These two seed growers are new Alberta Seed Growers board members. Both have farming in their blood, and are pumped about their new role.
Unlike many industries, farming is one where most kids don’t roll their eyes at the prospect of following in dad’s footsteps.
That is certainly the case for two new members of the Alberta Seed Growers (ASG) board who were both eyeing a farming career from an early age.
Such is the story with Richard Hallett, a seed grower and cattle producer located 15 km west of Carstairs.
“My dad started growing pedigreed seed in the 1980s, so I was born into it. I’ve grown pedigreed seed my whole life.”
Hallett took an eight-month break after high school and travelled to New Zealand, but all roads led back to the farm.
“When I returned, I went to Olds College and studied farm and ranch management, and I’ve been working on our seed business ever since.”
The business is truly a family affair. Hallett’s young son and daughter are involved, and his 91-year-old grandfather still lends a hand.
That concept of continuity is a big part of the seed growing appeal for Hallett.
“I love seeing things through. As a seed grower, I hear about new varieties coming down the pipeline and I can choose the ones I think will be good for our customers,” he says. “It’s satisfying to follow the seeds through their lifecycle and find the varieties that best suit a specific area and client.”
The only challenge comes at peak times when he’s selling seed while trying to get his own seed in the ground. Of course, a knack for overcoming obstacles is a good quality for a new ASG board member.
“I just joined at the end of January, so am quite new to this. I’ve attended the general meetings over the last four years, and when the past president approached me I decided to get involved.”
Shaping the Future
Hallett was keen to meet people and learn more about the workings of the seed industry. As well, he saw the board as playing a key role.
“Seed growers are at the leading edge of the latest varieties and technologies in crop production, and the board is a great spokesperson in representing the industry and guiding it forward.”
In the process, the board must deal with issues unique to the industry. It’s a good time to have board members with different viewpoints, as “everyone’s perspective is valuable”.
Rooted in Success
One of those perspectives belongs to fellow new board member Tracy Niemela. Along with her parents, husband and other family members, she operates a seed farm near Sylvan Lake.
Like Hallett, the business has deep roots in her family tree.
“My sisters and I are the fifth generation on the farm and I am a third-generation seed grower. I guess you could say it’s in my blood. It’s a lifestyle that I grew up in, fell in love with and want to raise my child in. I hope to keep the operation going for generations to come.”
A University of Alberta graduate with a Bachelor of Science degree and an agronomy certificate from Olds College, Niemela worked for the health region as a systems consultant while helping on the family farm. Eventually she quit and went back to the farm full time.
She finds the seed business challenging and rewarding at the same time and one that is constantly changing. That suits her just fine as it really keeps her on her toes.
Also fitting well is her place on the ASG board. Although Niemela was hesitant when first asked to run, fearing she lacked the time and the knowledge of what the board did, she finally took the plunge.
“All boards benefit from fresh ideas. I’m excited about being at the forefront of information, networking and helping to shape the future of seed growers in Alberta and possibly throughout Canada. It will not only benefit me and our seed farm, but others as well.”
Moved to Action
Part of that shaping includes addressing movements like gluten-free, organic and chemical reduction.
“These aren’t necessarily bad things, but there is a lot of wrong and misleading information out there,” notes Niemela. “We need to stay ahead and promote what we do before all of this explodes and starts dictating the future for farmers and possibly seed growers.”
Niemela has seen a lot of industry changes over the years, such as the increasing role of big business in taking control and ownership of varieties while “more and more seed is grown under contract. The questions going forward are critical: Where will pedigreed seed be in the future? Will the seed system still exist? Will it need to exist?”
There’s a lot to tackle, but with farming in the blood and their hearts on their sleeves, Hallett and Niemela are pumped to take it on.