Updated: Jan 28, 2022
For Erica Thew, a fourth-generation farmer on her family’s grain farm out near Hussar, Alberta, farming is in her blood. Before she was even born, her rural roots began with her family.
“My grandpa was the one who incorporated Sage Farms [in the ’70s]. Prior to that my great-grandpa acquired some land and got into farming,” says Thew. “Now I’m here taking it over. My sister Jess works with us as well, and my mom and grandpa are still involved with the farm.”
Taking over the family farm was no small feat. Sage Farms boasts an incredible 14,000 crop acres and another 640 acres for cattle. After losing her father in a snowmobile accident, Thew dove head first into the family business at the young age of 18. With the help of the agriculture community, her family, and by seeking out education opportunities in the form of seminars and agronomy courses, Thew now helps manage the farm. Using what she’s learned, she’s even incorporated new crops into the farm’s rotation to add nutrients back into the earth and improve soil health.
“We used to just do a canola, wheat, wheat rotation, but we’ve started getting a couple more crops incorporated,” Thew explains. “The biggest thing is you can’t put the same [crop] on your land too many years in a row. Typically, [the rotation now goes] canola, malt barley, yellow peas, wheat . . . You got to be a good steward of the land, take care of it, and not abuse it. I think a good rotation is a good foundation for that.”
Once the crop is harvested, it moves to the farm’s grain elevator to await shipment. The family acquired the elevator in the mid-2000s. Once a part of a booming grain industry, the ’70s-built elevator could be tendered for when the train line moved and the elevators in the Hussar area were either sold or burnt down. Now the only grain elevator left in Hussar, it’s another piece of history the family is happy to share.
“My dad decide[d] this seemed like a good opportunity. We[’d] just acquired a large amount of land in the area and [there was] not a lot of grain storage,” Thew admits. “So, we acquired [the elevator], and it’s been a great tool in our toolbox. [We]’re able to move grain so much [easier] . . . It works well for us.”
While a huge asset to the farm now, the family originally had a lot of work to do to get the grain elevator back into shape.
“We did have to do some extensive work to it,” Thew admits. “We had to put new motors in, so we had to get a helicopter to come and lift [the motors] up and put [them] through the hole in the roof. But [now] we’ve got it running really good.”
In fact, this much-loved piece of history came with more than just the building itself, but a unique record of its past.
“At the time my dad bought it, the fellow that was running it decided to stay on with us,” says Thew. “He was there when it was built in the ’70s . . . He’s got a whole photo album [of the elevator’s history].”
As the family hauls all their own grain, the work doesn’t stop after the fall harvest. After harvest, their seed is taken to be cleaned and treated, and in the winter months, fertilizer is hauled and equipment maintenance begins. Sage Farms is a bustling enterprise all year round.
“The trucks are going all winter and that’s what really keeps the farm busy [this time of year],” states Thew. “[We go] through all our equipment pretty thoroughly . . . so we can hopefully avoid some headaches down the road next season.”
In her years growing up and working on the farm, Thew has seen the agriculture sector as an industry alive with change. Eager to bring a new, fresh outlook to the farm, she’s excited to see what the future holds, especially when it comes to technology.
“Things are changing quickly,” Thew says. “They’re starting to talk about autonomous machinery. It seems so crazy to think that’s even a possibility . . . but that’s the way the future is looking to go.”
Thew explains that when she was younger, they had SD cards that stored the data the farm machinery. The data included information about the state of the crops, how much crop protective products were dispensed, and where. Now, the equipment uploads all the information directly to the cloud.
“You can just log in and all your data is right there,” says Thew.
This data is especially useful in a world where traceability has become a key topic. Consumers want to know where their food comes from and how it’s been grown or raised right from farm to table. While Thew notes that traceability is more commonly sought after by consumers when it comes to the cattle industry, she hopes to see it advance within grain farming as well.
“I know in the malt barley industry [traceability is] huge right now. All the microbreweries are right farm to table and that’s great! But in wheat, canola, and [other grains], it’s kind of lagging behind a little bit.”
Thew hopes to see a future of transparency, where consumers and farmers can talk about tough issues and share accurate information freely.
“We need to bridge the gap somewhere,” Thew says. “It’s a big opportunity for everyone, and it educates people more on where their [food] is coming from, because there’s a lot of false information that gets put out about herbicides, or pesticides, or GMOs. A lot of negative things that we need to rectify.”
As farming continues to evolve, Thew loves to see her and her family’s hard work come together to feed Albertans and the world.
“[Traceability is important so] you can take [food] home to your table and enjoy it . . . [knowing that] what we’re producing is safe and sustainable.”
This has been a Home Grown segment, brought to you by connectFirst Credit Union, showcasing Alberta producers, artisans, and farming communities.
Watch Erica Thew’s full video interview here.