For Mark and Sally Benard, their farm is not just about a business opportunity, but a big picture philosophy. “Both need to be an equal priority when in organic production,” says Sally from their Prince Edward Island farm located between Summerside and Charlottetown. They are the 2012 Outstanding Young Farmers for Atlantic Canada. “Organic production tends to not be as successful when a person starts a farm only based on philosophy, and doesn’t take the business of farming into account. It also doesn’t work when a farmer goes into organic production only to get a higher premium, but doesn’t focus on the philosophy of organic production.”
This combined philosophy started in 2001 when Mark saw a new opportunity, and felt it was time to change the direction of the farm that had been focused on potato production when owned by his father. Thirty-six months later, Mark was home from the Nova Scotia Agricultural College, had some farmland transitioned and ready for organic production and founded Barnyard Organics Ltd. with Sally. Today, the farm produces organic grains and oilseeds, roasts some of those products including soybeans, and sells organic lamb and chicken at the farm gate.
Since starting the farm, change is something that Mark and Sally have seen many times. Their first market was to a growing organic dairy industry, in need of high quality feeds. “Unfortunately that industry then collapsed,” recalls Mark. Along came a hog producer after some scrambling to find new markets. “That has been a great relationship, but the struggle in the pork sector means that market is drying up.” Also, as publicity grew for the Benards, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency came knocking, mainly over the issue of making feed for other farms without the proper certification. “While it was nerve-wracking at first, it actually has been a good thing because we can now look maritime wide when producing organic livestock feed,” says Mark.
Looking back over the past decade, the Benard’s point to several focuses that have made them successful. “We are very strict on our five year crop rotation,” says Mark. “We don’t tend to follow any hot crops, but instead focus on soil health which will help produce superior crops.”
The customer is what the Benard’s point out as the second priority for Barnyard Organics. “That goes for both the grain and oilseeds, as well as for the lamb and chickens.” The third priority is their outlook. “We need to always be thinking outside of the box, always questioning standard processes to decide what is best for our own situation,” says Sally. Mark says that outside of the box thinking is also important when it comes to viewing opportunities. “Sometimes opportunities exist where you don’t expect them to. Just brush off the surface dirt and they are there.”
For more information about Barnyard Organics, visit their website at BarnyardOrganics.ca