STARTING A BUSINESS as a young entrepreneur isn’t easy in any industry. In farming, the added challenges of the high cost of land, specialized equipment, and agronomic knowledge can be daunting — especially for someone who doesn’t come from an agricultural background.
Aaron McQueen took on the challenge of starting his own farming operation from scratch in 2012 — fulfilling an interest in farming that grew at an early age.
“When I was about 10 I wanted a venture, so my veterinarian father encouraged me to start raising beef calves. A few months after I got my first calves the BSE crisis hit, so I quickly determined livestock farming wasn’t for me. From then on, my interest in crops grew,” explains McQueen.
McQueen studied agriculture at the University of Guelph Ridgetown Campus and started farming in Haldimand County. McQueen describes his attempt to obtain operating capital as “essentially impossible”. Banks thought he was too young and even Farm Credit Canada turned him down because he had no assets to secure against a loan. It was also difficult to get a Farm Business Registration number until after his first year. This also limited his access to some funding and training programs.
So he used what resources he could get. McQueen developed strong relationships with other farmers and traded time working for them in exchange for the use of their equipment. The biggest challenge though, McQueen says, was having very little crop production experience as he didn’t grow up doing field work.
“I was very thankful that everyone in the industry was very helpful, especially many of my neighbouring farmers.”
Today, McQueen is a cash crop farmer growing corn, soybeans, and wheat on about 130 acres, a seed dealer, and an agronomist — he is a certified crop advisor with the 4R nutrient management specialist designation.
McQueen is Grain Farmers of Ontario’s representative for the 2018-19 Young Leader Program, sponsored by Corteva Agriscience™, Agriculture Division of DowDuPont, and the American Soybean Association.
“Aaron is the type of enterprising, passionate young farmer that is the future of our organization,” says Steve McCabe, manager of Member Relations for Grain Farmers of Ontario, noting that McQueen has already taken on an active role as a delegate for District 6 (Haldimand, Brant, Hamilton, Niagara). “The Young Leader Program will help Aaron face the challenges soybean farmers are dealing with in the current market and give him the tools he needs to succeed as a community leader and grain industry advocate.”
The Young Leader Program is a two-phase educational program for actively farming individuals and couples who are passionate about the future possibilities of agriculture. ASA has 26 state affiliates, including Grain Farmers of Ontario, representing 300,000 farmers. Phase I of the 2018-19 Young Leader program was held in Johnston, Iowa, at the end of November. The program continues February 26 — March 2, 2019 in Orlando, Florida, in conjunction with the annual Commodity Classic Convention and Trade Show.
McQueen is using this program to improve his leadership skills and values the opportunity to network and learn from the other participants who have their own unique farming experiences to share. The program features practical lessons on public speaking and provides industry perspectives on some of the major issues affecting soybean production in North America.
“I want to be better able to serve the soybean industry and be better able to communicate with the public,” says McQueen. “As we move forward as an industry, I think it will be important to have strong representation with the current climate of trade wars and public uncertainty of food.”
Some of the challenges McQueen has identified within the soybean industry are trade, herbicide resistant weeds, and slow yield increases.
With trade, he is concerned about the current U.S. trade war and its affect on prices and believes the ASA and Grain Farmers of Ontario need to put pressure on governments to maintain an open trade relationship.
Looking at soybean agronomics, McQueen says herbicide resistance seems to be a bigger concern than in his corn or wheat crops. “In my area, there are fields where it is now hard to grow soybeans as the resistant weed population is so intense. New herbicide technology is helpful, but it comes with management issues. We need crop protection companies to continue to invest in the development of new, innovative weed management products.”
McQueen would also like to see more research in soybean breeding. He feels advancements in higher yields and higher profitability are lagging behind other crops, such as corn. Until we see research results, McQueen is focusing on his crop management system to increase production.
“I have taken the approach of maximizing the return of every acre. Too achieve this I continuously scout crops in season and invest in the soil by adding fertility and drainage. I also have started mapping the soil zones on my farm, to be able to effectively use variable rate seed and fertilizer.”
Building and maintaining high levels of soil fertility are key to his soybean production system. No-till, residual herbicides, and crop rotation all play a role in pest and soil management.
McQueen says he hopes to be a model to local growers of new, innovative production practices that are both financially and environmentally smart.
If you are interested in learning more about the ASA Young Leader Program, contact Steve McCabe, Grain Farmers of Ontario manager of member relations, at 226-979-5581.
Grain Farmers of Ontario is a member of the American Soybean Association. •