Young farmers get involved to shape policy

On the Farm: Paige Stewart is one of many younger prairie producers who are taking leadership roles in farm groups to help make a difference

Resolving conflicts is a useful skill in all aspects of life.

Whether you’re a manager of a fast-food restaurant or a mother of two daughters that fight about toys, clothes and everything else, you’ll likely be in the middle of a dispute or three.

Paige Stewart, who graduated from the University of Winnipeg with a degree in conflict resolution, never expected to put her knowledge to use in agriculture.

But it’s come in handy on a few occasions.

“I (have) come full circle, I ended up in agricultural sales, which everyone laughs about. Dealing with conflict in agriculture sales is pretty common,” said Stewart, an account manager with Belchim Crop Protection and a grain farmer in Fillmore, Sask., near Weyburn.

She farms with her husband, Chris Procyk, and his parents, Rick and Vickie Procyk. They are raising two boys: Ryder and Nigel.

When she’s not farming or working, Stewart is active in the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan. She’s the co-chair of the Young Agricultural Producers Committee with APAS and is a member of the association’s rural connectivity task force, which is studying internet and cell service in the province.

Given all her roles, Stewart is obviously committed to a life in agriculture. But during her first two decades of life in Manitoba, farming wasn’t part of the plan.

She grew up south of Winnipeg on a hobby farm with a few cattle. Then her family moved close to Morris, Man., but they didn’t operate a farm.

“My friends and people around me certainly were (farmers),” said Stewart, who didn’t contemplate a career in agriculture.

After high school she entered the University of Winnipeg and earned a degree. Following graduation, Stewart was unsure about the next move.

“With conflict resolution and some of those arts degrees, there’s not really a road map to (a career).”

She returned home to Morris and realized she needed to get a job — any job.

There was an opening at a grain handler and crop input company, so she took the position.

“That’s where I started, at the bottom … shoveling fertilizer for a couple of years,” she said. “Then I fell in love with the opportunity, helping growers solve problems … and I was promoted to sales rep (with Viterra).”

After a number of years working in Manitoba, Stewart got a job offer in Saskatchewan.

She moved to the province seven years ago and about a year later, she met Procyk. They got married last July on their farm near Fillmore.

Stewart, though, has been involved with the Procyks’ farm for about five years. The farm business is a partnership between Rick and Vickie and the next generation — Paige and Chris.

“We can’t express just how much they (Rick and Vickie) do (and) have done to allow us to learn the business and allow us the opportunity to farm,” Stewart said in an email.

While the learning process and the farm transition is the main focus, she has committed a portion of her time to APAS.

In 2019, she participated in the APAS mentorship program, where young producers are matched up with an older farmer in a mentee-mentor relationship.

The mentees attend APAS meetings, volunteer on APAS committees and travel to Ottawa for the Canadian Federation of Agriculture annual meeting.

“The program aims to help young producers gain valuable experience, take advantage of networking opportunities and develop the skills necessary to become a future industry leader,” the APAS website explains.

The year-long mentorship made an impression on Stewart. She learned about farm policy and how APAS develops positions on a range of issues, from the carbon tax to rural internet service.

“They initiated this program to create diversity within APAS and create a succession plan. As some of the older representatives didn’t want to be involved anymore, they could bring in these young producers,” Stewart said.

“At the end of the day, most of the policy work… is going to have a bigger impact on us (the younger farmers).”

One of the key perks of the program is the people.

Stewart made connections and friendships with producers across Saskatchewan, who have become a big part of her life.

“I can’t say enough about the people that I’ve met and the relationships that (have) continued,” she said. “Where we can just call each other up… especially during COVID, and talk about the challenges (on) our farm.”

Following the mentorship, Stewart became co-chair of the young producers committee at APAS. The committee studies a range of issues, such as tax and succession planning for intergenerational transfers and risk management programs for young farmers.

Rick and Vickie Procyk farm with their son, Chris, and daughter-in-law Paige Stewart, near Fillmore, Sask. | Supplied photo

Stewart isn’t the only young farmer in the Fillmore area who’s volunteering time to a provincial farm group.

Last fall Winston van Staveren, who farms with his family by Creelman, Sask., was elected to the board of directors for SaskPulse.

Van Staveren, who is in his 20s, also sits on the board for the Indian Head Agriculture Research Foundation (IHARF), and is a director for the Creelman Agricultural Society and the Fillmore Prairie Memories Museum.

He’s also a volunteer crop reporter for the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture.

“My parents had something to do with that (his volunteer work),” van Staveren said. “They were active in all these different organizations. More the local (groups). The rink board, the church and the ag society…. I was taught not to complain about something if you can do something about it.”

Stewart shares a similar philosophy. If a farmer believes something is wrong with an agricultural policy, or has a better idea, the best option is to get involved.

“We can’t be on the outside, looking in and being critical, if we’re not putting our hand up.”

While she has benefitted from her time with APAS, she’s unsure about her future with the group.

She still works off farm, which takes up time, and ag policy may not be a perfect fit.

“My passions are around farm succession… and the soft skills around helping friends and neighbours (to) have a happy and healthy farm succession.”

Regardless of what happens, she wants to be part of the solution.

“I think between the two of us, one of us will be involved in some shape or form.”

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