Three farms from Starland, Kneehill, and Wheatland counties were honoured on Monday at the BMO Palomino Room in Calgary with BMO Farm Family awards, three of 18 families selected in the annual awards ceremony.
Jay Davis has always believed in the Canadian cattle industry.
He’s believed in it enough to export purebred Angus cattle to Japan, Mexico, Russia, Scotland, and the United States.
He’s also believed in it enough to start his own ARDA Farms bull sale back in 1997, with more than 200 buyers now attending the annual spring event and more than 80 Black Angus going under the gavel each year.
And now, as the industry rebounds, Jay’s faith is finally being rewarded.
“I think the product has always rated with the best in the world,” says Jay. “We just hung in there, and finally things have turned around.”
For their perseverance, their ingenuity, and their dedication to both their business and their community, the Davis family has earned this year’s nod from Kneehill County for a BMO Farm Family Award.
The Davis family was selected “for their strong sense of community in the Acme district, and their commitment to the livestock industry,” says Bruce Sommerville, agricultural fieldman for Kneehill County.
“When the BSE crisis hit, Jay and his family were committed to the industry that had built the farm. And with perseverance, and good management, they survived this setback to the industry.”
The Davis family history in the Acme area dates back to 1903, when sharecropper James Davis brought his family of 13 to central Alberta from Nebraska. His son Art took over the farm in 1942 and established the ARDA Farms name, with the acronym standing for A.R. Davis Angus. Art farmed with sons Jay and Darcy for some time, and these days Jay carries on the ARDA Farms tradition.
Located six kilometres west of Acme, ARDA Farms currently consists of an 800-head purebred and commercial cattle operation, as well as a healthy grain farm, with 3,000 acres seeded annually to wheat, barley, and canola.
The Davis clan has grown seed stock for more than 60 years — and about a decade ago, Jay completed a family circle by purchasing his grandfather’s original homestead.
Jay and wife Lenore have four kids of their own — sons Garrett and Jarrett, who are actively involved in the farm; son Cody, who’s just finished his first year at Olds College; and daughter Scarlett, who’s headed off to nursing school. They’ve also raised Cody’s friend Joby Bishop, now a welder in Crossfield, after his father passed away of cancer several years ago.
The Davis name is well known around Acme. Jay has twice served as the president of the local agricultural society, and served six years on the Alberta Angus Association. Lenore volunteers at the Acme School and the Acme Curling Club, and helped plan the rebuilding of the Acme United Church after it was destroyed by fire. The family has also been involved extensively with the local 4-H Club.
In addition, Jay was a longtime volunteer for the Calgary Stampede as a member of a beef cattle judging committee.
“The family involvement is a big reward for me, with Garrett and Jarrett starting their own herd and Cody wanting to farm and ranch,” says Jay.
“Some people call it child abuse,” quips Jay with a chuckle, “but the boys seem to be keen on it.”
After a summer of chemotherapy and a stem cell bone marrow transplant to treat cancer in his colon, Dwayne Marshman has seen some of life’s worst moments.
But every morning when he wakes up at the family’s century-old farmhouse, he sees some of life’s best.
“There’s nothing I love better than being out on that tractor, and growing a bumper crop,” says Dwayne, who’s been told by doctors that his rare form of cancer, mantle cell lymphoma, is now in remission. “It’s seeing the cows, too . . . watching the calves being born, and grow.
“It’s the circle of life, I guess, that always amazes me every year. I could be close to the end of mine, or I could go another 20 years. Who knows?
“But I’m alive, and feeling great.”
The Marshman name has been part of the east-central Alberta farming landscape since 1909, when Dwayne’s great-grandfather brought his family to Canada from Latah, Wash. Dwayne’s wife Mary is a descendant of the Koester clan that also has a long history in the area, having arrived in Rockyford in 1929 from Council Bluffs, Iowa.
For their longevity, their perseverance, and their deep love of the land, the Marshmans are Wheatland County’s choice for a 2011 BMO Farm Family Award.
The Marshmans run a dryland grain operation about 12 kilometres south of Carbon, seeding about 1,800 acres each year in wheat, canola, and barley. They’ve also got a small cow/calf operation, and run a greenhouse supplying tomatoes and bedding-out plants to customers in the area.
