Family run approach key to farm’s success

Grain Growers of Canada president | Father’s position in grain group gives farming kids the inside scoop on issues and concerns

MAGRATH, Alta. — When the boss is travelling the world, it helps to have an agronomist and a heavy-duty mechanic at home to look after farm operations.

That’s the enviable position of Gary Stanford, president of the Grain Growers of Canada, who farms near Magrath, Alta., with his wife, Diane, and two sons, Matthew and Sean.

The Stanfords also have two other children, Adam and Megan, who have chosen non-farming careers, and four grandchildren.

The Stanfords seed 5,000 acres of land, some of which is rented, and also do custom farm work. They grow alfalfa, canola, malting barley, winter and spring wheat.

Gary has been on the GGC executive for six years and was vice-president for three before taking over as president last year.

He took the position just when contentious issues surrounding the shipping of last year’s bumper prairie crop arose.

Meetings with government, rail officials and farmers, coupled with international travel on trade missions, have cut drastically into the time he has spent on the farm.

“I couldn’t do it without the boys and family,” Gary said during a rare day spent on the farm.

“Once in awhile they’ll say, ‘you’re gone quite a bit.’ I think that’s why I’m here right now,” he added with a smile.

Nevertheless, Gary said he feels it’s vital for farmer members of the GGC to have their voice heard on transportation issues and contribute to potential improvements.

“In 10 years, as we have better crops, better farming methods, better plant breeding and better technology, we will keep increasing the amount of grain and oilseeds we have. In 10 years, how are we going to get rid of it?”

The issue has taken up more time than he anticipated, with trips to Asia, Singapore and other regions taking a toll.

“In the beginning, (travel) was a real attraction. But over the winter, I travelled so much, I’m OK with somebody else doing it,” he said.

Gary grew up on the family farm near Cardston, Alta., and after meeting Diane, who also grew up on a farm, he moved to the Magrath property.

Diane jokes that she never got far in life, at least geographically, but farming has always been her chosen job and lifestyle.

“I could not think of living anywhere else but on the farm,” she said.

“It’s just a wonderful lifestyle. I would hate to live in the city.”

Diane is the bookkeeper and the designated combine operator in harvest season, allowing Gary and the boys to drive trucks and keep commodities moving.

Matthew, their oldest son, took seed and grain technology training at Olds College and worked for the Canola Council of Canada as an agronomy specialist before switching full time to farming.

He and his wife, Melissa, and their three children live on a farm site near his parents.

“I like being my own boss and the freedom to have control over the direction you’re going,” Matthew said about farming. Agronomics and marketing are its other appeals.

Matthew said he sees benefits in Gary’s involvement in national grain group policy.

“He’s up to date on everything so you get a better appreciation for the things going on, on the periphery,” he said.

Farming full time has also been a life-long dream for Sean. He and his wife, Amberly, have one son, Huxley.

“(Farming) is what Dad did and it seemed like a fun thing to do,” he said. Though he works full-time in Lethbridge, he wants to buy land one day and have enough farm income to support his family.

“I’m trying to make my own way, but it’s tough,” he said.

Acquiring land is the dream and the challenge for every young farmer, said Gary. He remembers those same feelings.

“Once you’re over 50, you want to know how much money you made. Before that, it’s how much land you farm,” he said.

With the day’s farm work complete, he was set to begin answering emails from farmers and keeping up with his Twitter account. Fourteen hours after starting the day, he might have time to rest — and dream of trains pulling Canadian grain to port and ships carrying it overseas.

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