By Nerissa McNaughton
Gatez Farms Ltd. is a third-generation, family corporation producing and providing premium grain, seed and pulse crops from two locations (south and north) in Alberta. With decades of growth, the success of Gatez Farms is due, only in part, to the premium products produced. The main thing this family grows is partnerships.
From how to plant to whom to hire, from collaborative partnerships to industry advocacy, every aspect of operations starts in the deep roots of Gatez Farms’ values: honesty, integrity, kindness and respect. On that foundation, partnerships flourish – and with those partnerships in place, Gatez Farms grows a better future for all.
“The future of tomorrow’s farming is based on the power of the relationships built today,” says Blaine Gatez, who has been in the family business for more than 30 years. He learned the value of collaboration from the start by working alongside his family.
“My parents started the farm and were also involved with other industries. My parents, brother-in-law and other farmers/industry partners in the area all worked together. This farm bears our family name but it is greater than our family; when we say we are a corporate family farm, that does not just mean by blood. It means everyone who is part of our operation. The farm team is part of our family too and are treated as such.”
As a second-generation farmer in the family business, Blaine couldn’t be more excited about the third generation taking an active role; not just in the business but in the industry at large.
“Our daughter Emily and her husband Austin are an integral part of the team and their young children, Hudson and Nash, are also enjoying farm life,” smiles Blaine. “They will be continuing to expand our acres on our south farm base, having recently incorporated their own farm. Our second daughter, Madison, is a high school teacher. She has worked directly on the farm in the past and now helps students learn how to think, work and interact in their communities using farm-based values. She has advocated for us to partners and research groups; we rely on her eloquence and passion in talking about agriculture. Madison’s husband, Taran, is one of the first graduates of the new diploma program, techgronomy, offered by Olds College.
“Both of my sons-in-law,” he continues, “have found a home in agriculture. They started their careers elsewhere but came to love the camaraderie of farm life.” Blaine pauses to grin with pride. “I have two beautiful, successful daughters and two sons-in-law, all enjoying ag. This is nice!”
In 2002, with expansion in mind, Blaine and wife Laura, parents Gerald and Linda, his sister Lana and brother-in law-Peter Cissell worked with other young producers to set up a base in Spirit River. At that time, the challenging economic climate and the lure of the oil and gas industry were pulling young farmers in the area out of agriculture.
“We took production control of the farmland and with a lot of late nights and travel up to 800 kilometres away from our home base, we operated the second farm as a way to use grain production to build wealth in ag real estate. This farm is geared to benefit future generations farming and investing in property, thanks to strong relationships with local managers,” says Blaine.
The Spirit River base is now running smoothly, having grown to 12,000-plus acres.
Those partnerships that stem from the family and team on the farm spill generously out into the community – and the results are impactful.
One such example is the relationship Gatez Farms has with Olds College.
Olds College Smart Farm is a cutting-edge learning and applied research environment providing hands-on training and real-world experience. The 3,600-acre Smart Farm focuses on precision agriculture, agri-tech and digital agriculture, utilizing advanced technologies such as drones, IoT devices and data analytics to improve productivity, sustainability and profitability in farming. The goal of Smart Farm aligns perfectly with the ultimate goal of Gatez Farms: to ensure progress in farming benefits and improves the lives of all.
One aspect of the partnership sees the testing of tech and innovation, such as autonomous farm machinery, on Gatez Farms.
“Olds College is an industry leader in precision agriculture technology. Having the chance to assist the college in expanding its reach into other locations while teaching and mentoring the farmers of the future is very rewarding,” Blaine, who is an Olds College alumnus, says.
Another partnership sees Gatez Farms working with Syngenta as a trial farm for their canola Pelta seed technology (in cooperation with Väderstad and Canterra Seeds).
“Pelta is a seed pelleting technology that enhances farming management decisions by ensuring precise seeding rates, resulting in uniform plant growth, maturity and water distribution. This technology promotes sustainable farming by optimizing yield potential while minimizing costs,” Blaine explains. “This is another important relationship because it aligns with our goal of farming being a strong solution for sustainability and hands-on empowerment in regions where food is scarce. With these advances, food-insecure regions can not only gain food security, they can grow an agriculture industry that benefits the entire region economically as well.”
Partnering with a seed-focused corporation was a natural fit for Blaine, who is also a former Monsanto sales representative. Being able to offer premium Syngenta seed treatment helps crops resist foliar disease and increases yield by more than 10 per cent. For these and other reasons, Synergy barley seed won a product of the year award in 2022.
