Family farm thrives on trying new things

WATROUS, Sask. – Adapting to change and focusing on markets are keys to success in the Martin operation in central Saskatchewan.

Garnet and Darlene Martin produce canola, flax, pulses and cereals in rotations on 4,200 acres with their son, Derek, daughter, Lesley Kelly, and her husband Mathieu. Lindsay, the family’s youngest child, is studying office administration this fall.

For each crop, Garnet considers the costs of production, risks of growing and value of crops while monitoring the markets through the winter before committing to varieties in the spring.

“Today I’m planning for next year,” he said, citing opportunities for winter wheat on fields receiving steady rains since spring.

He launched his career into farming after high school, as the youngest in his family.

He has since honed his marketing and agribusiness management skills through seminars and now also works for Agri-Trend in marketing. He recently attended a food show to learn more about consumer trends.

“I’m quite proud of what I’ve done and the times I’ve gone through,” he said, citing his shift to continuous cropping and enlarging his farm size. “I really believe in what I’m doing.”

He cited government subsidies for agriculture globally, inflation and high interest rates among his past farming challenges.

“I decided if I was going to make it, it was up to me to make it happen.”

Garnet was one of several investors who bought the former Saskatchewan Wheat Pool elevator in nearby Watrous for use as a producer car loading and cleaning facility, seeing that as a way to add value to his farm.

“It’s not about farming a larger value of land for a lower price but farming less for a larger price,” said Garnet.

Partnerships lower the risk, he said. “With farming, you always evaluate your risk. I only risk what I can afford to risk.”

He and Lesley’s latest value-added venture is a barley snack food called Martin Munchies, which they market through a website, farmers’ markets and trade shows.

Lesley, a marketing specialist with ATB Financial in Edmonton, said the family comes together at Saskatoon’s food processing facility to create salty and sweet snacks.

The business gave Kelly, a university commerce graduate, the opportunity to practice her skills in marketing, branding, packaging and selling while learning more about the food business.

“Dad had a great idea but didn’t have the time to investigate,” said Kelly.

She chose to target four markets: the “wannabe healthies” who are turning to healthier foods, the “healthy gurus” who are already buying in the marketplace, the “soccer moms” looking for quick nutritious food and the “55 plus do or dies” who need to eat better for health reasons.

Lesley and Mathieu plan to return to the farm, where they will one day raise a family and where Mathieu will bring his skills from the oil patch as a journeyman mechanic.

Derek, the father of a three-year-old, also looks to the future and expanding the farm’s land base.

At a combine school this day, he cited technology as his strength and as a tool to help maximize profits.

He sees potential for his farm through vertical integration and niche markets that provide premiums for farmers.

“Our farm is going forward 100 m.p.h. I enjoy seeing it move forward.”

Also supporting the farm is Darlene, who works as a finance assistant for the health region in Watrous.

Off the farm, she and Garnet have both been involved in community service clubs and their children’s sports.

Garnet, who also coached hockey, praised Darlene for her support during those days. Darlene never considered his ventures a risk.

“Most farmers have to think beyond the circle and be motivated to do something,” said Darlene, who serves as go-for on the farm.

“If Garnet didn’t have support on things he’s done, he wouldn’t have done them and I think that he would have missed out,” she said.

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