Farm leader has gone far, but stays close to his roots

Robert Misko loads peas for transport to Yorkton during this year’s harvest. | Karen Morrison photo

Robert Misko was an RM reeve for 16 years and currently sits on a Manitoba producers group as well as a national organization

BIELD, Man. — Robert Misko sought to spend only as needed in the Manitoba Rural Municipality of Hillsburg while serving as reeve for 16 years.

“We wanted to show there was a value in the dollars we were taking from people,” he said.

That included limiting spending to necessities for the small agricultural community such as road and bridge maintenance and snow removal.

Now serving as the Manitoba Wheat and Barley Growers Association’s vice-president and its representative on Cereals Canada, he continues to keep a broad community of farmers in mind.

“We’re doing things in the background most farmers don’t even know we’re doing,” said Misko.

“We’re doing work the (Canadian Wheat Board) used to do for us, and we didn’t realize what all they did either.”

Cam Dahl, president of Cereals Canada, called Misko an active and vibrant contributor in this volunteer position.

The group includes representation from crop development and seed companies, exporters and processors with farmers such as Misko making up almost 40 percent of the board.

“The farmers’ voice is critically important,” said Dahl.

“It’s important to have the producers’ voice around the table to make sure the organization is meeting the needs of the entire value chain.… If the cereals industry is not profitable to farmers, it’s not profitable to other parts of the value chain either.”

He said Misko serves on committees looking at market access and development and the modernization of wheat classifications.

“He has been an active contributor to the organization and we are fortunate to have him on the board of directors.”

Misko’s philosophy for serving is simple: get involved rather than sit on the sidelines complaining.

“If I feel there is something I can add to it or have a concern with it I’d like to change, I’ll try to get involved in that organization,” said Misko, whose involvements have included serving as a delegate for Manitoba Pool Elevators and Agricore, chair of the applied research farm with the Parkland Crop Diversification Foundation and a director with the Association of Manitoba Municipalities.

Jeremy Andres, now a councillor with the Municipality of Roblin, said he learned a lot during his four years on the RM council with Misko.

“He was a no nonsense kind of guy. He’d get up and get it done,” he said.

“He was definitely a good leader and wouldn’t hesitate to drop his own work and take care of what needed to be done.”

Andres said that might entail freeing a grader stuck in a snow bank.

Misko said all of that off-farm involvement was possible because of the support of his family, which includes his wife, Leifa, their four adult children and his parents, Walter and Ethel.

“I’m thankful my family is here to carry the load when I’m away,” Misko said.

Choosing agriculture-related service also helps because meetings are scheduled outside of the farm’s busy times.

Leifa laughed about her own career path.

“I said I’d never marry a farmer and here I am,” said Leifa, who runs equipment alongside the others at seeding and harvest.

“It’s a big operation and can get hectic sometimes.”

Misko said his children have been operating farm machinery since their teen years.

“They all understood what it was to do work on the farm,” he said, noting the operation today includes 6,000 acres and produces wheat, peas, and canola.

Walter and Ethel started the farm from humble beginnings, living in a log house, expanding gradually and relying heavily on Walter’s mechanical expertise.

“My husband was determined and mechanically inclined so he could buy older equipment and fix them up and he didn’t mind working long hours,” said Ethel, who worked off the farm to help support the family and farm.

“We had no help from nobody,” she said.

She recalled Robert missing school to help on the farm, noting how he today can call on his children to help on and off the field. One is a farmer, another is an accountant and one is an agrologist, while one daughter is studying medicine.

“We work together because we’re family but because we’re family, we make it work,” said Robert.

“We just speak our minds, we don’t hold back,” said Ethel, who lives across the farmyard from houses occupied by Robert’s family and her granddaughter’s family.

Ethel hopes to see the next generation carry on here and knows the family will support that.

“If we can help them, we do,” she said.

Robert handles the lion’s share of the day-to-day farm work with his son, Robbie, 21.

“The only boss I ever had was my dad,” said Robbie.

“I listen to Dad because he’s been doing it for so long and I learn from him.”

The family monitors crop prices online and sells most of it before it’s off the field.

This year, the normally wet area had a dry spell so canola needed moisture to fill out. Winter wheat experienced winterkill, but spring wheat and pea crops fared well.

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