriculture College and went to work as a crop insurance technician with the provincial government, where he stayed for three years, before working for the federal government for seven years.
Crosbie left his government position to take over the family farm in 1999 when his father passed away. Pondview Farms is still very much a family run operation with Crosbie handling animal husbandry duties and his brother Ray taking care of field crops as well as machinery maintenance and upkeep.
Pondview Farms has seen expansion over the years. When Crosbie took over the farm, there were about 100 cows. Since then this number has grown to the present level of about 190 cows, which currently occupy the freestyle barn. Pondview Farms also has about 200 acres of forage.
A typical day on the farm starts before 6am and lasts until almost 7pm. The cows are milked first thing in the morning, and after that, cleaning and feeding take place. Crosbie spends much of his time on animal husbandry, cost containment, and looking at new ways of increasing efficiency. Quality control is an important part of the operation as the farm is part of the Canadian Milk Quality Program.
One method of increasing efficiency employed by Pondview Farms is by incorporating new technologies where they can help in the day-to-day operations. The McHale baler is a cutting edge piece of equipment used on the farm. It bales and wraps simultaneously and can handle the forage for a large farm while requiring only 2 or 3 employees.
There are, of course, challenges for Crosbie Williams in running Pondview Farms. These include cost reduction, cow fertility and health, and human resource management. Staying on top of the costs has been particularly difficult lately due to the increasing cost of everything associated with milk production. Crosbie sums up his feelings by saying, “It’s a demanding job but I love it!”
As part of his plan for addressing the rising price of feed, Crosbie plans to clear more land for forage production. He hopes to expand by about 50-75 acres. He also plans to improve upon the quality of his forage, thus increasing both quality and quantity.
With his focus on efficiency and background in agriculture, Crosbie Williams has seen his farm expand and prosper over the years. His commitment to operating in this manner is sure to see continuing success.
Many vegetable farmers know the cabbage maggot all too well. So does Peggy Dixon.
The entomologist at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Atlantic Cool Climate Crop Research Centre has been studying the maggot for 20 years.
“It looks very similar to a house fly and it can play havoc to a farmer’s vegetable crop,” says Dixon. “I got interested in it as an honours project in university and now it’s one of my main areas of research.”
The cabbage maggot was accidentally introduced to Newfoundland and Labrador many years ago. It is now a major insect pest in rutabaga and cole crops like cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower. The fly lays its eggs in the soil next to the plant and the larvae feed on the roots.
She will lead a new project this year field testing rutabaga seed for cabbage maggot resistance in four provinces.
Other projects in Dixon’s entomology program include looking at plant resistance to the blueberry leaftier, the main insect pest for blueberries in Newfoundland and Labrador.
She loves the work.
“I’ve always been fascinated by insects ever since I was a young child growing up in Baie Verte,” says Dixon. “We had lots of empty butter tubs in the basement – empty of butter maybe, but full of pet insects and spiders.
“It has been a passion of mine ever since I can remember, and I made my first insect collection in Grade 6”
She said summers spent on a PEI beef farm encouraged her love of agriculture and inspired her to attend the Nova Scotia Agricultural College and the Ontario Agricultural College.”
Dr, Dixon completed a PhD in Agriculture at the Scottish Agricultural Colleges - University of Edinburgh, in 1987.
Peggy is also an Adjunct Professor at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the University of New Brunswick, a Past President of the Entomological Society of Canada and a member of the “Canadian Working Group for Development of an IPM Strategy for Delia”( Delia is the scientific name for the cabbage maggot and its relatives).
For more than a decade she has lived in Conception Bay South with her husband and two children and a house full of pets, including a tarantula! In her spare time, she enjoys music, reading and hockey. She is very active in the “Avalon Dragons” dragon boating team, and is Vice-President of “Sci-fi on the Rock”.
Environmental Farm Planning is recognized nationwide as a means for farmers to identify and mitigate potential environmental risks on their farms. Every province in Canada is taking part in this program.
