Ont. couple’s passion for dairy industry inspired country

Dairy producers and the farming community around Elmira, Ont., are devastated.

On July 9, a semi-trailer truck crashed into a tractor driven by Henk and Bettina Schuurmans on Highway 16 north of Saskatoon. The couple, dairy farmers from Elmira, north of Kitchener, were travelling across Canada in a tractor to promote Canada’s dairy industry and the supply management system.

Bettina was killed in the accident and Henk was seriously injured. He had surgery in Saskatoon July 12 to treat his injuries.

“It would be fair to say that people are in shock, and there’s a real outpouring of support,” said Wendell Schumm, ruminant division manager with Wallenstein Feed near Elmira and a friend of the Schuurmans.

“People want the Schuurmans’ family to know that they support them and are here for them, in whatever way they need.”

The Schuurmans’ children, Tom, Emily, Lize, Jim and Eric, asked Schumm to speak to the media in the aftermath of the tragedy.

The Schuurmans were driving across the country in a 6430 John Deere tractor with a plastic cow attached to the back so that they could talk to Canadians about dairy farming. They branded the trip as the Canadian Milk Tour.

“They cared about the system, the Canadian dairy system. They wanted their kids to have the opportunity to take over that operation,” Schumm said.

“It wasn’t something organized by Dairy Farmers of Canada…. It was a farm family proud of what (they) do and wanted to show people. It was really genuine. People got behind it, more so, because of that.”

That’s likely why a GoFundMe page for the Schuurmans, to help with expenses related to the accident and future costs, had raised $69,501 as of July 16.

“We at Slate River Dairy were deeply touched by this tragic accident. Henk and Bettina were at our farmers market just two short weeks ago,” Wilma Mol, who farms near Thunder Bay, said on GoFundMe.

“Today we had a fundraiser at our booth and raised $346 for the Schuurmans. We know this will never replace the emptiness of losing a spouse or parent, but we pray this may just lighten the financial burden.”

The Schuurmans own and operate Milky Wave Farm near Elmira.

Henk, who is from the Netherlands, was the manager of a dairy called Coopon Flora in Elmira for about 23 years, starting in 1990.

The Schuurmans bought the dairy in 2013. Following the purchase, Henk talked about his family’s history of farming and why he loves working in a dairy.

“I’m the ninth generation farmer in my family. Out of a family with eight kids, there were five boys, and all five are farmers,” Henk told the Elmira Independent.

“I have to see my cows at least once a day. It’s nice and quiet, and you don’t get interrupted. You get a chance to think about what you are going to do that day, what has to be done.”

The Schuurmans are well known in Elmira’s farming community, particularly for their commitment to the dairy trade.

Schumm said Henk came to Canada with little more than a suitcase.

“He and Bettina didn’t start out with a bunch of money. They came in … and worked hard to have the opportunity to become dairy farmers, which was their dream,” he said.

“And I know … they speak with great pride of being able to pass that on to the next generation…. Proud and passionate…. They loved this country and they loved being dairy farmers.”

The focus right now is on the Schuurmans’ family and their loss, but many in Canada’s farm sector are wondering how this accident happened.

“I think we deserve answers on that question,” Schumm told the Kitchener Record.

“In the farming community, it’s always frustrating when we’re travelling on public roadways with farm equipment.”

The Saskatchewan RCMP continue to investigate the accident. They are waiting on a report from an accident specialist before deciding whether to lay charges.

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