North Paddock Farms sees opportunities despite pandemic challenges.
The global COVID-19 pandemic has certainly caused its share of challenges for Canadian farmers. But Alison Davie is also seeing opportunities as questions about food security arise.
“I am hoping that this pushes consumers to learn more about where their food comes from and support Canadian farmers where possible,” says the owner of North Paddock Farms south of Taber, Alta. “I really enjoy educating people about food production because I think there is a lot of misinformation out there and as farmers. We need to share our story.”
Davie farms 2,500 acres alongside her husband Michael. The couple took over the farm from Davie’s parents seven years ago.
“They moved to Nicaragua to do agriculture-development work with farmers there through La Semilla Ministries,” she explains. “They still enjoy coming back to help with harvest each year. We also have four full-time staff plus seasonal workers.”
North Paddock Farms grows roughly 500 acres of processing potatoes annually and primarily sells to McCain Foods and Lamb Weston. They also grow timothy hay, flax, wheat and seed canola.
“We are always looking for ways to improve soil health and recently we have tried adding a legume as a part of our rotation,” Davie says. “We work with some neighbours who grow beans on our land, and this year we are trying faba beans. So far they are looking good.”
All the acreage is under irrigation and compost is added regularly.
Davie admitted that the spring of 2020 was stressful with the pandemic causing planting concerns.
“I was very unsure about how it would impact our ability to access inputs for the upcoming crop year. But when it became clear that agriculture would be deemed essential, it definitely eased some concerns,” she says.
While the unknown still persist, the planning done early in the season appears to be paying off, Davie says.
“Recently, french fry sales have picked up which is great news. I try to focus on what I can control on our farm and just hope that everyone on our farm stays safe and healthy.”
Heavy rain in May and June were followed by excessive heat in July, putting the potato crop about a week behind an average growing season.
“The crop is still looking really good, considering,” says Davie. “Our plant canopy has been very healthy this year and have seen very little disease throughout the majority of the growing season. It was a slow start to irrigation this year but once the heat hit in July we were irrigating every few days.”
North Paddock Farms is truly a family business with Peyton, 4, and James, 1, keeping the Davies busy.
“Both kids love to ride along with us in the tractors or come field scouting. They are little farmers! Both Michael and I are full time on the farm,” Davie says. “I do most of the agronomy and irrigation scheduling, and he manages more of the hands on day-to-day tasks and equipment.”
The Davies are keen supporters of the Taber Foodgrains Project, organized by the Canadian Foodgrains Bank.
“It’s a really great project that everyone in the community can be involved with,” Davie says. “Throughout the growing season a number of businesses donate time and inputs into the crop, then at harvest time there is always a line-up of combines ready to harvest. It really shows our Taber Community Spirit!”
The harvest crop is sold proceeds are donated to the Canadian Foodgrains Bank and used to fight world hunger.
As harvest wraps up, Davie is optimistic about the future.
“There are still uncertainties heading into winter, but all of this is new territory and everyone is just doing their best to anticipate what market challenges and opportunities will arise,” she says. “I feel fortunate to work in an industry that will always be needed, to know that no matter what, people need to eat.”