By Trevor Bacque
Tell someone that the most amazing place in the world is Newdale, Man., and you may receive a funny look or two. There would be the odd proponent, of course. And, there would be no bigger boosters of the area just north of Brandon than the Raupers family. Originally from a mixed farm at Otze, near Hannover, Germany, the family immigrated to Canada after parents Henry and Christine, decided to take come to Canada along with their three boys and take over her uncle’s Newdale farm.
The uncle in question, Bill Rabe, was a bit of a vagabond. He spent years farming in parts of Australia, South America and South Korea. Rabe eventually invested in Canadian farmland in the late ‘70s. For the intrepid Rabe, the Prairies proved to be a lasting love. He happily farmed the land and periodically visited the Raupers to tell tales of Canada’s spacious geography and larger-than-life tractors. The three young boys, Martin, Chris and Jan, were enamoured with their great uncle’s tales.
By the time the family made their transatlantic trek, the oldest of three brothers, Jan Raupers was 15. For him, it was glee and excitement from every angle.
“I always thought America was really cool, specifically the U.S.,” he says. “I figured Canada would get me a whole lot closer to the U.S. From my English classes in Germany, I had fallen in love with the idea of North America.”
While Jan did not quite make it state-side, his love of the country still runs deep.
Similarly, brother Chris, was positively tickled with the idea of North American farming where machinery size bordered on the absurd relative to German iron. A farmer through and through, Chris could not wait to get on the land Rabe had managed since 1979.
“Canada was kind of a fantasy land,” says Chris. “My uncle would visit home and bring over toys and pictures of big farming. The bigger equipment when you are younger is magic for your eyes.”
He vividly recalls the moment his life changed. His parents visited Canada alone in 1997, making him “furious” he could not come. Upon their return home, they spoke to their sons about their time in Newdale. After the trip was recounted the conversation quickly morphed into a forthright proposal.
“It can’t be,” says Chris. “It was something that you never think could happen to you. My jaw dropped on the floor. We had never gone on big holidays. I had never left Germany before moving to Canada. It was my first time out of the country.”
Within 18 months of Henry and Christine’s reconnaissance mission to Canada, the entire family uprooted 400-plus years of family roots in Germany and now found themselves on Rabe’s land, except it was now their responsibility. They settled in and Henry began working the land while mother Christine, ran a company in Newdale, Land Haus Antiques, until she retired in early 2020.
The youngest brother Martin trained as a mechanic and now works for AG West Equipment in Manitoba. For Chris and Jan, the two owners of the farm and its associated business venture, their careers to the agriculture took divergent pathways.
Jan, always interested in computer technology, relocated to Brandon after high school to study more about the machines at Assiniboine Community College.
“It was hard deciding what I wanted to do, and computers seemed to be the most natural fit at the time,” he says. Shortly after graduation, he began working for an American call centre out of Brandon. Later, he took a job in Minnedosa, Man., with a company subcontracted by the U.S. military to build cutting-edge infrared laser illuminators and high-speed cameras.
The jobs, while enjoyable, required heavy amounts of sitting and eventually caused a significant back injury. In 2012, while sidelined, Jan’s father spoke with him, appealing to his son to help him with his latest project and reconsider farm life.
“My dad said, ‘hey, I have these water pumps. I want to help you with your family and your life. I think you need to move a whole lot more and come in the workshop. We are going to start this water pump business.’”
The water pumps in question were creations of Henry, the ever-present tinkerer around the farm. The pumps he designed were custom PTO-driven shallow water pumps. With portions of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta fighting with sloughs and pop-up lakes, drainage is a constant issue. However, their pump differs from many others in that it can pump effectively in very shallow water at between 15,000 to 30,000 litres per minute. Equipped with either a 12” or 16” diameter, the Raupers’ niche pump effectively moves even the shallowest, dirtiest water.
Working to create, market and sell the pumps appealed to Jan in a new way, as did the rural lifestyle.
“I personally liked the idea very much … coming back to the farm,” he says. “I had spent almost 10 years away from the farm only helping out here and there. I missed being out on the farm.”
As he slowly transitioned into a more physical workload, he put his college experience to good use, creating a new website for the company as well as marketing materials for the pumps and began to spread the word about the new company—Cardale Tech—to farmers in the area. Undeterred by being completely new to the business, Jan absorbed every detail of his new work. They began to also create soil-shaping tools, essentially a pull behind blade for a tractor, which was initially marketed as a “pulldozer.”
“Then we learned about trademarks and lawyers,” he says with a laugh.
