When speaking with Len Solick of Solick Seeds, it is clear there are two driving factors behind his business: his family and his customers.
“We wouldn’t be able to do what we do without the family base,” Len says.
Backing up a few years — 30-plus years to be exact — Len was in the engineering field for quite some time, living in Edmonton as well as working in the Arctic.
“I was all over the place and had a couple of close encounters in the Arctic, and then I decided it was time to move on.”
Moving on included buying a farm in Halkirk, Alta. in 1978 after working a bit on his parents’ farm in Lacombe, Alta. “We started out as a commercial grain and cattle enterprise. Through transition, in 1986, I grew my first pedigreed seed crop. That was because of the Crow Rate — I saw freight would be an issue going forward. That was one of my main reasons for getting into the seed business — we were able to market off the farm. My grandfather was actually in the seed business quite a few years back. He was a founding director of United Grain Grower. My parents farmed southeast of Lacombe, grain and cattle … I guess I continued on in that direction.”
Moving onto the farm with their then one-year old son at the time, no one could predict that the family — and the operation — would grow.
Len’s wife, Lucy, and sons Kelsey and Corwin all work on the farm. Len says Lucy is behind the scenes doing a lot of the paperwork. Other than a full-time hire, and maybe an extra body for occasional help in the busy seasons, Solick Seeds is family owned and operated. Len and Lucy’s daughter Kim resides in Lacombe with her husband, Rieley and three children.
But on the farm, it is all about family teamwork.
Spring is the most hectic with seed delivery, seed pick up, and treating and seeding their own crops as well. Corwin and Kelsey do all of the seeding and spraying, and at harvest everyone is out there doing their part. One of the biggest labour demanding jobs is the cleaning of all operations whether it be the bins, equipment or machinery used; combines and grain dryer being the biggest jobs. Len says many hours are spent all year on this which most people do not realize.
Due to the difficulties to get hired labour, Solick Seeds opted to not set up their own seed cleaning operation. All of the seed is cleaned at the Forestburg Co-op Seed Cleaning Plant Ltd. This involves many hours of trucking, which both sons are involved in.
Len’s oldest son, Kelsey, is a heavy-duty mechanic by trade, and Len says Kelsey is an innovator when it comes to equipment. Kelsey looks after all the equipment, making sure that everything is ready and working. He also does most of the marketing.
As far as innovation goes, Len is aware the younger generation of farmers are keeping things moving forward in terms of customer service and ensuring Solick Seeds has everything its customers desire. He says without his sons, Solick Seeds would not be where it is today.
But as innovation advances the industry, Len says there is nothing better than touching base with his customers — personally. He knows how valuable his customers are, and he wants to ensure they are well taken care of.
“I love to talk to the people. I like to touch base afterwards — find out how things have been since the year has gone by. Sometimes I don’t get to everyone, but I like to touch base with them to see how a particular product has worked for them.”
During the winter months is when you would usually see Len on the phone, every night, catching up with his customers.
“I do a lot of that — people are more relaxed then and have a bit more time. Farmers are really good — if they don’t like the product they’ll tell you in about 30 seconds. On the other side, if it is our product we can improve on or if there is something else they are looking for, that gives us a couple of months to work toward a variety we can work into our rotation if we don’t have it. Len says they gain valuable information and assistance from many sources, but the Field Crop Development Centre and the Lacombe Research Centre has been exceptional.
In the springtime, Len says he is the guy in the yard. “I am there talking to my customer and I enjoy that the most because it gives me an idea as to what’s going on. Maybe I am not totally there loading the trucks, but I am at the scale or someplace.”
Len says he learns as much from his customers as they do from him. And that propels some of Solick Seeds’ business decisions.
“We take that information — after the sales year has gone by — and we sit down and say, ‘Okay, what can we do better to look after these customers?’”
Solick Seeds farms some 4,000 acres of pedigreed seed, including but not limited to peas, barley, wheat and spring triticale for its niche market. Commercial canola is also grown every year. Len is well aware of two key factors in the farming industry; you cannot make everyone happy all the time … and you can’t control the weather. But you can control your relationship with your customers and who you work with. And for Len, that is his reward after a hard day’s work.