The First Sixteen Podcast - EP 006

The First Sixteen is Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s new podcast series that explores the freshest ideas in agriculture and food. Each episode explores a single topic in depth—digging deep into new practices, innovative ideas, and their impacts on the industry. Learn about Canada’s agricultural sector from the people making the breakthroughs and knocking down the barriers! Farmers and foodies, scientists and leaders, and anyone with an eye on the future of the sector—this podcast is for you! A new episode is published each month.

Episode 006 - The next generation: Who is going to produce your food tomorrow?

Meet the next generation of Canadians working in agriculture and agri-food sector. Jerry Bos, a young dairy farmer and co-chair of the Canadian Agricultural Youth Council, shares his vision for the future. Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau tells us why it’s important to have young farmers like Jerry and the other members of the council at the decision-making table.


[ambient music]

Jerry Boss: I think that when you're younger, your brain operates on a different set of rules and premises and principles. I think we're more likely to make decisions based on ideals rather than perceived realities. It sounds a little naive, but it also acts as a catalyst for change. Innovation and progress are defined by those ideals. Most of humanity's progression is based on our imagination and willingness to turn that imagination into a reality.

Kirk: Welcome back to the First Sixteen. I’m your co-host Kirk Finken.

Sara: I’m your other co-host, Sara Boivin-Chabot.

Kirk: That voice you just heard is the future of farming in Canada.

Sara: And the future sounds smart.

Jerry: My name is Jerry Bos. I'm a third generation farmer, first generation dairy farmer.

Kirk: Jerry is 31. He and his family run a dairy operation in Salisbury, New Brunswick.

Sara: He is not only the voice of the future in farming, he is on the newly formed Canada Agricultural Youth Council that advises our department.

Kirk: And he is co-chair. This group is composed of farmers, veterinarians, entrepreneurs, innovators and more. They are really experienced people. They really care about our food and our planet.

Kirk: We are talking about folks with super hero qualities. And they are going to feed you Sara in your old age, your children and grandchildren.

Sara: Okay, so what is Jerry’s back story? What does it take to be a super hero.

Kirk: I will let him tell it in his own words.

Jerry: So I'm the third generation of the farm. My grandfather moved from the Netherlands. He came from a subsistence farm and he worked in Canada with his brother for about a decade to save up enough money to buy himself a farm. We farmed conventionally hogs and beef. Unfortunately, when I was 12 years old, BSE, or Mad Cow, as it's commonly known, hit Canada pretty hard That was my first real exposure to a market collapse or a failure of any kind. We saw the demand and prices for cattle pretty much drop off a cliff. That, in turn prompted a restructuring of our farm. We focused further into hogs. We scale up production, renovated some of our beef barns and accommodated the hogs in those barns. In 2005, when I was 16, I watched as another crisis affected the farm. Our local meat processing plant was sold to a larger corporation. That company operated the plant with the promise or the premise that it would remain business as usual. That arrangement didn't last very long. I think it was 2006. We were being asked to ship our hogs to province at our expense. We watched our transportation costs more than quadruple. Basically over a short period of time, an honest moderate living with turned completely upside down.

Sara: It’s a similar story that has played out across Canada in the last 30 years.

Kirk: Exactly. Farm families are smart and tough. And since the past 30 years, they have had to become smarter and tougher. Hence why I am talking in terms of super heroes.

Jerry: My father showed a lot of resiliency and determination. He shifted back towards cattle. He grew his cow calves and began raising Bob calves as well. But then finally, eventually, an opportunity presented itself. And he, uh, he purchased the hardware store with his two brothers and then another partner. This ended the farm as a fulltime operation. That was pretty hard to see.

Kirk: So, Sara, that is the point in the story where you would think that they would throw in the towel -- this family is moving to the city. Right? Wrong.

Sara: What happened

Kirk: Jerry was in university, studying history. And, well, he got that old agrarian feeling again. He dropped history and switched to a degree in agricultural business. And then, he got a call from his dad. His dad wants to restart the farm.

Jerry: Obviously, I jumped at the opportunity and we looked at it and we said, OK. How do we ensure that this is going to be sustainable and successful over the long term? And my dad was actually the one that suggested that we look at the dairy industry specifically for its supply management model.

