seed.ab.ca: How can the seed industry attract younger generations?
AK: If there was tons of money to be made that would attract all kinds of people into the business, but that's just not the case. If a young person wants to get into the business, they're going to have to have a lot of pride in what they do and a lot of drive. I guess that's why I'm in it. I take pride in doing a good job of growing seed. I enjoy producing quality seed. That pride and enjoyment is something that has to come from within a person.
JB: Now that commodity prices are increasing, I think we're going to start seeing more of the younger generation involved in agriculture. I think the seed industry, and agriculture in general, needs to do more promoting of the industry in a positive light. Get out to the colleges, universities, even the high schools, and promote not just farming, but the whole farming lifestyle-living out in the country, being your own boss, making your own hours, planning your own day. Yes, it's hard at times, but you can also reap a lot of rewards. For me, I've always cherished that way of life.
LM: You have to get to them early, get them interested in the business and help them build a sense of pride in what they're doing. Give them the opportunity to make some investments and explain how important that investment can be. Once they have a vested interest in it, not only are they going to stick around, they are going to try to perform to the best of their ability to make sure that investment is protected.
To attract the younger generation you've got to be prepared to show them some cash flow in the beginning. When I took over the canola seed business, I was given a salary, enough to get me up and going, and get me excited that there was actually some money to be made in this business.
Don't sell yourself short if you are the generation trying to attract the younger generation. The seed business has been good to our family; we're celebrating our 60th year in 2012. If you've been in business for 60 years you must be doing something right, and there's some money to be made there. Agriculture is a good business.
seed.ab.ca: What changes have you witnessed that have forced your family's business to alter the way it operates?
AK: Logistically, we have seen some changes. We have a seed distribution system now. When Dad first started the business, most of his seed orders were 100 to 300 bushels, and he was loading up three-tonne trucks or tandem-axle grain trucks. Now it's tractor-trailer units and super-Bs that we're loading. We've got to be dishing out that seed in a faster form because those guys can't afford to be waiting around. Quite frankly, we can't afford it either. The seed distribution system was a major change on the farm. We are able to get guys loaded and out the door quicker. It was money well spent.
JB: We're still advertising the same way, and we still sell grass and canola seed, inoculants and things for peas. Sometimes we offer more services to our customers. Now, at some places, you get agronomy advice and package deals, so we do more of that as well-offering more advice to farmers. But we're able to tell farmers we've actually grown the variety in the field, and they like to see that, too.
LM: This is something we're in the middle of right now because there's a lot of consolidation happening in the seed industry from a retail perspective. We're seeing players get involved that haven't been involved before. To the bigger players, it's all about volume, and some of those little things you have to be meticulous about get left behind for the sake of efficiency. We've had to try to diversify and expand in a way that allows us to compete with these bigger entities but, at the same time, maintain our independence and commitment to quality and the community, while still running a profitable business.
We've tried to expand in other non-conventional ways of producing and marketing seed, for example with contract growers and outsourcing. We've tried to take more business on-the same kind of business as before-but doing it through different avenues. We're also working more closely with some of the smaller, independent, family seed farms. Instead of competing with each other, we'll work together and communicate more, so when it comes to bigger projects there may be a dozen of us dealing with them instead of just one of us, so we can compete with the big players.