An Environmental Farm Technician will assist farmers in developing an Environmental Farm Plan (EFP). The completion of this EFP involves rating potential risks and then identifying alternative activities that present less risk. EFP’s are 100% voluntary, and at all times throughout the process, remain the property of the farmer. Completion of an EFP may allow a farmer to become eligible for certain funding programs to complete projects that will better make their farm more environmentally responsible.
Meet Barry Nolan, Environmental Farm Plan Technician, Land Resources Stewardship Division with the Department of Natural Resources, Government of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Barry grew up on the east coast of St. John’s but was surrounded by agriculture since he was 11 years old. He comes from five generations of family farms. He was exposed to all aspects of agriculture dairy, poultry, sheep, goats and varieties of crops. He attended Memorial University and then moved to the Agriculture College in Truro to receive his Animal Science Technology degree.
“My career enables me to interact with farmers of different commodities on a regular basis. I have a good balance of office and field work and I get to visit many communities all throughout Newfoundland and Labrador. I get to work with people that I wouldn’t get to do business with if I was in an office.”
Barry’s job offers him a peace of mind knowing that he is doing what he can to ensure the safety of the family, farm and community on an environmental level.
Qualifications: Graduation from a university or college with a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture, Major in Agricultural Economics/Business. A degree in Commerce/Business or Economics.
Colin Hirtle grew up in Bridewater, Nova Scotia. It is along the south shore of Nova Scotia in Lunenburg County. He went to West Northfield Elementary School, New Germany Rural Junior High, and Park View Education Centre for High School.
How did a young boy grow an interest in agriculture?
“My grandparents had a broiler chicken and beef farm so I was always up there working with them. They had about 64, 000 broiler chicken and about 75-100 charolais beef cattle. I’ve always had animals of my own, cattle, pigs, chickens, turkeys, pheasants, and a draft horse. I’ve always enjoyed working around animals.”
“The best part about my job is being able to get out to the farms across the island and talk with the owners. In this job I deal mostly with dairy farms, however I do have a lot of small backyard customers also. Every day in this job is different, I could spend my day in the office answering phone calls and emails, or balancing feed rations. Or it could start with me out on the farm taking samples, checking feed tanks, or Body Condition scoring cattle. There is a lot of driving in this job since I cover the whole island. I usually spend about a week a month on the West Coast of the island visiting and providing support and service to the producers there. I drive out to Central usually every week to see the producers out there also. This job is very seasonal; I have different duties and things to do in different season.”
If a High School student asked you how to explore careers in agriculture, what advice would you give them?
“I would first ask them what areas they are interested in and the recommend them to try and find a summer job doing that, or find someone in that position to travel with for a few days a week. Ever since I was old enough to pick up a piece of firewood or a bale of hay I’ve been working on a farm. My summer jobs included working for 4-H as a summer assistant, working at the Maritime Beef Cattle Test Station helping with research on feed efficiency, working on a large beef farm in Annapolis Valley of Nova Scotia helping with cropping and working with the cattle, working on a dairy farm, and working at the Nova Scotia Agricultural College’s poultry barns caring for the birds and helping with a wide range of research. The best thing is to not stick to one thing, to get out and do everything and anything. Experience is everything now-a-days.”
Colin attended Nova Scotia Agricultural College, recently renamed as Dalhousie University, Faculty of Agriculture. He has achieved his Bachelor of Science Degree in Agriculture, majoring in animal science with a minor in agricultural business. He also has achieved his certification of specialization in organic agriculture.
Colin Hirtle and his wife Elizabeth hope and dreams for the future has always been to farm. Elizabeth is a herdsman on a local dairy farm. One day they hope to own and operate their own dairy farm.
Paradise Farms Inc. is a honeybee operation run by Aubrey and Viola Goulding in Paradise on the Avalon Peninsula. They’ve been involved in the agriculture industry since getting their start in 1984. At that time they had five acres and wanted to make a homestead. They started with fruit and berries, but soon wanted to expand into another area, initially planning to add hens or dairy goats.
