Trevor Bacque

What makes you excited to get out of bed in the morning? If you pose the question to 10 people you may receive 10 unique answers. If one of those people is Brad Hanmer, it’s almost a guarantee what he’ll say: people.

The 46-year-old farmer-entrepreneur is part owner of Hanmer Seeds Ltd and the driving force behind SynergyAG, a network of eight independent retails across Saskatchewan and Alberta. To him, the people at the farm, which include parents Ron and Dianne, brothers Kent and Dallas as well as his wife Bonnie and children, have him beyond excited to get out of bed every day and head to work.

Hanmer’s enthusiasm is contagious. The family, farm hands and retail employees are all committed and have genuine pride in their work.  All that hard work began more than 110 years ago in 1905 when the land was homesteaded.

Hanmer’s great grandfather William Hanmer was an English immigrant who, along with two childhood friends, hopped on a transatlantic boat ride before ultimately ending up in Winnipeg, Man.

At 18, he was the epitome of many Canadian cities at the time—young, ambitious and ready to carve out a new life for himself. The trio found employment by hand-digging the storm channel encircling present-day Winnipeg.

After working long enough and hard enough, the young men had enough money between them to select one to venture farther west to Regina. One of William’s friends was selected, he hopped on the train and headed West with one three-way goal in mind: find homesteads for he and his friends. Upon disembarking at Regina’s central station, William walked 100 kilometres north to where the farm sits today, in Govan, Sask., wedged exactly halfway between the capital city and Humboldt in central Saskatchewan. The stakes William shoved into the earth more than 110 years ago represent land that is still both in the family and farmed to this day.

Currently the farm is into its fourth generation, soon-to-be-fifth, thanks to the Hanmers’ children as well as their nieces and nephews. Hanmer brims with pride when he talks about extending the family’s rich agrarian tradition on the now-34,000-acre farm. 

“There’s two things that I appreciate in my world: farmland and the people,” he says. “[My parents] had the belief to bring their sons back to the farm and did that by using their equity and co-management to do this. They know full well it’s not just about me, but it’s about my brothers and all the other people we work with.”

Hanmer returned to the farm full time in 1996 after completing a bachelor’s degree in ag economics at the University of Saskatchewan. Kent and Dallas have been on the farm full-time since 1992 and 2002, respectively.

The farm, which began as a regular grain operation, shifted into pedigreed seed production in the 1950s, which it has remained to this day. Upon getting his hands dirty full-time, Hanmer was part of one of two large expansions. His initial purchase of land was a single quarter in 1991, bringing the total size to 4,800 acres. However, in 1997 the farm more than doubled to 10,000 acres. As the family has continued to steadily increase its landbase, they had two key expansions over the next 10 years that made the operation financially viable for all the families involved.

Of those days, Hanmer recalls, “It just takes a lot more coordination when you are trying to scale up, especially when you don’t have the capital out of the get go. We had to use fewer resources to make it work.”

However, not content to just push the same program forward, Hanmer reached a critical mass where his love of people and sharing his agronomic knowledge hit a fork in the road.

A businessman himself, Hanmer knew there was market demand to fill a role as an independent voice and he set out to create a western Canadian retail chain. He posits there is a strong desire to do business with independent retails and believes that gives him an authentic perspective when dealing with customers seeking product information or agronomic advice. 

“Our advantage is we’re not a big box chain company. As a purchaser of crop inputs myself, we just felt that we could give a unique customized approach to retail,” he says. “When you’re independent and living and breathing in your community, you have a very intimate knowledge of the customer. It’s people dealing with people.”

The people aspect of the business, which Hanmer cherishes, made it a natural choice to create a business that reflected how he, Bonnie and their co-founding business partner Dave Fuller work with the broader agricultural community in many areas. 

They created SynergyAG in the fall of 2016 and launched the next spring, immediately announcing four locations out of the gate. Today, less than three years later, his retail presence has doubled to eight stores, seven in Saskatchewan and one in Alberta. 

The name itself is likewise a reflection of how Hanmer views 21st century agriculture. The ‘AG’ of SynergyAG stands for his three values: Accelerating Growth, Advancing Genetics and Amending Ground.

“The business is about the synergy of people firing together but also a reflection of the concept in ag,” he says. “In order for ag to be successful, it’s a synergy of all the pieces that go into crop production. It’s more than growing a crop or driving tractors up and down the field. It’s people and primary production.”

