Looking back to the early 1800’s, it was likely hard for Dustin Williams’ ancestors to imagine the farm being held five generations later. But in talking with Dustin and his wife Laura from their farm along the Souris River in southwest Manitoba, it is plain to see farming is in the Williams’ blood. Dustin and Laura are the 2012 Outstanding Young Farmers for Manitoba.
The story for Dustin and Laura starts in 2001, when Dustin came back to the home farm with a university degree. “Dad believed I needed to do this on my own,” recalls Dustin. “He was always there to provide leadership and help, but I got my start running my own land and a small cow-calf operation.” That style of succession would see Dustin’s father’s 5500 grain and oilseed operation gradually transition to Dustin and Laura’s control, until 2010 when the two corporations were merged to give them complete control. “A lot of our success, when looking back, was the fact we put the planning process into the hands of professionals. It allowed us all to take the emotion out of the transition and focus strictly on the business.” Dustin also thinks to the dollars and cents of it. “Yes, it cost us money, but we are dealing with big numbers and you just have to realize that spending the money now likely saves you from problems in the future if you didn’t have a proper process.”
With full control of the farm, Dustin and Laura point to three areas they make a priority everyday. “Number one is paying close attention to cost of production,” both Dustin and Laura point out. “We started farming when grain prices were pretty poor. It taught us very quickly to look at every dollar, even the small ones.” That very closely ties to their second priority, which is a focus on environmental responsibility and health of the soils. “We watch chemical and fertilizer inputs, use targeted seed placements, zero-till, and diverse crop rotations all to help build a healthy soil,” says Dustin. “It all means we can lower some of our input costs at the same time as building a strong soil structure that will help produce strong crops.” Following that is the importance of marketing. “Dad and I try to spend a lot of time looking at external market factors, and get help from a marketing consultant for a second opinion. Our strategy is based on that information and we sell when it makes the most sense.”
As for the future of the farm, Dustin and Laura are very positive. “We believe grain farming will be profitable for some time and we look forward to being part of it.” Some of their innovative ideas that could be coming range from looking at new crops coming into the area, like corn and soybeans. They’ve also done a bit of thinking about working to own more of what they farm or have a value-add option on the farm. They’ve even paused to think about ideas like irrigation and aquaculture. “I always like looking at new ideas,” says Dustin. “I spend a lot of time researching them before diving in. Right now, all of these are just ideas, but I’m taking the time to do the research. Eventually, something will come.”