After giving it further thought, the Gouldings decided against adding any livestock, because it would have tied them to the land. They had been reading a lot about beekeeping, and decided to give it a try. Soon they had their first hive, which came from New Zealand. They kept a couple of hives for domestic use until 1998, when they decided to take their operation commercial.
They incorporated in 2001 with 12 hives, which has since expanded to today’s level of 25-30 hives. These hives produce products ranging from honey to furniture polish to body care products. While the honey is only sold within the province, the other products are sold across the country and beyond.
To take care of the hives and produce all the great products appearing under the Bee Natural name, Paradise Farms employs two full-time and one part-time staff. What keeps these staff busy depends on the time of the year. Through most of the season, a typical day will start at about 8am and go on for 6-8 hours. During that time the hives are checked, looking for any diseases that may have been encountered, looking for overcrowding; splitting hives where needed; and making sure there is enough honey and bee pollen.
It is during harvest time that the farm is truly abuzz with activity. This is when the work becomes much more time consuming and physically demanding. Honey must be removed from the hive, bottled and labelled. The process usually goes from morning to midnight. This goes on from about mid-September to mid-October. The farm work then shifts to making the value-added products like beeswax candles later in the season when the bees prepare to cluster for the winter.
Aubrey cites the Newfoundland climate, and operating near an urban area as the primary challenges impacting on the farm. The long Newfoundland springs, delaying the arrival of summer make it tough on the bees at the beginning of the season. Additionally, operating in an urban environment means that there are less open areas with available nectar and pollen for the bees – each pound of honey requires about 2 million blossoms! Additionally, some of the public has a phobia of bees and don’t like to have them in close proximity.
Looking toward the future, Aubrey sees the biggest opportunity in value-added products. This allows for the maximizing of the available honey. The Gouldings are quite content with their current production level, and plan to stay at the 25-30 hive output, because it produces plenty and is still manageable. This means a stronger focus on value-added. Aubrey and Viola get a lot of ideas for great new products by attending trade shows like the North American Honey Bee Conference. One of the big growth areas Paradise Farms is looking at is pet products. There is a large and growing demand for products like pet shampoo made from honey.
During the holiday season, beeswax candles are by far the best selling product from Paradise Farms, and a popular gift to receive in a stocking or under a tree. The candles and many other bee products from the Gouldings’ farm are available at many retailers across the province, including Bidgoods, Belbin’s, the Downhome Shop, in addition to many other gift shops and health shops.
Martin Burton is a farmer based in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Labrador where he operates his farm called Labrador Farms. He has been involved in farming for over twenty years, having been a part-time farmer for most of his life, before deciding this year that the time had come to switch to full-time. Martin started off his farming operation with cattle, hogs, and a few vegetables. He decided briefly to stop raising animals, but they have since returned. Now he has cows, goats, pigs, and vegetables on his 82-acre farm, including 4 acres of potatoes.
Martin found that operating the farm on a part-time basis was becoming too much work on top of his full-time job he had last year. One of the jobs would have to go, and in the end farming won out. Now that farming is his full-time day job, a typical day on the farm starts at about 7:30am. Martin starts by letting the cattle out of the barn, allowing them to roam and graze throughout the day. Next, he feeds the other animals, and cleans the barn and any other parts of the farm in need of a cleaning.
Labrador Farms has evolved over the years, having to adjust to the harsh climate of Labrador. Martin had to give up his farm animals and switch to strictly vegetables a couple of years after he started farming, as he was unable to get to the animals in the winter to feed them and care for them, since the road to the farm was not being plowed in the winter. But this was later rectified with a combination of a truck with a blade, a snow blower attachment for his tractor, and the cooperation of the Department of Transportation, who will now plow the road after heavy snowfalls.