Now branded as Terra Tools, the blades and water pumps form the majority of their business. They also build a number of custom projects for farmers that could be anything from uniquely sized scraper bars, trailers or anything in between. Today, their products can be found in farmers fields across the Prairies, the U.S. and Eastern Europe.
“The goal was to build a multi-tool that could do anything as far as earth moving goes. Box scraper, grade blade, feather out ditches and clean out ditches in a more efficient manner,” he says. “[The goal] really, was just to build the best dirt-moving tool that you could come up with.”
Throughout the winter, Jan is planning to make small yet important modifications to the pumps and their overall business. His goal is to continue to streamline operations and ultimately produce better products.
In a similar way to Jan crafting products to be better, younger brother Chris has been working hard for years to do the same with their land.
Upon high school graduation in 2004, Chris immediately enrolled in Olds College’s Agricultural Management diploma program and later completed an applied science degree.
Chris returned to the farm as fast as he left it. In 2007, the family’s land base was a mixed of rented and owned 4,500 acres, primarily seeded to canola and wheat. The land base did not fully support Chris, so more needed to be done. He began custom farming about 4,000 acres of land for different farmers—everything from seeding through until harvest—to provide extra income.
After toiling hard for four years, Chris assumed leadership duties on the farm and made a conscious decision to simultaneously expand their acres to 6,400 and scale back their custom work, which had become an elephant in the room.
“We had chased that custom farming business to a point that our own land was left to the next day because we were making sure customers were OK,” he says. “I sort of put a stop to that and started focusing on the acres at home, still doing a bit of custom work, but generally we are just focused on our own land.”
Chris continued on with his typical rotation and pushing the farm forward. However, in 2015, he had a nagging desire to make his farmland even better. The usual crop rotations were just not cutting it for him.
“That’s when I stumbled upon regenerative agriculture,” he says. “That totally grabbed me and spoke to me immediately. In the past four years, I’ve changed wheat, canola and soybeans to seven different crops across the farm.”
Regenerative agriculture is defined by practices that can reverse climate change, reproduce organic matter in the soil, bring back a greater soil biodiversity to sequester carbon and improve the water cycle.
The latest addition of regenerative ideas at the farm is cows grazing a full season cover crop. So, traditional monocrop land is sown to a 15 species cover crop and grazed. Chris partnered with a father and son who ranch nearby. A portion of their cows graze the clay-loam field and both parties feel the agreement is beneficial from a financial as well as a soil and animal perspective.
“I’m blessed to be farming in very good soil to begin with,” he says. “This is not something where you see the results immediately.”
Into his fourth season with regenerative agricultural practices on all of his acres, Chris is optimistic that his soil quality is improving through the use of cover crops, grazing and intercropping. Beyond that, he stopped farming soybeans altogether in 2018 as he found it too difficult to truly achieve the big yields advertised and turn a sizable profit.
He is proud that since he began there has been no Fusarium or other disease outbreaks all while he has dialed back crop protection treatments on those acres.
“I have not had a wreck due to a disease where everybody told me I need to be spraying a fungicide,” he explains. “I am happy to have cut out several chemistries and replaced them with nutrition. I tried to keep my plant fed and ended up with perfectly healthy grain.
“I am trying to feed the crop what it’s hungry for, no different than trying to be healthy as a human or raise an animal that’s healthy. If you don’t feed it properly, how do you expect it to be healthy?”
While he does not think regenerative agriculture is right for everybody, Chris believes that all of his acres will be under this regime for the foreseeable future, adding he has seen changes for the better in his soil since this process began.
Above all, he is glad to be in Canada with the family where he is free to try out any agronomic system one day or stop it the next if he so chooses—a very different mindset to Europe.
“Being in Western Canada, it’s essentially the Wild West for farming compared to the EU,” he says. “I am free to do what I want. If I want to try to grow palm trees for palm oil tomorrow, I could. Nobody is here to tell me I can’t. So, why not live in the times and do something with that opportunity? In general, it’s a good time to be alive and just giv’er.”
Of course, none of it would be possible without that big decision made by Henry and Christine more than 20 years ago to leave their family farm, which had roots pre-dating the Enlightenment.
“I am extremely grateful to be in Canada, where I am openly accepted in my community and in this country, because that’s not always a given,” he says. “I am so very grateful for my father to make the move to come to Canada.”
Beyond being in Canada, having the chance to work with family has always been a positive not only for Chris, but the entire family.
“Whether it’s in the actual getting dirty together on a day to day basis or just being a listening ear or having a listening ear from a family member … it’s all part and parcel of it. We are all pulling on the same string essentially. It’s very interesting sitting on the other side of the table on the manufacturing business. It has helped me open my eyes to other ideas and to the business world in general. It is just good diversification for just the farm.”