Family footsteps lead back to the farm

NORTH STAR, Alta. — The children of Nora Paulovich and Bob Noble are defying what has become a common pattern for kids raised in rural areas.

All three of them, Jolene, 27, Cara, 24, and Lee, 21, plan to continue farming and ranching together in the northern Alberta community where they were raised.

The succession plan is being developed for Jackknife Creek Land and Cattle Corp. and no one in the family would have it any other way.

“We think we’re really fortunate. Not many kids want to return to ag,” said Nora.

“We have many friends and neighbours that their kids aren’t interested. We’re very blessed, I think, and we feel fortunate that we’ll be able to help them, just as my parents helped us get going. It’s great. They’ll be the fourth generation, not right on this farm, but in this area.”

All three members of the younger generation attended the University of Alberta. Jolene has a degree in agriculture, Lee is just finishing his ag degree and Cara is studying accounting and plans to specialize in farm accounting.

The plan is that each of the three will specialize in one sector of the family farm and ranch operation, potentially supplemented by other ventures such as accounting, seed sales and freezer beef.

“I’ve always wanted to farm,” said Jolene. “I did live in the city and it was always a countdown until I could come back to the farm. The variety from day to day and being able to have a tangible result at the end of the day, whether that’s putting up a line of fence or pulling a calf, all those things contribute.

“I can’t think back to a time when I didn’t want to be a farmer. I went through a stage where I wanted possibly to be a vet, but it was always living on a farm.”

Jolene worked for the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association for years and is now extension co-ordinator with the Alberta Farm Sustain-ability Extension Working Group, a project of Alberta’s pulse, barley, wheat and canola commissions.

She can do much of that work from the ranch, using phone and laptop, which she said was an important factor when choosing the job.

A wider interest in agriculture seems to be part of the family culture. Nora is the manager and forage livestock specialist at the North Peace Applied Research Association. Bob is a former loans officer for the government organization that became Agriculture Financial Services Corp.

Jackknife Land and Cattle includes about 2,300 acres and 150 cows. It grows cereals, canola, peas and grass seed, generally providing enough feed for the cow herd each year and marketing the rest.

The family has been gradually acquiring more land, although not much comes available in the region and the price has nearly doubled in the past year. Jolene estimates land prices at about $1,800 to $2,200 per acre.

Land is thus a big expense and will be factored into future plans.

“I strongly feel that the next generation, our kids, are going to have to look at more vertical integration instead of expanding the land base,” Nora said.

“I think you can do more with less. I think there’s lots of opportunities out there.”

Location of the operation also presents challenges. Freight is a major cost when shipping crops. Until recently, the closest grain elevator was several hours away.

Similarly, the nearest cattle auction markets are in Dawson Creek or Beaverlodge, a four-hour trip by truck.

That’s the reason all calves are pre-conditioned before shipping, said Jolene. “Because we’re so far north, we have to sell full liner loads. If we were closer to feedlots, direct marketing would be more option, and so I guess that’s one of the goals moving forward, is to expand the cow herd so we do have more options.”

Despite those challenges, Nora said she wouldn’t consider living anywhere else.

Bob grew up in the Taber, Alta., area in Alberta’s south, but after meeting Nora at the U of A and then working in the region, “he drank the water and stayed,” said Nora.

Bob said he is happy that the kids want to continue farming and ranching.

“I’m excited about it. I think that’s the best thing that could happen here,” he said. “Each of the kids is deeply interested in agriculture, soil health. And I guess since we were involved in agriculture, it kind of feels good that the kids walk in some of your footsteps. Hopefully in the years to come they won’t just tread right over top of me,” he added with a smile.

He and Nora plan to remain involved in the farm operation for years to come, although they also have a desire to travel in the future.

Jolene said she has no problem with the prospect of working with family.

“In terms of the three of us and the five of us, we’ve always been really close and share a very similar vision for what we want to the farm to be and what we want to grow into it,” she said.

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