BMO Bank of Montreal and the Calgary Stampede are proud to recognize 20 southern Alberta families who represent the true values behind agriculture.
Now in their 22nd year, the BMO Farm Family Awards are a celebration of the outstanding contributions the chosen farm families have made to the agriculture industry and their community. This event showcases those who take an innovative approach to growing their business, demonstrate a commitment to traditional western values and maintain an exceptional standard of sustainability.
“We’re so proud to be supporting a tradition that is more than two decades in the making, and one that honours those who best typify the value of the family farmer to our society,” said Susan Brown, Senior Vice President, Alberta and Northwest Territories Division, BMO Bank of Montreal. “The BMO Farm Family awards celebrate outstanding entrepreneurial dedication to the agriculture sector and rural way of life, and we are thankful for the winners’ leadership and support for the community.”
Each year, the municipal districts in southern Alberta each nominate one family. Selected families, who best display the qualities of a Farm Family, are brought to the Stampede for the BMO Farm Family Awards, which include a reception and special greetings from Alberta's Minister of Agriculture.
The Sharpe Family- Starland County
Not everyone can say they have four generations working the land together, but the 2018 BMO Farm Family for Starland County can — and they say it proudly.
Although he’s 80 and technically retired, Rick Sharpe helps run machinery on the farm he started with his son Len in 1980. Len and his son, Jeff, are the main operators of the 3,300-acre farm. And Jeff’s three children tend to a healthy flock of chickens.
“I’ve always been involved in the farm. But I’ve been taking more of an active role since we incorporated in 2007,” Jeff says. “I hope that we the opportunity to grow to farm further than we’ve taken it so far. My boy, he’s nine, has the farming gene for sure. He’s running the combine now.”
That said, there is the challenge of land prices in the area, located about 20 kilometres north of Drumheller. “I don’t see us growing in size,” Jeff says. “I see us getting better with what we have, getting more efficient and more intensive, growing more with what we do have.”
The farm, planted in wheat, barley and canola, is a no-till, continuous cropping operation. The goal is to push growth on a yield per acre basis by continuing and expanding on the use of strip, plot and field trails. Improving the current field drainage to minimize soil erosion and keeping abreast of new technology are also high on the list.
While there are four generations working the land, it’s not the original homestead. Rick’s grandfather and grandmother left their farm in Napanee, Ont. in 1916 to find new opportunity in the Munson area. Their oldest son, Rod, farmed until 1980. That’s when Rick and Len took over, establishing the operation that the Sharpes work today, while Len’s cousin works the original family quarter section.
Len and his wife, Marg, help with community suppers and fundraising events in the community. Marg was instrumental in establishing the area’s water co-op, a critical service in the rural district. Jeff and his wife, Kim, are also involved in the community. Kim has been involved with the Morrin Figure Skating Club the past six years, while Jeff is an active member of the Morrin District and Ag Society.
And Jeff has been a member of the Munson Fire Department for 16 years, having joined when he was 20.
“I find it exciting. And it’s a good cause: everyone should have protection from fire,” he says. The department is progressive and Jeff takes training when it’s available as the crew deals with everything from grass fires to medical assists to motor vehicle accidents.
He also occasionally works off the farm. He got his electrician’s ticket out of high school as a fall back in case he didn’t go into the family business. Now that he is more involved in the running of the farm, he mainly takes consulting jobs. While the operation is primarily growing grain, they’ve recently added some animals to the mix: a brood of chickens 85 strong.
“We got them to give the kids some responsibilities. They do it all when it comes to looking after the animals. They’re egg-laying hens, so the kids sell the eggs to friends and neighbours,” Jeff says, pegging production at about 80 eggs a day.
The Rasmussen Family- Wheatland County
Necessity is the mother of invention. The Rasmussen family has proven that repeatedly since Jens and Kristine Rasmussen came to Standard from Iowa in 1909.
The couple, both immigrants from Denmark, travelled north with nine of their 16 children. The other seven were buried in the States. Jens was 48. But he was determined to start over yet again.
“He knew land was everything. They were in Iowa where there was no room for expansion. He realized they needed to do something. He saw an opportunity in Canada and they took it,” says Brian Rasmussen, the couple’s great-grandson. “It’s one of the main reasons we’ve diversified into seed. We don’t have a lot of pasture land, so we saw an opportunity to get into seed.”
The 2018 BMO Farm Family for Wheatland County operates a 2,835-acre grain farm, primarily for seed. Brian’s wife, Shelley, also has deep roots in the area. Her paternal great-grandfather owned and operated the coal mine in Standard and her maternal grandparents operated one of the local hotels.