It appealed to me quite heavily just because it ensured a fair price to producers. It gave us something that we had never had in the past, which was agency.I knew that success was more likely to occur if I could if I could ensure that we had some market control.

So with that in mind, we built a business plan. We approached several banks. It took about four to finally convince them that it was worth giving us a shot. We started milking forty four cows seven and a half years ago, and we built ourselves up to I think today we are milking actually ninety seven. I’m to the point where I’m looking at, hopefully, diversifying, integrating either vertically or horizontally. I'm pretty proud of our family's history and what we've accomplished since reopening the farm.

Sara: That takes grit and passion.

Kirk: One hundred percent! And that’s what I said. I said something about his passion. And he reframed it beautifully…

Jerry: I think passion is probably the most accurate word to describe agriculture as a whole. I that's one of the reasons I really chose to switch back, not not necessarily personal passion or familial passion, but the community that we live in. And that extends not just from primary producers, that extends to people within the ag structures. My wife, who worksoff-farm at our local co-op country store selling seed and fertilizer, my veterinarian, people like you in government who who are responsible for helping connect consumers and producers in a managerial or political way. Every single person in this community is passionate. We live agriculture. We breathe it. And it's the basis of our entire modern existence. As far as I can tell, And it's hard not to fall in love with agriculture. And it’s really what brought me back to the farm.

Sara: I’ve working with farmers for almost 15 years now, and I’ve have always had a huge respect for them. I see why you call them super heros. It’s clear we need to find ways to passionate people like Jerry and his peers from the Council end up at the table. That’s where decisions about their future are made. The council looks like one of those ways. I wanted to hear it from Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau. She is the one who called for the Canadian Agricultural Youth Council to be formed.

Sara: Bonjour Madame Bibeau

Minister Bibeau: Bonjour

Sara: What was your motivation for starting the Youth Council?

Minister: Well, very early when I arrived in this position, I realized that most of the discussions were being held amongst experienced men and I thought if we want to if we want to talk about the future of the industry, we definitely have to include more women, but also more young people. Even if we have the best intention and we want the best for our kids and for the next generation, they have to be involved and to express their will and to participate to the decisions making.

Sara: Why is it important young people more engage and influencong the sector?

Minister: The future is theirs, so it's definitely legitimate to have them around the table for these discussions and decisions and they have a different vision for the future. Just, for example, when we talk about sustainable agriculture, they will not only bring economic issues on the table, they will obviously talk about the environment, but they will also talk about the social considerations like mental health, which is something they care about, and they want us to do more to protect our farmers and the people working in the food sector.

Sara: What do we expect to see in the months to come for the youth council?

Minister: Well, the council is kind of theirs, and I want them to identify what they care about and what the priorities should be. I can tell you that during our first discussion, they talked a lot about awareness, about public trust, about sharing best practices amongst farmers, around sustainable agriculture. So this is why for the second meeting, we will have them contribute to the design of our food policy regarding the way to strengthen the trust between Canadian farmers and consumers, for example.

Kirk: We were at that first meeting. There was a lot of energy at the table, lot of good ideas being shared.

Sara: Jerry and the member of the council are going to be giving advice about their on future. What does Jerry think we need to do to ensure a healthy future in agriculture?

Kirk: He sees the long game.

Jerry: Agriculture is a long term business. You don't invest for five years. You invest for 15 years or more. When I started my business, I was 23, I intend to be farming as long as I can. By nature, that dictates that you need to make investments and decisions that will have ramifications for 10 or 15 years. Policy needs to be made to reflect that eye for the future. The people who are going to be operating ours system for the next 30 years are the same type of people that are on this council. You can't make decisions without that perspective and expect continuity or success over the long term. Most of humanity's progression is based on our imagination and willingness to turn that imagination into a reality.

People like Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, so many more of these people change the world just by dreaming of something better and following that dream to its conclusion or even just demanding that that change we made.

Sara: you need to be a dreamer

Kirk: Yup a dreamer who wakes up and takes action. What will the future look like?

Jerry: If I was to look in that crystal ball and say, what does agriculture look like in 10, 20, 30 years especially in light of a disaster like covid-19? Domestically, at least, people of today and likely tomorrow will want their food to be more local, environmentally sustainable, ethically responsible. And lastly, economically viable. In that last piece of economic viability is for consumers, not only producers.