The great distance of the Happy Valley-Goose Bay area from major centres is also a concern for farmers in the area. It is very expensive to have items shipped from Lewisporte, but that is where most items originate. Having hay sent from Lewisporte nearly doubles the cost, from $240/ton to $460/ton. Occasionally hay can be sent from Quebec at a significant savings when hay is available and transportation can be found. Sometimes hay can be shipped from Quebec for as little as $100/ton, but it is rarely available when transportation is obtainable.
To make the farm more consistently cost effective, Martin has plans to get into hay production himself. He has the necessary equipment ordered and is in the process of clearing land to use for the hay production as a cost saving measure.
There are plans for expansion in the future at Labrador Farms, specifically to introduce more cattle next spring. Additional farm acreage has been added as well, as Labrador Farms recently acquired 50 acres on top of the original 32 acres. The farm also has a great opportunity to expand even more in the future. If Martin decides to expand in the next five years, he has 75 acres available in a surrounding lot which he has a hold on for that period.
Introducing Sabrina Brock
Sabrina Brock from Jeffery’s on the West Coast of Newfoundland knew that she wanted to work in agriculture. She had a passion and love for animals.
Agriculture peaked her interest through Dairy Showmanship from the 4-H Program in her high school days. “I was always amazed that if you treated the animal well what a big return you got in the end.” 4-H Program is a youth leadership organization that was founded on the principles of agriculture. It has youth clubs all across Newfoundland and Labrador.
Sabrina graduated High School and then attended the Truro Agriculture College in Nova Scotia. There she received a major in Animal Science and a minor in economics. She is now a Livestock Development Officer with the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador.
A Livestock Development Officer works with farmers to assist them with better farm management practices. They work with all different types of operations, sheep, beef cows, small flock poultry and other large animal operations. They provide assistance with the animal husbandry (methods of raising the animals) and to assist farmers with increasing profitability on the farm.
A typical day starts by visiting one of their clients on their farm. They spend time with the farmer discussing the challenges they are dealing with and they discuss solutions on what would work best for their operation. They provide the knowledge and expertise to assist the farmer and their business. They provide advice on nutrition, breeding and new technology. They spend time with the animals checking in on their progress. They help the producers reach their full potential and goals of production with the animals on their farm.
“My favorite aspect of my job is interacting with the producers. Meeting the people who grow our food and making an impact on their farm from the solutions and advice that I have given them makes it very rewarding.”
Sabrina encourages students to get involved in their local 4-H clubs to gain the experience of working with agriculture. It could determine if you have the interest of a career in agriculture. She is certainly glad she did and now today she has a successful and rewarding career.
Qualifications: Graduation from a university or college with a Bachelor of Science. Separate courses specializing in Livestock would be an asset.
Jennifer Decker operates Wild Woods Farm in Roddickton on the Northern Peninsula. While Jennifer didn’t grow up on a farm, she has had an interest in farming throughout her childhood. Thanks to classroom projects like hatching ducks, the seeds of interest were planted early. As an adult she has been getting more and more involved in farming, constantly expanding her operation. As Jennifer puts it, “When my first lambs were born, I was hooked!”
Wild Woods Farm started as a small hobby farm when Jennifer and John Decker’s kids were young, eight or nine years ago. It began with chickens, turkeys, ducks, and peacocks. Recognizing that her family was far from traditional recreation for kids, Jennifer realized that having the kids help with the farm could be just as good or better.
Today, the family farm is a sheep operation spanning 18 acres with five acres of pasture. Jennifer still keeps other animals on the farm, but the focus is sheep. To keep up with all the work on the farm, Jennifer gets help from her husband John and her two sons – nine year old Eddie, and eleven year old Christopher. Eddie looks after the smaller animals on the farm, learning the responsibility of taking care of animals. Christopher, in addition to helping out on the family farm, is the youngest member of the Sheep Producers Association of NL (SPANL) and recently completed a school project where he researched Newfoundland heritage sheep.