In 2005, Dwayne and Mary’s youngest daughter Kimberly and her husband Ben Salt, originally from England, returned to the farm full-time. Dwayne and Mary’s oldest daughter Kathy and husband Lance, along with their young daughters Josie and Jenna, help out when they can, as does son Craig.
Eight years ago, Dwayne worked with the Rosebud River Watershed Group to develop an off-stream watering system. With his cattle drinking fresh well water instead of stagnant water in the bottoms, the move has helped to protect riparian areas and resulted in a significant weight gain for the calves. The family has also made every attempt to increase production through modern agronomics, while protecting the land for future generations.
“My grandfather always told us that we never really own the land — we just purchased the right to use it,” remarks Dwayne.
Off the farm, Mary is the chairman of the Rockyford Library, and has been playing the organ at St. Rita’s Church for 25 years. Dwayne is a director with the Wild Rose Agriculture Producers and is connected with the Rockyford Rural Fire Association.
Dwayne also coached hockey for 10 years and ringette for another 20. In May 2010, when his cancer diagnosis prevented him from coaching ringette, his team hosted a Ringers for a Reason fundraiser. The 12-hour game, supper, and concert helped raise $50,000 for patient comfort care in the Bone Marrow Stem Cell Transplant Unit at Calgary’s Foothills Medical Centre.
“My son-in-law kept telling me this spring, ‘I’ll do the fertilizing,’ ” recalls Dwayne. “I said, ‘You know, Ben, that’s where I love to be. You guys fill it and calibrate it, and I’ll run the tractor.’
“That’s the best medicine for me.”
John Duncalf was familiar with the agricultural way of life, having owned a small dairy farm in Wales.
What he still marvels at, to this day, are Alberta’s wide-open spaces.
“I guess it was just the scale of things,” says Duncalf, who moved to Canada with wife Nadine in 1980. “Everything is way bigger out here.
“You had to deal some years with lack of moisture, which wasn’t really a problem over in the U.K. The machinery was way bigger. It took some getting used to.”
The Duncalfs have clearly done pretty well for themselves. For their versatility, their adaptability, and their love of the agricultural way of life, they’re the proud recipients of a 2011 BMO Farm Family Award, representing Starland County.
After their arrival in Canada, John worked on a mixed farm south of Rockyford for 15 years, buying a quarter-section and renting land off his employer along the way. And in 1995, the family settled into its present location about 13 kilometres east of Drumheller in the Verdant Valley.
The Duncalfs did have a small cow/calf operation until a few years ago, but now concentrate on growing wheat, barley, canola, and flax on about 1,360 acres seeded annually.
John and Nadine’s sons Neil and Lionel have diversified; Neil owns an electrical business in Drumheller and has his own grain farm, while Lionel runs an oilfield service outfit. But Neil and wife Donna, as well as their children Matthew, 14, Michael, 13, and Jared, 10, find time to help with the Duncalf operation, as do Lionel, wife Robin, and their kids Ethan, 10, and Avery, 8.
About a decade ago, the Duncalfs adopted a zero-till, direct-seeding method to conserve moisture, reduce erosion, and save on fuel costs. They also completed an Environmental Farm Plan, and use GPS guidance to eliminate overlap on seeding and spraying.
John is presently director of the local gas co-operative, and previously served on the board of directors of the regional agricultural society. Nadine is a member of the Anglican Church Women of Canada, and part of the vestry with the local Anglican church.
“The area has a strong community spirit, and we’re happy to be a part of it,” says John. “People kind of look after each other. Somebody gets into trouble, they’re always there to help, and there are always special community events going on.
“It’s good to be part of that.”
John is looking forward to retirement, and to having one of his children carry on the family name at the Duncalf spread.
But he couldn’t imagine another line of work.
“I like to grow crops. I wonder what the crop’s going to be like,” he says. “There’s nothing better than working down in the fields, and taking a look all around you.
“Every year’s different. We do our part, and hope Mother Nature will help us along. It’s a nice way of life.”
Each family was presented with a personalized farm gate sign, and had a professional photograph taken. The families will receive admission to Stampede Park, and tickets to the Rodeo.