Grow Hope is another important collaboration for Gatez Farms. Not only does Grow Hope help feed the world, it also grows vital conversations and connections among non-ag industries. It all comes back to that vitally important word: partnerships. Without partnerships, growth does not happen and when it comes to something as important as agriculture and food security, the Gatez family will do all they can to grow those conversations. Grow Hope empowers them to do that in the field, in communities, in schools and in boardrooms across the nation.
Grow Hope is a charity that invites individuals or companies to sponsor one acre of land for $350. That land is taken care of and farmed by professionals who manage, harvest and market it, multiplying that initial investment many times over. Sponsored acres have the opportunity to be matched by the federal government at a ratio of up to 4:1, further increasing the physical and economic yield. Every acre and every dollar grown through Grow Hope takes a bite out of global food scarcity.
“An important aspect for me,” says Blaine, “is that most of the donors are urban. The investment ($350) covers some variable costs (although not the hard costs) of farming the acre. It also buys them some input and a vested interest, meaning they learn more about how ag improves lives locally and abroad. Grow Hope provides a platform to share the story of ag in a tangible way and to engage groups that may be disconnected from the land.”
That disconnection is alarming.
According to Blaine, a very small percentage of farmers support a very large and growing population. The numbers back him up. While facts and figures vary among research papers and reports, they all point to one thing: the burden of feeding the many – ethically, sustainably and responsibly – rests on the shoulders of a few. And those “few” are largely small and medium-sized stakeholder farms, not massive entities.
“Grow Hope,” Blaine says, “helps get the message of the value of ag from a few to the many that need to hear it. It allows those outside the industry to invest in tangible ways, to learn and to become advocates for the values of farming principles in every industry. Just like how roots grow and spread, Grow Hope literally plants ideas and those small seeds grow to create a major world impact. This is why working alongside Grow Hope is important to Gatez Farms. It really helps us further our mission.”
The Gatez family has always thought outside the proverbial box but one recent thing Blaine did went very – very – outside of the norm.
It started when Blaine and his wife were reflecting on the farm and its goals, while also reflecting on a dear family member who had recently suffered heart trouble. The wheels started to turn.
What if, they mused, a person in a leading position at Gatez Farms were to suddenly fall ill or pass away? Was the foundation built over so many years strong enough to keep the farm going in lockstep with its values? Well … there was one way to find out.
Blaine gave himself a fake heart attack.
Now, this wasn’t a plan to scare or deceive the team. Plenty of work was done beforehand to let each member, along with suppliers, vendors and stakeholders, know what was about to happen. When everyone was informed, Blaine dropped out of the picture for a couple of weeks. Suddenly, it was everyone for themselves.
“This exercise was among the best decisions we ever made,” Blaine recounts after the fact. “The focus went from tunnel vision to a much greater understanding of the business and the decisions that must be made on a daily basis. That kind of trusting initiative allowed each family and team member to step up and show their strength while encouraging them to reach out and grow even stronger connections among themselves and with all of our partners. It was unconventional and at times emotional, but it made us all stronger.”
This is just a small snapshot of how partnerships have always been – and will always be – the heart and soul of Gatez Farms and how the values and mission of the corporation are a part of every single aspect of the operations, every single day. The mission takes them into classrooms, boardrooms, homes and other farms daily; but, you will always find that the roots of their ideals stem from how they operate the farm. True honesty and integrity are what take place when nobody is looking. So, let’s take a final peek past the trellis and see one more example of how Gatez Farms’ humble actions add up to big results.
The farm has many long-term employees. They built a life with Gatez Farms that supports their own families. As employees age, along with time comes less agility and stamina. At this point, many such employees are transitioned to desk jobs or encouraged to retire … but not on Gatez Farms.
“We purchase machinery for our aging and respected harvest operators. The choice of a certain make and style of combine is directly related to keeping my older staff in the seats as long as they wish, while operating safely and efficiently, without compromising their self-confidence to do the work they have done all their lives.”
That’s the thing about running a corporate farm based on the values of honesty, integrity and partnerships. You don’t build something for yourself, you build something for your family, the team, the community, the nation and the world. Nothing can stop the growth of an organization built on such a strong foundation. Not a challenging economic climate, not the principal’s heart attack, not a disconnection between people and the land. Corporations like Gatez Farms thrive because each layer is built up by the generation before so that one seed, one plant, one idea at a time, grows into a sustainable harvest that is enjoyed around the world.
Learn more about Gatez Farms, its mission and values and how you can be a part of the change by visiting gatezfarms.com.