Christopher was also featured in the Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA)’s 2011 calendar after a picture his mother submitted of he and one of Wild Woods’ lambs was selected as part of a recent contest.
Another part of Jennifer’s story that is different than most farmers in the province is that she is not from Roddickton, or anywhere else in the province, originally. She was born in the United States and moved to the province with her family when she was nine years old. But, while she wasn’t born in the province, Jennifer has strong roots here, as her mother is from New World Island. In the end, she settled in the small town on the Northern Peninsula because her husband is from the community and they recognized it was a great place to raise a family.
Undertaking a new farm operation in an isolated community with a cool climate is not without its challenges, but Jennifer knew early on that it wouldn’t be easy. She was told before she even began that starting a sheep operation in Roddickton wouldn’t work because it was ‘too far away’, ‘too cold’, and that ‘it just can’t be done up there’. She also has little background in farming and had to learn much of it as she went. Jennifer’s main strategy for dealing with these challenges is to use the knowledge and resources available to her, primarily through asking questions to other farmers. She does this both face-to-face and through the internet and has learned a lot of valuable information which has helped her to get her farm up and running successfully.
In addition to challenges unique to the Northern Peninsula, sheep farming is a challenging activity no matter where a farmer lives or how much experience he or she has. Challenges like predators, primarily coyotes, are a constant problem. Through conversations with other sheep farmers, Jennifer discovered that another farmer had success with a guard donkey. She added a donkey and has not had any issues with predators since.
Looking toward the future, Jennifer has a plan for Wild Woods Farm and she intends to keep it on track. Her plans include clearing five more acres for hay production, diversifying into other areas, and working toward becoming self sufficient. She is also looking at buying new farm equipment next year, and is interested in a possible expansion into agritourism sometime down the road.
Jennifer is not the only one at her farm thinking about a future in agriculture. Her son Christopher talks about becoming a farm vet – so this may be the beginning of a family with agricultural careers!
While Jennifer has made a lot of progress in setting up her farm, she is quick to point out, “I’m not a success story yet, just a start story.” This may be true, but with her dedication to the industry, eagerness to learn and expand, and solid plan for the future, Wild Woods Farm is sure to be a success story soon enough.
Interview with Dr. You Jiao
You Jiao was born in a village in China and was surrounded by agriculture. He understood the value and importance of agriculture in their community and for their way of life.
His parents and grandparents were small scale farmers and he helped them with the farm chores since he was only 6 years old. “You couldn’t purchase food as easily as you do today from your local market. You ate the food that you grew on your farm.”
He was interested in agriculture, especially soil. He watched his family do soil sampling and was very intrigued. He decided to attend Henan Agriculture University in China. This university is located in the largest agriculture province in China. They grow all kinds of different crops, corn, peanut, soybean, wheat, vegetables, tomato, lettuce, ginger and garlic.
His first time to Canada was through a joint research program. He worked with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) Brandon Research Center, Manitoba in 1999. In 2002, he started his PhD in McGill University in Montreal. He finished his PhD in 2006 and started a post-doctoral position at Greenhouse and Processing Crops Research Center in Ontario with AAFC. In 2007, he moved to Potato Research Center in Fredericton, New Brunswick with AAFC. In April 2010, he landed his Soil Fertility Position in Newfoundland and Labrador with the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador.
“Soil is the foundation of our life. Soil is the source of our food chain. If you track back everything a farmer produces, dairy, chicken, field vegetables or fruits it is all successful due to fertile soil.”
A Soil Fertility Specialist is the interpreter for a farmer between the science results from the lab and how they use the information to improve their soil. They analyze the soil and they explain and decipher the issues to the farmers.
“When the farmer is proud of the production on their farm and they are producing a good quality product that makes me very happy. My work is rewarding knowing that I am contributing to the farmer’s ability to producing healthy food. It always reminds me of the values I learnt as a child growing up on a small farm in China.”
