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This article was published 15/3/2018 (1129 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A Pierson farming couple improving soil management by grazing bison on cropland and diversifying their crop rotation has been recognized as Manitoba’s Outstanding Young Farmers for 2018.
"I guess an honour and a privilege would be the first feelings that come to mind," said Brooks White, a 38-year-old fifth-generation farmer running the business with his wife Jen.
"Some recognition for what we’ve done on our farm has been rewarding," he said.
White isn’t certain what curried the judges’ favour, but believes the evaluators liked the unique farming practices they’ve undertaken.
Inspired by their farm’s mission to "regenerate," Borderland Agriculture, with sites in Pierson and Lyleton, integrates bison production into a diverse cropping system.
He explained the bison graze on cropland and through their activities and manure "kick-start the soil." This is a significant expense, as they must invest in fencing, water system at the field and time to re-locate the bison to different locations.
Of their 5,000 acres in crop production, intercrops, companion crops and cover crops comprise two-thirds of the land. It ensures two or more crops are seeded in close proximity to each other.
The Whites’ approach to bison grazing and crop production add value, and in turn revenue, to the land.
"We’re in the minority of using these techniques, but there’s more and more interest," Brooks said. Other producers have been "coming to us for some advice and recommendations on how we’re doing it and we’re kind of learning from each other."
His wife Jen, 40, said their path benefits the land in the long run.
"We’re trying to build better soil for our children to build nutrients for better food quality and better quality of life for our future generations."
She said it’s flattering to be recognized, as it flips the script that farming is solely for an older generation. "Farming’s not like that anymore," she said.
The Whites have many others to thank for their success.
Brooks visited other bison producers in the late 1990s, which encouraged him to first invest in 33 head in 1999. Their herd has steadily grown ever since. They look after nearly 600 bison today.
The couple is part of a peer group of farm operators, who encouraged their present direction.
A few years ago, Brooks worried their farm was too diversified.
"It took two years to come to the realization that what I really needed to do was keep doing both, but scale back," he said, crediting the support of other farmers for his changed outlook.
"Not look at an expansion, but look at pulling back in size and looking at growth more in terms of profitability and production within those acres."
That insight, Brooks said, has been invaluable.
He was also helped by a four-week course he took on business management, human resources and financial matters, among others.
"It gave the clarity of the direction we wanted to go."
In fact, the ability to network with other young farmers might interest the Whites more than winning the Outstanding Young Farmers award. In November, they will vie for the national award at a Winnipeg conference.
"Everybody that I talk to that’s been involved with the group say that’s the most valuable part of their experience." Brooks said.
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