Learning more about a family farm champion

Thanks to veteran American food-industry journalist and commentator Dan Murphy for this profile on a young, Canadian hog farmer. As a side note, Stewart has just been named outstanding pork producer of the year in his county. Well deserved, we’d say! - by the Ontario Farm Animal Council

Field Report: Canada’s Stewart Skinner

by Dan Murphy (www.agnetwork.com)

 We often hear about the aging of today’s farmers and the threat that creates for future food production. What we don’t hear about often enough is today’s young farmers, many of whom are not only tech savvy but media friendly, as well.

One such farmer is livestock producer, blogger and family farm champion Stewart Skinner, a pig farmer in Ontario, Canada, who raises some 400 sows on a family-owned farm in central region of Canada’s most populous province.

Stewart Skinner

“Our acreage has been in the family and in production before Canada was a country,” Skinner noted. “We have been farming here since 1859.” (For any Canadian history-challenged readers, Canada became a confederated dominion in 1867 and an independent nation in 1882).

Equally important, Skinner not only works hard at improving his farm operations but has become something of a spokesperson for the challenges and opportunities facing smaller family farmers. He maintains a blogsite (http://modernfarmer.wordpress.com) that tackles such issues as a fair trade program for Canadian farm products, pricing issues for farmgate commodities and maintaining the competitiveness of smaller, specialized farms.

To learn more about his farm, his media experiences and his involvement in helping promote family farming, the Skinner spoke with AGNETWORK.COM Contributing Editor Dan Murphy.

AGNETWORK.COM: Tell us about your farm.

Skinner: We do sell some nursery pigs, but we’re basically what you’d call a farrow-to-finish farm, and we crop about 200 acres as well. We’re proud of the fact that we’ve been farming here in the province for six generations now.

AGNETWORK.COM: What crops do you grow? How long is the growing season, and do you use irrigation?

Skinner: We’re normally planting corn in late April or so, and we don’t use any irrigation. In fact, I don’t know of a single farmer around here who does. Overall, I’d say that climate-wise and with the rainfall we get, we’re not all that different from the U.S. Midwest. We generally get about 190 to 200 bushels of corn per acre, even without irrigation. We do have very cold winters up here, though; right now, it’s about minus 6 degrees Celsius.

AGNETWORK.COM: Does that shorten the growing season?

Skinner: Not, not really. Our problem is that we only have about five million acres in all of Ontario that are suitable for corn, wheat or soybeans. The growing conditions are excellent; we just don’t have a lot of [farm] land like The States.

AGNETWORK.COM: Tell us how you got involved with the media. You’ve been interviewed many times, you’ve written articles about farming in Canada and you’ve been very outspoken about the need for the public to support smaller farms as an important economic contributor to the economy. How did you get started doing all that?

Skinner: Well, I’ve always been blessed with the ability to communicate pretty well, and my father had been involved in farm politics up here as the chairman of the provincial pork organization. But I guess that my “debut,” so to speak, came when I was in elementary school. I had to give a speech before the entire school assembly, and I froze onstage. I totally forgot what to say. I ran off the stage in tears, but my mom was there, and she forced me to go back up on the stage. I did, and I gave my speech, and I survived. Ever since, public speaking has been something that I really enjoy.

AGNETWORK.COM: So what kinds of topics do you talk about with media? What questions do you get from reporters?

Skinner: It depends what type of media you’re talking to, of course. With an agricultural audience, I try to put an optimistic spin on things. It hasn’t been such a great couple years in the hog industry up here. So I focus on the good things going on in Canadian agriculture. Unfortunately, they’re aren’t a lot of young people here in Ontario who see farming as an occupation that they want to spend their lives toiling in, so I try to present a positive story about the benefits and opportunities that agriculture offers.

AGNETWORK.COM: From reading your blog, you definitely have captured an optimistic spirit, not only about value of farming to those who make it a profession, but also about the importance of agriculture to the larger society.

Skinner: It really took me going off to the university to realize that while agriculture holds many [economic] opportunities, it’s the lifestyle that cannot be matched. I used to resent having to get up at 5 am in the mornings when I was a kid, while my friends were off playing or going to other activities. It took me going away to university to realize that farming was something I really wanted to do. I just hope I can communicate that to others in the farm community and among the rest of the population, too.

›› To read Stewart Skinner’s blog, log onto http://modernfarmer.wordpress.com.

Dan Murphy is a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator


Posted by OFAC on January 31st, 2011 :: Filed under Canada,Family vs factory farming,Farm life,Pigs,Pork,Sustainability of the family farm
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