You says, “If you have an interest in chemistry and biology. Investigate a career in agriculture. The periodic table contains over 100 elements, almost all are found in the soil. About 15 are essential to a plant.”
You Jiao works on the west coast of Newfoundland and Labrador with the Department of Natural Resources, Government of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Qualifications: Graduation from a university or college with a BSc in Agriculture, Major in soil science, agricultural chemistry, plant science etc.
Chris and Debbie Swyers are the C and D in C.D.’s Trees, a tree and shrub nursery operation in Logy Bay on the Avalon Peninsula. They started from scratch in 1995, with a keen personal interest in growing trees and shrubs. At that time, most if not all woody plant material, was brought in from outside the province.
C.D.’s Trees started with the successful growing of about 100 trees in an operation which now numbers about 12,000 plants in inventory. To get their start, Chris and Debbie took courses, learned how to propagate, and soon after built their first greenhouse. Today they have over 120 different types of plants, including many different varieties of each and now have six greenhouses. The latest project boasts 20 different varieties of hydrangea, all grown locally. In addition, each spring they also offer a selection of annuals, perennials, and vegetable plants which are also locally grown and acquired from one of C.D.’s wholesale clients .
The trees and shrubs grown at C.D.’s Trees are sold through a combination of direct retail and wholesale. The wholesale component on average comprises six retailers, mostly located on the Avalon.
The Swyers’ facility in Logy Bay is not your typical landscape operation. Instead of an open space with greenhouses and rows of plants, it blends in very well with its surroundings. Chris describes walking around the grounds of C.D.’s Trees as being a lot like taking a ‘walk in the woods.’ Everything is set up to fit in with the natural environment, and the property is centered round a pond, formerly known locally as Anthony’s Pond. It is away from the noise, and provides a great environment for working and shopping.
The focus on keeping things natural continues with the product itself. Plants are chosen for propagation based on how well they perform at the nursery and the climate they are rated to grow in. The plant is then grown without the use of additional heat or pesticides and the mature plant derived from this process is acclimatized to our area allowing the customer to add the plants to their garden with little worry as to whether it will be able to grow.
C.D.’s Trees main season for tree and shrub growth is from the first of May up to the end of September. The growing is fairly labour intensive and throughout that period and Chris and Debbie have a couple of permanent and a couple of part-time workers to help with their operation. Chris and Debbie handle the paperwork themselves. It is a year-round, time-consuming part of the business.
With the business on a successful path adhering to the Swyers’ vision, there are no plans for any big changes in future at C.D.’s Trees - just keep everything on track and grow a little at a time. It’s been a stepping stone for many students and others transitioning to the next step of their career. Chris and Debbie’s two daughters who have worked at the nursery at one time or another and both have some interest in the operation. Their input is valued and is often integrated into the operation with the hope it will continue.
On every bag of vegetables from Triple E Farms you will see the slogan “The Pride of the Burn”. Farm operator Dwight Eveleigh explains that this is paying tribute to the way his farm was founded. The Comfort Cove location currently occupied by Triple E Farms was in an area which had recently been burned by a forest fire at the time Dwight’s grandfather Raymond started the farm some 80 years ago. The pride refers to the product from the land that was burnt over. The land which had been burned is referred to as the Burn. Dwight’s grandfather coined the term.
At the time the farm was started there were no roads and Raymond Eveleigh was producing vegetables and sheep. Raymond continued to operate the farm until 1992 when Dwight and his father Junior decided to take up the family business. They had been fishermen, but when the cod moratorium came into effect, they decided to change careers.
The 60-acre operation now grows quite a variety of vegetables; which Dwight describes as “everything that will grow”. Triple E produces 24 acres of turnip, 20 acres of potatoes, 7 acres of carrots, and 5 acres of broccoli and cabbage as their primary crops. They also produce parsnip, beets, pumpkins, cauliflower, green onions, and more than a half dozen others. Dwight will try a couple of different crops every year to see what will grow well. The vegetables harvested at Dwight’s farm are primarily sold to retailers, restaurants and wholesalers Atlantic Groceries and Loblaws.
