Helen Finucane made a life-altering decision to take over management of the family farm after her father’s passing late in 2003. John Brown Farms — a mixed grain and beef operation near Carlyle, Sask., — now bears his name.
Her decision to carry on with the farm settled by her grandparents in 1925 wasn’t made on a whim. She and her father had often talked about the future of the farm. As his health declined well into his senior years, she gave the matter careful consideration in light of her own family and career in Regina. Arrangements were made for her and Tim Young of Young’s Equipment to become executors of the estate upon his passing.
Finucane clearly recalls her dad telling her that she was going to have so much fun managing the farm. “His words were, ‘I had fun. I loved it. It’s a wonderful experience.’ I am having fun. I am just astounded. I’ve met the most wonderful people in the beef industry,” she says.
Meeting and learning from experienced producers has been crucial to her success in managing the farm from a distance a large part of the time. Her 31-year career was in the social services field with the Ranch Ehrlo Society, which operates residential treatment and community services for at-risk youth. Striking out on a new career in agriculture meant there was a lot to learn.
First off, she surrounded herself with people in the know about agriculture, namely Young and Pete Levesque, who has been with the farm for more than 30 years. Logan Gertner and Harold Knox also provided mentorship in helping to determine strategic directions for the farm.
Despite all of the post-BSE marketing hardships, her aspiration for the beef enterprise was to someday enter the bred heifer market. They decided to close out the feedlot and concentrate on the cow-calf operation to eventually take it from 160 cows up to 350 head. Her goal is to produce the best commercial cattle from their predominantly Black Angus herd, along with black baldies and brockle-face cattle using Hereford bulls on select black cows.
She considers participating in the Canadian Western Agribition and becoming a member of the Saskatchewan Stock Growers Association (SSGA) as very worthwhile and valuable experiences on the road to success. John Brown Farms has shown in the commercial cattle events for a number of years and this year, generously donated half the proceeds — a sum of $3,250 — from one of its two pens of five bred heifers to the SSGA’s recent VolunSteer fundraising campaign. The farm was also a sponsor of the youth judging program for two years and since its cancellation has sponsored the trailering event at the Ranch Rodeo.
“If we’re going to be in the beef industry, we need to put our money where our mouth is to support the industry,” Finucane says. “Agribition is also a great learning experience for me to be able to see what’s out and about. In our industry, it’s easy for people to become isolated and this is a good place to meet people and talk with them about the industry.”
She sensed a feeling of cautious optimism among exhibitors in the commercial barn this year. “People are thankful to see better prices, but say there is a long way to go to make up for the losses. There’s definitely a lot of frustration and anger regarding the lack of packing plant resources in Saskatchewan,” she adds.
Prices at the 2010 commercial cattle sale reflect the boost in optimism with the grand champion pen of five bred heifers exhibited by Derek Westman of Vermilion, Alta., fetching the high price of $1,800 per head versus $1,300 for the 2009 grand champion pen. The number of bred heifers consigned to the sale was down from 340 in 2009, to 200 this year, however, the average selling price jumped from $1,062 in 2009, to $1,378 this year. Prices and numbers were up for the open replacement heifers. In 2009, the 25 heifers averaged 748 pounds, selling for an average of $807 per head ($1.08 per pound). This year, 65 head averaging 658 pounds sold for an average of $747 per head ($1.14 per pound).
This was Finucane’s second year showing in the bred heifer classes. She is very pleased with the $1,350 per head they received for the pen of black bred heifers and super-pleased with the $1,300 for the black-white-faced heifers — a significant improvement over last year’s disheartening results when she gave away her bred heifers for $900 each. Once again she takes home some pointers from the judges to keep in mind for next year.
SSGA’S VOLUNSTEER CAMPAIGN
Launched in November, the Volun- Steer initiative encourages producers to donate the proceeds of a single animal to the SSGA in return for a one-year membership valued at $105, a tax-deductible donation receipt, and various forms of recognition.
VolunSteer is one spinoff from the SSGA’s strategic planning process carried out last winter to guide its activities as it heads toward its second century of operations beginning in 2013. Part of the planning involved looking at ways to increase revenue in light of multiple years of financial hardship in the beef industry, the declining number of beef producers, funding cutbacks, and the establishment of the new Saskatchewan Cattlemen’s Association (SCA) by producers to take over collecting and administering the cattle checkoff from the Agri-Food Council (an independent board appointed by the provincial government).
The SSGA is a membership-based organization with a large part of its revenue derived from annual memberships paid by producers. According to SSGA general manager Chad MacPherson, the SSGA received core funding from 2005-06 through 2009-10 from the checkoff. However, no funding was available last year. The association is awaiting word on its 2011-12 application but is aware that available funds are limited again this year.
Both the SCA and the SSGA advocate for the beef industry and the SSGA has representation on the SCA’s board of directors. A significant difference between the two organizations is that producers don’t pay memberships to belong to the SCA because it was established as a commodity development commission. Like all commodity development commissions, any producer (defined as any person paying national and provincial levies on cattle sales in Saskatchewan) who pays checkoff and doesn’t request a refund is eligible to vote in the elections and on matters at the district meetings and annual general meeting. National and provincial checkoff funds on cattle sales are generated specifically for research, promotion and marketing activities on behalf of the cattle industry.
Successful fundraising initiatives will be absolutely vital to the ability of the SSGA to carry on. The board designed the VolunSteer campaign as a hassle-free way for producers to support the SSGA and its efforts to support the industry.