Driving through Smoky Lake, Alberta you may not realize the local ‘Field of Dreams’. After all, there isn’t a corn crop or ball diamond, but instead some big ideas. For Robert and Angela Semeniuk, their field of dreams is their research plot. “This is one field where we keep our usual rotation, but throw everything but the kitchen sink at it to try and improve yield,” says Robert. “We track every dime in expenses, and then see if it pays.” This innovative line of thinking is one of the many reasons Robert and Angela are the Outstanding Young Farmers for Alberta and the Northwest Territories for 2012.
Their farming career started when Robert came home from school, ready to take the reigns of the family’s 800 acre farm that also had 30 beef cattle. Robert would be the fourth generation to manage it. The succession plan was fairly straight-forward. His siblings weren’t coming home to farm and his parents had a plan in their minds with the hopes of Robert taking it over. While the plan had a little bit of stress attached to it, a lot of that had to do with the fact of a young buck managing the business. Once everyone was comfortable with being open and communicating, the plan easily fell in place. With the help of Angela, a Certified Management Accountant with experience in municipal affairs, they have been able to build the farm to a 3600 acre operation, that also offers many custom services, including fertilizer spreading. The fertilizer trucks (or floaters) now run over twenty thousand acres. “Our goal is never to be the biggest,” says Angela. “We just want to always improve our profitability, and we are willing to look at a number of options to help us get there.”
So how does a young couple farming for 15 years manage such explosive growth and opportunity? “Priority number one for us is managing the finances,” says Robert and Angela together, proof they are on the same page. Robert takes care of the marketing while Angela naturally handles the finances, cash flow, and costs. “Knowing your cost of production is critical,” she notes. Second for the Semeniuk’s is relationship building. “Talking with all partners, whether they be customers, employees, financial advisors or landlords is all very important,” according to Robert, who handles a lot of those. “If everyone is open with their expectations and communicate them, it makes moving forward easier.”
Another key priority for Robert and Angela and their business is to step away from the business. “Knowing how a farmer thinks, this is one of the hardest things to do,” says Robert, “but very important. You need to take time away from the day to day tasks to be with your family and spouse. By doing that, it is amazing the clarity you start to get when you are not worrying about the little things and instead starting to think about the big picture of what you want to achieve and how you want to achieve it. Separating the personal and the business is a must, and will actually help your business”
As for what is in store for the Semeniuk’s, profitability is priority number one. “We will continue to improve that,” says Angela. One way to get there is to prepare for challenges. “A farm business is always going to meet up with a number of challenges,” points out Robert. “We have a number of scenarios planned out, so that we can quickly act on new plans and directions if the need arises.” That constant planning includes expanding the custom business, their own land base, or even taking on a completely new opportunity relating to agriculture. “We know ag very well and are enjoying it all.”