Despite the great variety of successfully grown vegetables at Triple E Farms, there are also many challenges involved. Dwight cites insects, weeds, and the weather as the biggest challenges he faces at his operation. The lack of irrigation on his farm also poses a challenge as he must rely on Mother Nature. Financing can be difficult at times as well, since the market dictates prices, making it difficult at times to maintain profit margins.
In the face of these challenges, though, Dwight sees opportunity in the future saying, “I’ve got some big dreams”. Dwight hopes to double his current acreage over the next 6-7 years. He also plans to invest in more storage facilities to go along with the extra land and a new harvester is due to arrive in time for the coming harvest season.
In looking forward to his future plans, Dwight also sees just how far his farm has come since he began farming, and the even greater strides it has taken since his grandfather started the farm. At that time, his grandfather had to carry the vegetables to his schooner and steam to Twillingate. There he would store his harvest in a merchant’s cellar. When Dwight and Junior began farming the potatoes were dug by hand and sprayed with the garden hose.
Today this is done by harvester, and the washing and bagging are also mechanized. There is still a sizeable amount of labour involved in the process, but it has truly come a very long way.
Karen Durfey operates Ripple Trail Farm in Markland, on the Avalon Peninsula. This family farm dates back to 1959 when Karen’s father, Bernard Tucker, bought it and began working the farm fulltime six years later. Farming runs in Karen’s family, and prior to taking up farming her father was a carpenter, but he soon decided that he wanted to trade in his dusty indoor job for the fresh air of a job growing outdoors. Markland was a natural choice for where to start the operation, as Bernard fished in the area in the past and knew it well.
Today, Ripple Trail Farm is a 95-acre vegetable operation which is known primarily for its parsnip, as well as other traditional Newfoundland vegetables including cabbage, turnip, carrot, potatoes, and beet. There are currently 30 acres of crops in production and 32 acres of hay.
In addition to the traditional crops, increasingly Karen is expanding into more non-traditional crops as well, like beans, squash, sweet potatoes, and swiss chard. Much of this shift is due to increasing and shifting demand direct from customers. While wholesale is still the primary means of sale for Ripple Trail Farm, more and more of Karen’s crop is being sold direct to consumers at the St. John’s Farmers’ Market.
Every Saturday when the market runs, Karen and her husband Dennis set up a display for Ripple Trail Farm at the St. John’s Farmers’ Market and sell their product. Karen likes to sell product direct through the market because it allows her to both obtain a higher price for her product compared to selling through wholesale and monitor demand for different vegetables.
Embracing the direct sale model through the farmers’ market is how Karen is tackling one of the challenges she faces at her farm, that of cheap imports in the wholesale market. A bigger challenge at Ripple Trail Farm is labour. With our strengthened provincial job market, it is much more competitive for employers, including farms, today. This is also combined with the fact that all the harvesting at Ripple Trail Farm is done by hand, meaning it has a greater need for labour than many farms. Volatility in some farm supply markets is another challenge, as fertilizer costs spiked significantly last year, before falling again this year. This makes budgeting very difficult.
Karen isn’t going to let any of these challenges stand in her way as she plans to focus more on the direct sales approach at the farmers’ market and also upsize her greenhouse to accommodate more growing space. Her ability to adapt to challenges and to the changing market has been a recipe for success, which is sure to continue long enough to carry out her current plans and make many more for the future.
Look for Ripple Trail Farm at the St. John’s Farmers Market, set to return Saturdays this June.
Nathan Dennis is a vegetable and forage producer in Piccadilly, on the Port-Au-Port peninsula, where he operates Dennis Farms. Nathan is the first person in his family to tackle a commercial farming operation. That meant that, when he decided farming was the best career option for him, he had to start from scratch!
