Jason and Laura Kehler, along with their children Paisley (age four-and-a-half) and Wyatt (two) are Manitoba’s 2016 Outstanding Young Farmers. (EMILY DISTEFANO/CARMAN VALLEY LEADER)
CARMAN - Manitoba’s newest Outstanding Young Farmers have both a legacy and a love of agriculture.
Jason and Laura Kehler of Kehler Farms received the award on February 27 in Winnipeg.
The couple grows potatoes, seed soybeans, corn, canola, oats, wheat, soybeans and edible beans on 5,600 acres in the Carman area.
Celebrating 36 years of identifying great agricultural successes, Canada’s Outstanding Young Farmers’ program is “an annual competition to recognize farmers that exemplify excellence in their profession and promote the tremendous contribution of agriculture.”
It is open to participants 18 to 39 years of age who make the majority of income from on-farm sources.
The Kehlers were excited to be win the provincial prize.
“It was an honour –that goes without saying,” said Jason. “It was a fun weekend. We met a lot of people and I feel like we have a new group of friends to associate with.”
Representing the area was also a plus.
“One of the cool things, to me, was that we were able to bring it back to Carman for the second time in three years,” he said. “That was pretty neat. It says something about the quality of the farmers around Carman.”
Carman-area farmers Myron and Jill Krahn won the Manitoba’s Oustanding Young Farmers award, and then the national award, in 2014.
Both Jason and Laura were born to farm life.
Jason is a fourth-generation Manitoba farmer; his great-grandparents emigrated from the Ukraine around the late teens or early twenties “with the clothes on their backs” and homesteaded near Plum Coulee.
“I’m proud of that,” Jason said of his ag heritage. “I think Laura and I winning this award is really the culmination of a lot of effort on my family’s part over the past 100 years or so. It tells a story of perseverance and determination, I think. [Through] all the things that farmers have dealt with over the years, nobody ever gave up,”
Laura, who hails from an Ohio mixed-livestock farm, has extensive experience working in the agriculture sector as a meat scientist.
She took over the farm’s bookkeeping, CanadaGap Food Safety, and Workplace Health and Safety programs in 2011.
The paperwork may not be glamorous, she said, but it absolutely vital for maintaining their status as a supplier to national retailers like McCain Foods Canada.
The couple connected in 2008 through Farmers Only - an ag-based online dating service - and Laura said she knew she would be relocating to Manitoba after their first meeting.
“I wasn’t scared,” she said of the move. “If it worked out great, and if it didn’t it would be fun.”
Obviously it did work out. Eight years later, the Kehlers’ goals for their operation are simple: farm well and pass on the results of their hard work to their children, four-and-a-half-year-old Paisley and two-year-old Wyatt.
“It’s extremely important to me that my kids carry on,” Jason said. “We take a lot of time to involve them, even at this age…you just build that knowledge and interest right from the beginning. We go ride the quad and check crops and ride in the tractor a bit or take a load of potatoes.”
“When you grow up loving something you want your kids to love it too,” said Laura.
Paisley, who was excited but not very surprised by her parents’ win, said she enjoys living near the farm.
“I know a lot of stuff,” she said. “I know how to check potatoes.”
INNOVATION & SUSTAINABILITY
Diversification, innovation, sustainability and environmentally-friendly practices are important to the family.
For Jason, it’s a mentality that traces back to his grandparents and great-grandparents, who told him “be good to the land and it will be good to you.”
“First of all it’s our responsibility, but it’s also our profitability,” he said.
And it’s a mentality that is increasingly relevant as the ag world becomes more and more high-tech.
Jason said farming has changed exponentially since he was a kid – and the technological advances of the past few years have opened up new possibilities for the family farm.
Growing up, he and his father did their best with a press drill on the sandy soil to the north of Carman, but it was still vulnerable to wind and water erosion.
“My father was a good farmer, but he didn’t have the tools we do now,” Jason said.
“When I was 20 if anyone said someday we wouldn’t be steering, they’d be called crazy,” he said, citing another change - modern GPS usage. “Nowadays you’d be called daft if you did steer.”
With their eyes on the future, the Kehlers have increased their total crop production acres by nearly 50 per cent since 2014, “boosting processing potato acres by more than 100 percent, purchasing three quarter sections of land and installing drain tile on four quarters.”
According to Franck Groeneweg, second vice president of Canada’s Outstanding Young Farmers program, “when farming is what you’ve always wanted to be in, there is a tremendous satisfaction when it all comes together.”
“Jason and Laura are doing what they love, and setting tremendous examples to the industry, their community and their family about the rewards of hard work, determination and respect for others and the land,” he said.
Canada’s Outstanding Young Farmers for 2016 will be named at in Niagara Falls at the national event November 29 – December 4.