Passion shared is key to the success of Krahn Agri Farms in Carmen, MB. Not only do Myron and Jill Krahn have a strong commitment to agriculture, but their genuine love for one another, for family and for what they do keeps them excited about each new day.
“A lot of our friends ask, ‘How can you work together, and live together?'” laughs Jill. “But our passion, our dedication, have pulled this farm to where we are today. ”
And where they are is pretty impressive. In a mere 11 years, the Krahns have grown their farm from 900 to 3,000 acres, adding seed production and a seed retail business along the way. Their enthusiasm is contagious, and their success obvious, which is why they are the 2014 Outstanding Young Farmers’ program winners for the Manitoba region and the program’s national co-winner along with Andrew and Heidi Lawless of Kinkora, PEI .
Both Jill and Myron grew up on grain farms in southern Manitoba and that’s where their interest in growing crops was seeded.
They met at the University of Manitoba, where both majored in agronomy. Married in 2001, Myron worked as an agronomist, while Jill was in quality assurance in the seed industry. At the same time, Myron continued to help on his family’s farm just north of Carmen.
“There really wasn’t a succession plan in place,” recalls Myron. “I was trying to farm and work fulltime, and there just weren’t enough hours in the day to do everything. It became a situation where Mom and D ad were ready to retire, and Jill and I were ready to commit to the farm,” he explains.
In 2003, the Krahns took over the 900-acre operation, putting to good use business lessons learned in their jobs. They also built on their people connections made both at university and through work.
These connections were irreplaceable, says Myron. “Agriculture is a huge industry, but at the same time, everybody seems to know one another. We made some really good contacts and that’s helped us along the way.”
Employment experience in various aspects of seed production helped till the soil for the Krahns’ move into the seed business.
“As an agronomist, you sell chemicals and seed to farmers, and I really enjoyed that,” says Myron. When he returned to the farm, Myron missed that interaction with farmers, and that influenced the decision to start a seed dealership.
“We had to carve our own little niche if we wanted to be successful farming,” Myron says. “On a 900-acre farm, it’s really tough to make ends meet. The only way we could expand was to be as profitable as we could with that 900 acres, and start chipping away at acquiring more land.”
The Krahns started seed production when they took over Myron’s family farm in 2003 and launched the seed retail business from scratch in 2009. “It took a few years for us to increase our land base and improve our balance sheet to where we could afford to start the seed business,” says Jill.
Adding to the land base began with buying one more quarter-section in 2004, and continued to the current 3,000 acres (owned and leased) now in farm production. “We had a business plan put together and knew what we needed to do to be able to afford more land and the equipment to run it,” says Myron. “It was partly a leap of faith. We figured if we stuck to our plan, we’d be able to afford more land and equipment.”
To add to the capital pool, Myron did custom farm work in the region, which both improved cash flow and expanded business contacts with neighbours. Looking for new crop choices also proved valuable to the operation — the land in the area is well suited to specialty crop production, and while corn had been a viable choice since the 1970s, the Krahns were early adopters of soybeans in the region.
“Soybeans handle moisture stress really, really well compared to most crops,” says Myron. And because of that, soybeans have taken acres from canola and edible beans in the area. “The crop has grown exponentially here over the past five years.
Acres have jumped big time.”
In 2013, the couple set up a new on-site seed treating business. “We could better serve our customers with on-site treating of their soybeans and cereals,” says Jill. “Our business has expanded as a result of adding that system.”
As the Krahns’ operation has grown, they’ve faced some of the challenges often echoed among young farmers.
“For sure it’s the financial aspect of farming,” says Myron. “When we took over, the equipment was getting old and there wasn’t really extra money to upgrade. I ttook a few years to get going and we expanded the land base without changing equipment.
That made every task take twice as long, and there were twice as many breakdowns.
“Another (challenge) was our bookkeeping,” he adds. “We really didn’t have a system when we started. Basically, between Christmas and the new year, I ‘d pull out all the receipts and get an Excel spreadsheet going. ” Now, Jill reconciles every month, so they are never more than four weeks behind.
“That’s been a huge benefit for us because we always know where we are financially. In the past, we didn’t really know; we’d just do the minimum (inputs) to get through,” says Myron. The importance of regular bookkeeping and accounting was a valuable lesson to learn.
“Now, when it comes time to upgrade a piece of equipment, we know right away whether we can afford it or not.”
But that doesn’t mean Myron and Jill have a whole new fleet of shiny paint in the farmyard. Even with better grain prices over the past few years, they’ve stuck to their machinery replacement priority list and have been disciplined in their spending, willing to “turn some wrenches” to keep older pieces going.
Field trials, and demonstration plots are a regular feature on the farm, and another interesting diversification is a small area devoted to native grass seed production.
Until recently, Myron and Jill handled all farm tasks themselves, with help from their enthusiastic daughters, Candace (10) and Keira (8). But last spring, they made the decision to hire their first full-time employee, a move that’s taken them into a whole new realm of human resource management. They set up a new office and seed warehouse this fall, and they’re now discussing whether they need to grow again, » given the high volume of sales this winter.
When the Krahns were approached about being nominees for the Outstanding Young Farmers’ program, they were honoured, but didn’t know much about the program.
“It wasn’t until we started filling out the application that we began to realize the scope of what it’s all about,” says Myron.
Having been so busy in the past decade, they found that the process of filling out the application forced them to sit down, and look back at where they started and how far they’ve come with their farming operation.
“It gave us a chance to look at pictures and share stories about how we used to do things, and the equipment we used, compared to what we do now,” says Jill.
“We’ve worked awfully hard, and it made us appreciate where we’ve come to,” says Myron. “It was good relationship strengthening for us as well. I think we’re fortunate to be so close as a couple,” he adds. “That’s been one of the keys to our success, even more than our business plan. It’s just awesome.