Busy off the farm helping ag and community

On the Farm: Between conferences, meetings and local projects, the Bishops became award-winning farmers

BARONS, Alta. — Wide-open fields are visible in almost every direction from the Bishop family farm a few miles west of this southern Alberta village.

And at a time when many prairie farmers are still struggling to harvest the last of their crops, David Bishop considered himself lucky to have only 20 acres of soybeans yet to collect as of Oct. 31.

It’s also fortunate because Bishop, the current chair of Alberta Barley, is about to begin the usual late-in-the-year attendance of annual meetings and trade shows that are expected of him.

David and his wife, Mary, are believers in giving back to their industry and community. Barley-related business is far from their only interest. David is also part of Team Alberta, a group comprising barley, wheat, canola and pulse organizations, sits on the board of directors for the Canadian Malt Barley Technical Centre, and is on the CN Rail advisory panel.

As well, he is president of the Barons Elks Club, a member of the local agricultural society and a former board executive with Grain Growers of Canada.

Mary, a retired teacher, is head of the Barons agricultural society, past president of the local branch of the Royal Canadian Legion and its auxiliary, past president of the Barons historical society and current member of a local church board.

Needless to say, they attend a lot of meetings.

How does the farming get done?

“That’s what I have Erek for,” quips David about his younger son, who lives on the farm with his wife, Kirsty, who is a teacher in nearby Carmangay. Erek has a full-time job as a marketing representative for Richardsons in nearby Vulcan.

“When he gets a pension, he can farm,” said David with a smile.

“When he goes into a home,” Erek replied, with another smile. He has a plant and soil science diploma from Lethbridge College and a bachelor of science degree from the University of Lethbridge, and is also a certified crop advisor.

David and Mary’s other son, Clinton, helps on the farm when needed but is currently starting an agricultural-related business in Vancouver.

It’s clear each member of the family has a busy life but farming about 3,500 acres is the pursuit that grounds them. The Bishops grow soybeans, wheat, canola, peas, rye and, of course, barley. David is pleased that all the barley went malt this year and most of it is already sold.

“Farming is fun,” said David. “Though it wasn’t as fun this year, with the harvest. Rather than fun, I would say enjoyable. It was more of a challenging year this year, between drought, hail, three feet of snow at harvest.”

As well, he added jokingly, “Mary kept breaking things and we had to keep fixing things.”

Mary runs the combine at harvest but otherwise stays away from other farm equipment operation.

She and David bought this land in 1989. They both came from farming families but at one time they ran an automotive and agriculture equipment dealership in nearby Claresholm, along with David’s sister and mother. When they got an offer on that business, David and Mary grabbed the chance to farm full time.

“What I do now with Alberta barley, what I learned from being in business has been quite useful,” said David.

A rural lifestyle also suits Mary.

“You get used to the openness, and it’s a great place to raise kids. You know your neighbours. You help each other out,” she said.

His family’s farming know-how allows David to participate in his other ag-related pursuits.

“I rely on these guys quite a bit,” he said. “That’s the only way you can do it. If you didn’t have help you couldn’t do it. My philosophy is, I’ve gotten a lot out of ag over the years and it was time to start returning it, putting back into ag.

“And to be quite honest, being on any commission or any of the boards that need you, it’s a great learning experience. I would say I’ve gotten more benefit out of the farm doing this than if I hadn’t.

“You understand policy better, politics better, marketing better, research, communications – you get that skill set you didn’t have before.”

He encourages others to serve on boards and commissions if they get the chance. Erek is a member of the Barons Elks club and said he’ll consider serving on ag-related boards in the future because of their importance to the industry.

“It seems to be the only way that we can ever get anything out of the government is if we’re actually there lobbying them,” Erek says. “Otherwise we just fall to the back burner.”

He and his father were disappointed that agriculture wasn’t a major factor in the recent federal election campaigns.

“When you look at how much agriculture contributes to the Canadian economy, you’d think we’d get a little bit more recognition than what we do get,” said David.

This year the Bishops were among 19 farm families honored with a Farm Family Award through the Calgary Stampede and Bank of Montreal. That award was a surprise as well as an honour, said David.

“When your peers say you’ve done well and you deserve this, that’s what makes it so nice.”

In between attendance and meetings this fall, the Bishops will plan their annual post-harvest get-together, which they host in their farm shop. The big question now is when to hold it, since harvest continues to drag on.

But the party, when it is held, will be one more way the family gives something back to agriculture and the community.

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