Seed business taps everyone’s talents

OAK RIVER, Man. – Eric McLean has an important job to do in his village – driving the Zamboni at the rink.

His boss is easy on him. It’s his wife, Marnie, who is on the local southwestern Manitoba village’s rink board.

Both jobs are voluntary, and back on their farm where they make their money, the two McLeans and Marnie’s parents, Denise and Cam Henry, work in partnership and oversee a substantial pedigreed seed business and grain farm.

“We really complement each other,” said Marnie about how work is broken down on the 6,000 acre farm.

“Everyone’s good at something else.”

Cam has an agronomy degree and a keen eye for in-field crop management. Marnie knows a lot about chemicals – she used to be a BASF representative – and loves the sales side of the family’s pedigreed seed business.

Eric likes doing business management, running production numbers and keeping machines and the seed plant operational.

“I like the hands-on work,” said Eric, who like Marnie, has an agricultural economics degree from the University of Manitoba.

“I did sales in Winnipeg before coming to this farm, and I got fat and lazy and I wasn’t feeling good about myself. Now I get to work as much as I want and when it comes down to selling stuff to farmers, I can tell them what I like and what I don’t because I’m actually working with it.”

Eric moved onto Marnie’s family’s land. He grew up on a farm near Pilot Mound, Man., met Marnie at university where they began dating, worked in the city for a few years but then came to work on the farm when Cam’s hired hand quit and labour was needed.

“I was the lowly boyfriend,” joked Eric.

Marnie thinks it has worked out well.

“The father-in-law and the son-in-law don’t have any history, so they can start fresh and not remember any old fights,” said Marnie.

Smiling as the couple’s children play with a tent set up in the living room, she admits she loves the family farm.

“I probably always thought that I’d marry a farmer, but I never dreamt that I’d come back to my farm and live in the same yard as my mom. It’s awesome. When it all worked out, I felt like I was living a fantasy life.”

It’s a life that comes with a lot of work. Their land contains sloughs and brush. Growing grain on 4,500 acres takes a lot of effort, running the seed plant is an all-winter business and making seed sales is a hectic activity, especially considering Marnie and Eric have children; Alexis, 5, Elle, 3, and Duncan, six months.

Juggling the demands takes careful management and extra workers. They have one full-time hired man and often hire semi-retired farmers. They also get help on weekends from Eric’s nephew and brother, friends and relatives.

The McLeans are busy in many off-farm activities beyond the rink. Eric is involved with Keystone Agricultural Producers, the Manitoba Seed Growers Association and the committee overseeing Manitoba Ag Days in Brandon.

He thinks he and Marnie will need to scale back these commitments once the kids are in extra-curricular activities.

The couple thinks they are able to stay on top of everything because they always commit time to their family, regardless of business or community demands.

“During harvest, no matter how much has to be done in the fields, all of us stop for 20 minutes every night to have supper together,” said Eric.

“It’s never bankrupted us and we’ve never had a crop failure because we stopped for 20 minutes.”

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