The eight retail locations are strategically placed following careful consideration of where certain pockets of ag are and where they felt there was a market opportunity for independent retail. SynergyAG is a retailor of typical products such as seed genetics, crop protection, traditional and non-traditional crop nutrients. Lately he has jumped into the deep end of the precision ag pool. Precision ag is an umbrella term for getting the most of out any given farm field through advanced tracking and tools. This includes GPS which lends itself to accurate yield monitors, soil testing, tissue sampling, field prescriptions, zone management and data services.

As a farmer himself, he and the staff provide first-hand accounts of what seeds, crop protection and crop nutrients will work well as well as where it fits best on farms. 

Although many people assume their farms must be of a certain size to have precision ag truly integrated on their farm, Hanmer says it doesn’t matter one iota what you have for fields, soil zones or an acre count. It’s what you do with the information that may boost your farm’s productivity.

“Any farm can benefit from precision ag and what it means to their bottom line,” he says. “It’s not ‘just because, oh I am a small farmer, so I can’t be in.’ There’s different levels of what we need to do. We have more output with less input. When we move to more technologies that are scalable, the question is how do we apply them on each individual farm? That’s where we come in.”

Precision ag has multiple ways of getting from A to B, such as farm to farm or soil zone. Hanmer and his team dig deeper, focusing on field to field and/or zone to zone management.

Further to that, farmers can get even more technical if they so choose and customize how an individual field could look if there are unique features such as drainage issues, hills, nutrient placement and soil remediation. 

Hanmer along with his team of trusted agronomists work directly with fellow farmers to dissect best management practices that are unique to that area. As well they offer insights into stewardship management, product selection and field scouting all in addition to planning.

Future Focus

These days, where Hanmer finds himself really getting excited is when he looks at what modern agriculture will resemble in the next five years. He sees big implications for his retails and the family farm.

To say the winds of change are blowing is a gross understatement in Hanmer’s mind.

“The innovation that’s about to come into our industry is hyperbolic,” he says. “The rate of advancements of technology is about to blow the lid off it.”

Innovations and advancements within fertility, genetics and soil bio-stimulants have “game-changing potential” for western Canadian agriculture, according to Hanmer.

“The amount of R &D getting dumped into ag is unprecedented. That whole piece is about to get real,” he says. 

Hanmer cites canola’s yield gains as a primary example over the last number of decades. As the yields continue to climb, it will only trigger more investment according to Hanmer, and that should make all farmers optimistic about the future.

Of course, he’s quick to point out that despite new and emerging technological trends within production agriculture, there are many variables a farmer still is unable control from their smartphone.

“We get it, things change on a dime, that’s agriculture,” he says. “There’s no industry that relies more on unknowns than we do. Weather and international markets, those are the decisions that farmers face every day.”

Like others who have gone before him, Hanmer hopes to continue to position SynergyAG as another independent leader in Western Canada’s ag scene, a positive voice for growth both from a field and precision ag point of view.

“We want to be one of the key companies that communicate innovation,” he says. “We love it, it’s a passion.”

The passion Hanmer speaks about doesn’t end at the farm gate, either. 

It’s a common sight to see Hanmer in the morning, blue jeans on, checking crops, getting dirt under his nails and working hard with his hands. The next day, it’s just as common to see he’ll have traded the denim for cotton trousers and a golf shirt, hands clean with a briefcase in one and his passport in the other, on his way to a board meeting to discuss ag policy .His experience is vast and memorable highlights include serving as the chair of the Biodiesel Association of Canada, a board member of the Canadian Canola Growers Association, the president of the Saskatchewan Canola Growers Association and a 10-year stint on Farm Credit Canada’s board.

For a farmer managing an operation of this size, you might think its prudent he stay at home, working with the family on crops and fellow staff on the retail side, but that’s just not in his DNA.

“I truly am passionate about my family, my farm and the ag industry,” he says. “Everything that I do above and beyond is centred around that because we are building the future for my nieces, nephews and kids. What I enjoy is the interpersonal aspect of life, it’s how I’m wired.” 

As a successful farmer and business operator, Hanmer deflects credit and instead pays tribute to the men and women around him, eschewing any accolades putting him above another.

“I have a degree on my wall, but that doesn’t mean anything,” he says. “I have a PhD in networking. My family supported me along the way—my parents, my brothers, my wife and my kids—to give me the support to allow me to sit on boards and shape ag policy. It was a way to satisfy my passion for production agriculture.”