Nathan always had an interest in farming and decided to try it on a hobby-level when he was eleven years old. He began with one horse and a few vegetables and expanded it into a commercial-scale operation about two years ago. The farm currently has 75 acres of forage and one acre of vegetables, as well as some horses which have proven themselves very useful to the operation, as Nathan used to use horse-drawn equipment on his farm.
Most of the vegetables grown at Dennis Farms are traditional Newfoundland varieties like carrots, turnip, potatoes, and beet. Broccoli, cauliflower, and sweet corn are also grown on the farm, and Nathan will try growing something new each year to test the market.
The hay produced at Dennis Farms is primarily small square bales sold to other producers in the region. But in recent years Nathan has also been producing round wrapped bales, after having lost some of his hay to bad weather two years ago. It was that incident which prompted him to buy the round baler to protect his product.
A typical work day for Nathan varies a lot depending on the time of the year. During spring, summer, and fall he works at his own farm on tasks including getting the ground ready, planting, and harvesting. In the winter, Nathan’s farm work continues as well, as he works at Headline Holsteins, a dairy farm. Nathan’s parents tend to the horses in the winter, because Nathan stays in Cormack while working there.
There are also some challenges for Nathan at his operation. He operates his farm primarily on his own, meaning that he must face many of the challenges by himself. Having started the operation from scratch also meant that financing was difficult for someone just beginning, and there was a lot of overhead involved. Increasing prices pose challenges as well at Dennis Farms, with increases in the price of fuel last year, and fertilizer this year.
One area where Nathan is lucky is that of labour. Since Nathan primarily works on his own, and only hires on some part-time workers during his busier times, he has few concerns with labour, which is a major concern for most of the agriculture industry in Newfoundland and Labrador.
With great enthusiasm for agriculture and a drive to face the challenges that come with starting a new operation from scratch, Nathan Dennis has proven he has what it takes to make it in this unforgiving industry.
A veterinarian is a doctor of veterinary medicine (DVM) or a professional in animal health care. He or she helps to prevent, diagnose, and treat many diseases in animals. Veterinarians also have a role in the protection of public and environment health and contribute to many fields of research. The DVM program opens up many career choices such as general practitioners, researchers, public servants, administrators, and teachers to name a few. They work with one or more species of animals & with additional training can specialize in many clinical specialties such as cardiology, surgery, and neurology.
The road to becoming a veterinarian requires at least six years of education beyond high school. This includes at least two years of an undergraduate degree in science at an accredited college or university before beginning the four-year professional curriculum.
In high school, it is important to take the necessary mathematics, science, English, and social science credits necessary for entry into an undergraduate science degree. Also, it is equally important to gain experience by volunteering or working at local animal shelters, veterinary practices, and on farms. These experiences will also help you decide if veterinary medicine is a good fit for you!
Dr. Erin Ramsay, born and raised in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island was intrigued by agriculture in high school. She was inspired to attended Nova Scotia Agriculture College to explore her options. While there she received a Bachelor of Agricultural Science and was accepted to the Atlantic Veterinary College for 4 years to achieve Doctor of Veterinary Medicine.
“Agriculture is the industry that supports us all and I saw my opportunity to contribute as a farm animal veterinarian. Just like many other areas of agriculture it is a lifestyle and a passion - not a job.”
There is no such thing as a typical day for a veterinarian. “You have to be jack of all trades and be a detective to interpret clues from the producer and the animal to find a solution to the problem at hand. It is quite challenging & at the same time rewarding when the client & patient have received the care they require. “
Erin said one of her favorite aspects of the veterinarian program was the clinical fourth year. She was able to manage patients under the direct supervision of specialized veterinarians in both large and small animal. She worked throughout her schooling and summers to gain as much animal related experience as possible. “Veterinary medicine is a really cool application of science!”
Volunteer/work related animal experience
At least two years of an undergraduate science degree (Pre-Vet credits)
Four years to complete a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree
Continuing education – life long learning to maintain the highest competency!