On the Farm: Blake Brownridge spent 12 years harvesting other producers’ crops before deciding to start a farm of his own
ARCOLA, Sask. — Blake Brownridge didn’t have your typical start in farming. His entrance into seeding and harvesting his own land came at age 30, after 12 years of harvesting other people’s crops.
The Arcola farmer began travelling on the custom-harvesting circuit when he was a teenager, spending every fall season in places like North Dakota, Oklahoma and Texas, combining a variety of crops for other farmers.
He bought into his family’s custom-combining business, owned by his dad and two brothers, when he was 18 years old, fully embracing a lifestyle on the road.
“It was a great way to travel to other places and see a lot of different operations,” said Brownridge, who ran one of six combines for 180 days of each year harvesting throughout Canada and the United States.
In 2006, a drought in Oklahoma and Texas meant no harvest and a good reason for Brownridge to start looking for an alternative means of making a living in the only profession he knew — agriculture. That spring, he rented land near Arcola to graze some cattle and plant the first of his very own crops.
“It was kind of a make-work project to keep our guys employed for an extra month,” said the 42-year-old father of two, adding that the idea of being able to stay closer to home year-round was becoming appealing.
Brownridge, who now farms with his wife Stacy, bought land as it came up in the area, and eventually gave up the custom-combining business altogether to focus solely on producing his own crops.
“There was a lot of learning curves at the beginning,” said Brownridge. “It’s so different when you’re doing everything yourself, but fortunately, I had a lot of good friends and neighbours who helped me out with things like chemicals and all the basics.”
By 2011, the Arcola couple had bought enough land to farm full time. Brownridge’s interest in crop diversity led to the planting of sunflowers, corn and soybeans, which he said are well-suited for his part of southeastern Saskatchewan.
“We had the equipment to harvest it and the markets were good in Manitoba,” said Brownridge. “I had a good teacher who was a seed salesman from Manitoba that helped us fine-tune stuff and made sure we had everything we needed, like the right headers for each crop and things like that.”
Eventually, the Brownridges became seed dealers for Pioneer Hybrid Seeds. They established Ridgeline Agriservices in 2014, and set up shop on a home quarter of land they had purchased to accommodate seed sales.
A variety of hybrid seeds, including canola, sunflowers, corn and soybeans, are now sold from the Ridgeline headquarters just east of Arcola.
Brownridge and two full-time and three part-time employees can be found at Ridgeline loading trucks, taking orders and receiving shipments all year long.
“We always use the products we sell on our farm so this is why we feel confident selling them to our neighbours,” he said.
The Brownridges agree that shifting to a lifestyle where they can be close to home for their two school-aged children has delivered rewards.
“Our kids get to be around their grandparents,” said Brownridge. “And it’s nice to be close to home so we can be a part of their activities and their everyday lives.”