Jeff and Ebony Prosko have learned that in order for their grain farm to be successful, they need to always look for ways to do things better — whether that’s maximizing inputs, getting outside advice on soil testing and field mapping, or opening their own retail outlet.
“We do a lot of little things that add up in the end,” says Jeff. “When my dad was farming in the 1990s, margins were tight and there wasn’t as much opportunity to adapt to grow your profits. Now we are pretty aggressive in our farm management,” he explains. “We work with a professional agronomist to make sure we are fertilizing what we should, and at the best rates. Our goal is to maximize every acre.”
The Proskos are the 2015 winners of Canada’s Outstanding Young Farmers’ Program for the Saskatchewan region. They participated in OYF ‘s national event in Edmonton last November and while they didn’t take away the top prize, they say the experience was invaluable.
The couple’s banker nominated them for the award. And that’s something the Proskos say is a huge compliment. “When the guy who’s lending you money thinks you are doing a good job, that has to mean something,” says Ebony. “I would encourage anyone who has
the opportunity to get involved with this group to do so. It has been an amazing experience. We have met so many positive, like-minded people who have many similar challenges and opportunities and we have learned so much through this process.”
Jeff was raised on his family’s farm near Rose Valley, SK. Today, that 20,000-acre landbase makes up the family’s overall farming operation, which is now broken up into smaller farms run separately by Jeff and Ebony, his parents and his two siblings. Ebony grew up about 10 miles away, not on a farm, but in a small agricultural community. Today, they grow grains and oilseeds on 6,000 acres, and they also own and operate a retail business.
“Some people diversify into other crops but we decided to diversify into another segment of agriculture by setting up our ProSoils retail store,” says Ebony. “It can be hard to differentiate yourself from some of the bigger players in retail, but we think we do so by targeting our local market and making sure we get them what they need, rather than what we want to sell.”
They opened ProSoils two years ago with the aim of providing farm supplies and services based on small town, rural values. The retail outlet offers the standard seed, chemicals and fertilizer as well as high-end equipment rentals and a custom application service.
“Our rental equipment is not just there to get the job done, it’s the type of equipment you’d choose if you want to do the job really well,” says Jeff. “We do custom application and combining, and dry grain as well. Our customers know us on a personal level so we have established a level of trust you might not find elsewhere.”
They have four full-time staff at ProSoils, and their combined family farming operation employs up to 30 people in season, and five full-time workers throughout the winter.
Jeff says that farming better is the best way to get the most out of their grains and oilseeds business. For example, their land-clearing strategy cuts down on overlap when bringing equipment into the field, which reduces lodging issues for an easier harvest. Also, they start with a clean field to minimize inseason issues and do whatever they can to get their canola seed in and the crop off during a very narrow window.
“This year we switched to straight cutting our canola and we got the best yields we’ve ever had,” he says. “It turned out amazingly well, and our guys doing the harvest said it was really fun (because) it was so quick and efficient,” added Jeff. “It was a wet harvest but we got everything done quickly and our field was really clean. We desiccated by air which worked very well, and we have virtually no regrowth on our straight cut fields.”
The Proskos seeded InVigor L140P for its pod shatter technology, but also seeded traditional canola varieties. All performed well with straight cutting, but Jeff admits there’s a bit of a trick to getting it right. The canola has to be cut in different directions, depending on lodging, and your equipment has to be set up properly. But if you do it correctly, he says it’s no different than straight cutting wheat
“Making changes like switching to straight cutting make the farm more efficient and helps us get better yields. It also gives us more time in the summer,” adds Ebony. “We have two young daughters and it’s nice that we get some time together in the warmer months. All three siblings have young families who will be growing up together on the farm, and it’s good for them to see that farming is not all work.”
The Proskos have a family-owned elevator and ship their oats directly to customers in the U.S. including the Quaker Oats facility in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. “That direct-with-the-end-user relationship also helps set us apart,” says Ebony. “We can talk to our customers and ask them exactly what varieties work best for them, and give them what they need.”
While they follow market reports, they handle all the marketing for their farm operation themselves. “I always say you don’t go broke making money, so if there’s a chance we will make a decent return we take it,” says Jeff. “You don’t have to hit grand slams all the time and although we may sometimes leave some money on the table, we are always very careful to manage our costs of production so we know what we need to come out on top. This approach sets us up well going forward.” FF