Kirk: But how do you achieve that?

Jerry: I expect farms to become more diversified or they will seek partnerships in either complimentary agricultural sectors or sectors such as the energy sector or waste management, as an example. To me, it makes a lot of sense that a dairy producer like myself would want to work with the grain farmer or vegetable grower to make each other more profitable.We're we're one of the largest potential bases for renewable energy, such as solar and wind power. But on top of that, livestock operations can capture methane with bio digesters, that those are three different sustainable energy sources that will help farms become more sustainable, but also more economically viable.

Sara: Where did this guy come from? ON top of being a business person, he’s a philosopher!

Kirk: This is why people like Jerry are important to be at the decision making table.

Jerry: I do like to think of it like this. Elon Musk is planning to move to Mars when he arrives there. One of the first things he will need to do is create a consistent, sustainable food supply. He will need to measure demand, create the appropriate amount of supply to match that. Overproduction will be wasteful and inefficient, undersupply would be catastrophic to a success, the obvious way to approach the system is through strategic planning and management of food supply. If we apply that same mentality to our current ball of dirt, we should be able to successfully coexist with our environment peacefully.

Sara: I can see why they wanted him on the Youth Council.

Kirk: And that was interesting, too. Our podcast producer, Joseph Pauls, asked him, what motivated him to put his name forward for the council, and specifically as co-chair.

Jerry: I put my name forward as co-chair specifically because. I honestly believe that al of these intricacies that we've spoken about, all the necessities to a successful agriculture system are contingent upon farmers. I'm a I'm a primary producer, and if policy doesn't work for me or people like me who are producing the food every single day, then the system doesn't work at all.

Sara: We do need more people like Jerry.

Kirk: And they are out there. We do need to attract them to the ag sector. And Jerry has a compelling argument for that, too.

Jerry: One of the keys to the future of agriculture will be enticing new entrants. If you look at the demographics of today's agricultural producers. A lot of them are in their 50s and 60s. Some will have continuity. Others will not. We are already at a point where somewhere around two hundred people are fed by one producer.. Enticing new producers will a) create resiliency and security within the system. But it will also spur innovation, change and progression in our practices. Because you now haveoutsiders who were looking in now on the inside with a different, completely different perspective than I have. I've grown up around agriculture, so some of the methods and practices that I employ are rooted in tradition, in history, whereas someone moving into agriculture who came from a background that that was completely different will have a different grasp on the issue or the question or the situation. And they will approach it completely differently. And they may come up with an even better method of doing something or an even better approach to it. And that is invaluable.

Kirk: Okay, Jerry, but when I listen to your family story, it isn’t for the faint of heart. Why choose agriculture as a career? Why did you do it?

Jerry: So that's actually probably the toughest question you've asked me, because I think that is one of the questions that the council will be tasked with figuring out. I think that has been the failing of agriculture so far, how to attract new entrants. I didn't like the idea of working for alarge group of people for a system that I never had my ownfreedom to operate as I saw fit. I wanted to be able to build something that I could instinctively burn my values into. And make decisions based on what I felt was right, that that was the key motivator for me to become my own farm, my own business. Another value that made that decision relatively easy was was my family's history. I'm very proud of it. And continuing that legacy was highly appealing to me.

Sara: I had one last question for Minister Bibeau. When you look at the faces of the council members, when you hear the talk. How do you see the future of our sector?

Minister : Well I think it’s very promising. They are passionate, they are ambitious, they looking for finding the right balance between the economic, the environment and the social aspects of sustainable agriculture.

Kirk: Yes, it is very promising. Did you know there were 800 applicants to be on the youth council? So, this next generation? We are talking about a generation of people who are totally engaged in the questions of farming and food.

Sara: Yes, and we’ll keep following them, we’ll have other members of the council as guests.

Kirk: And you know what else I think is promising, too?

Sara: Our upcoming episodes. We’ll be talking about food waste reduction and leading women in our sector.

Kirk: exactly. We have been getting great suggestions from folks. We want to know what you think, are you part of this new generation. You have some ideas that you share with, new subjects you want to talk about. Give us a shout, contact through the website or on social media with #thefirst16.

Sara: and until then you know what to do.

Kirk: I do indeed. I am going to try something new.

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Episode 006 - The next generation: Who is going to produce your food tomorrow?

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