Married in 1979, the couple has three sons; Blair, Joel and Keith. Blair and Keith have careers off the farm. It looked like it would be that way for Joel as well, as he’s severely allergic to grain dust. But now, with immunotherapy injections, he lives and works on the farm, along with his wife, Jacci, and their two children.
That solution fits with the farm’s motto, “Where Tradition and Innovation Continue.” The first house built on the property was from a kit delivered via train in 1915. Its electrical wiring and indoor plumbing were the first in the area. Work done in the farm’s shop embodied the motto, too. In 1928, Sigurd Rasmussen, Brian’s grandfather, held three patents for early designs of grain loaders.
In the 1940s, Gordon, Brian’s father, built two tractors from highway trucks and crafted a stock car out of a 1916 Model T truck, one of many race cars the family built. That led to a dirt race track the family created in the pasture in the 1950s. Gordon and other family members raced all over Alberta and beyond. A photo in the Reynolds-Alberta museum in Wetaskiwin shows Gordon crashing that Model T stock car. In the ’70s, the race track was rebuilt for another decade of driving.
“My aunts and uncles would say we spent more time creating the machine to make the job easier than it would take to do the job in the first place,” Brian remembers. “But they’d also say that you have that machine forever.”
The Rasmussens have been involved in countless community efforts and organizations, from the gymnastics club to the Central Alberta Hockey League, the Wheatland Surface Rights Group to the new $2-million community hall. Brian has a 40-year Award from the Canadian Seed Growers Association. His father twice won the prestigious Robertson Award from the organization.
Shelley says while they don’t know what the future holds, they’ll keep growing new varieties of crops that will benefit farmers. And they’ll keep their commitment to keep the family farm going.
“It’s of the utmost importance to us,” Brian says. “But you can’t predict the future of how things are going to go. We are trying to leave the legacy of it.”
The Hoppins family- Kneehill County
When Kevin Hoppins talks about the family farm, the emphasis is decidedly on family.
He’s part of the eight families that make up Hoppins Farms Ltd., an operation that’s grown to a sprawling 8,000 acres from the original quarter section homesteaded west of Huxley by his great-grandfather William Hoppins in 1904.
“You’ll never hear anyone who is or has been involved in our farm refer to anything as ‘mine.’ It’s all considered ‘ours,’ ” Hoppins says. “It’s through the co-operative approach — the sharing of resources, skills and expertise — that we’ve been able to successfully grow our operation.”
The mixed grain farm run by the families — fathers, sons, uncles, cousins and their partners — produces wheat, barley, peas and canola. The families also maintain a herd of 160 commercial Angus/Simmental beef cattle. When Hoppins learned he was the recipient of the 2018 BMO Farm Family for Kneehill County, he wanted to make one thing clear.
“I told them, ‘That’s not how it works.’ It’s definitely not any one of our farms. It is a family thing and we are all in it together,” he recalls. “At times, we may have eight ideas on how to approach something, but that usually means we have a better outcome and it’s done sooner.”
That all-for-one, one-for-all outlook has been passed down through the generations, as has involvement in co-operatives.
“It’s an extension of the farm. You join together with other folks to do something together that you can’t do yourself, like bringing natural gas to rural areas,” he says. Hoppins’ grandfather was CEO of the United Farmers of Alberta (UFA), his father was a director and he is currently chairman of the board. Members of the family are involved in everything from Kneehill County Council and the Huxley 4-H Beef Club, to St. Mary’s Community Health Care Foundation and the Trochu Curling Club. It’s not uncommon for one member of the family to take over a task for another, allowing them to coach a ball game, respond to a fire call or organize a community event.
In 2004, the Hoppins clan hosted a centennial farm celebration with friends, extended family and community. At the same time, they were honoured with the Alberta Century Farm Award and a Centennial Farm Award from Kneehill County. The families are used to gatherings, another tradition that’s echoed through the generations.
“We have a corn roast every year and we have three antique 1950 combines that we break out. We save a bit of the crop and have all the neighbours and friends over,” Hoppins says. “And in the winter, a lot of the non-farming family members come for the skating parties we have on the pond.”
Another family tradition involves attending Olds College. There’s even a photo of the Hoppins Farms Ltd. brand at the College. Various family members specialize in cattle, bookkeeping, pesticide application, mechanics and grain marketing, among other areas. Keeping abreast — and ahead, at times — of advances in agriculture is a priority for the family, as is planning for the operation’s future.
“Encouraging others and taking time to share in the process has fostered a love of farming and community,” Hoppins says. “We have three third-generation families, five fourth-generation families and the fifth generation is just around the corner helping out on weekends and evenings.”