Dan: [00:00:57] I am really excited to be here. Today with a great guy, Ben Voss, that I originally met through the Field of Stars event to you as a chairman at the time, and, um, led the event.
It was brand new at the time. And I was always impressed with, his leadership. And I’m excited to talk to Ben Voss Growing the Future podcast today. How are you doing there today? Ben?
Ben: [00:01:20] I’m great.
Dan. Thanks. Appreciate you inviting me on.
Dan: [00:01:23] Oh, it’s going to be great. We’re going to cover some ground so. Today, the way that I see this going, Ben is we’re going to talk about your professional background, but you’re also a farmer, right?
Yes, we’re at heart. Yeah. So we want to hear about how you’re farming. Cause you’ve got some unique things going on there, but we’re going to talk about your career and where you’ve gone. Some of the, uh, the ground, you traverse the challenges and the opportunities and where you’re going. Cause you’re back in the news again with a brand new invention, right?
Ben: [00:01:56] Yeah. Yeah.
Dan: [00:01:57] Entrepreneur at heart. It’s like a, it’s like a recurring rash. You just never quite get rid of it.
Ben: [00:02:03] exactly.
Dan: [00:02:04] Send a DNA. So, um, tell us a little bit about yourself, your professional career and where you’ve been and where you’re heading.
Ben: [00:02:12] Great. Yeah, I, uh, I grew up in Northwest Saskatchewan, near a town called Spirit Wood and, uh, that’s in a very Northern part of the grain belt.
So we have some pretty rough terrain. A little more rainfall than most parts of the Prairie’s. And, uh, I love it farming my whole youth. I think I started welding probably would be considered child abuse nowadays, but I, I was welding when I was six years old and running it around in the machine shop, following my dad, learning all the skill sets.
I think I shifted my first standard transmission, when I was maybe 7, like, you know,
Stuff that we don’t really do nowdays
Dan: [00:02:55] Yeah you can’t get away
Ben: [00:02:56] with that
Dan: [00:02:56] anymore. It wouldn’t be a safety HR disaster.
Ben: [00:02:59] Yeah. But fun stuff. Anyway. And I was doing all the combining when I was 13, like I was very involved and loved it. Uh, went to university, came to the camps, moved to Saskatoon, uh, attended, uh, the U of S and I got a degree in agriculture engineering, which.
They don’t offer anymore, but at the time they had evolved it a little bit agriculture and bio resource engineering is actually what it’s referred to. As
I got to work at some cool companies along the way, um, traveled around the world, lived in Germany for awhile. Uh, worked on a dairy farm there, uh, went on a custom combining crew down in Texas, Kansas, all through that country.
Got my class, one truck driving license. So I’ve, I dunno. I’ve always kept myself pretty grounded. Keep like getting my hands dirty and I got married. I have three kids, so I guess that’s my first name. And my title is a father. And, uh, I decided with my wife that we wanted to farm. So about 10 years ago, we bought some of the lands to my parents.
I was still working full time, but we didn’t want to lose the chance. So we, uh, bought my great grandfather’s original homestead and we built a house up there and started establishing ourselves and wanted our kids to grow up in that environment the same way I got to grow up. So I wanted them to see how a garden is planted and how equipment is repaired.
And, um, Yeah, I didn’t want that knowledge lost. So that was my primary motivation for farming, but I also had to make it work financially. It’s not something you can just do as a, I mean, there are lots of people that have hobby farms don’t get me wrong, but it was a pretty serious investment. You can’t just buy a farm and then let it go.
You gotta look after it. And we wanted it to be financially viable. So I took it as a bit of a challenge in that. How do I make a smaller farm profitable in today’s world and do it in a way that I can still manage a career at the same time.
Dan: [00:05:09] One of the things that you said to me that, that stuck with me when you talked about your farm was.
I mean, you have to, you have to think strategically, right? Cause you’re not my impression of your farm and you can tell us more. But my impression on your farm is, and is not a huge scaled operation with, you know, different divisions and thousands and thousands of acres. You were saying, you need to justify that 18 hours a day, that you’re working to your family, that this is worthwhile on a bunch of levels. So how are you achieving that?
Ben: [00:05:40] Well, so we, um, we crop about a thousand acres, so that’s a pretty small in today’s world of farming. Um, my parents are pretty close to retirement, but my dad can help me out a little bit, run the heroes or haul grain or a few things, maybe hop on the combine when I need them.
But I have, I have no hired labor, so pretty much have to do every task myself. Um, so there’s a bit of scale involves any big enough equipment to get it done fast. And equipment that I can justify buying to spread over a thousand acres. Okay. And then I had to think, you know, the challenge is not just yield, but a margin and coming up with enough profit at the end of this, that I can say I’ve made a pretty good income off that thousand acres.
And, uh, not just spend it all on inputs or spend it all on costs or capital costs. So it helps that I’m a bit of a mechanic. I can keep my stuff fixed. Uh, it helps that I can build some of my own equipment too, if I need to. So there’s just been a little bit of that. So I like to diversify, that’s helped me, um, experimented with some new crops.
This is my fourth year growing Fava beans, and they’re one of my favorite crops to grow.
Dan: [00:06:59] Um, yup. My brother’s grown some of those.
Ben: [00:07:02] Yeah. Yeah.
Agrinomic is very good.
Dan: [00:07:08] It’s good to have in their rotation. Hey
Ben: [00:07:10] yeah. The amount nitrogen and they put down, it’s unbelievable. Yeah. And there seems to be a lot of other, something else going on in the soil and I’m sure somebody with a PhD in micro biology could tell us more, but it’s, it definitely seems to be simple.
It has a very positive effect on the future crops.
Dan: [00:07:32] Well, I’m fascinated that there was a one time the marriage between agriculture and engineering at the U of S because when I went to school, it was kind of the opposite. We were mortal enemies enginering and agriculture, like a good fit.
Ben: [00:07:49] It’s still are. I think he’s still over there feuds, but again, the things that 25 years ago, I heard
Dan: [00:07:57] exactly
Ben: [00:07:57] legal anymore
Dan: [00:07:58] yes, exactly. It was different time altogether. How are you applying your engineering or your soil science education to the farm now? Like what what’s coming into play here?
Ben: [00:08:12] No, I mean, I’ve, uh, I’m been very blessed with a very diverse career. Got to do some very cool stuff. So I would say one of my mentors told me one time when I was 30, he says, you’re right. 55 year old tacked into a 30 year old’s body and I anyway, to understand what it meant but its more of this that I guess I didn’t sleep very much. I just was so enthusiastic. I packed a lot of stuff in saw. A lot of things did a lot of things. Wasn’t afraid to say no, always tried new things and, uh, no, I’m 45 now. So I’ve got still a pretty good runway my career, but all those experiences seem to still circle back to what I.
Started asking, which is agriculture and, and being an engineer, a good chunk of you just constantly looks at situations and say, how can I do it better? Can I solve that problem? Or what can we do to fix that? Um, you know, you learn with some of the years of wisdom that some of the ideas just need to be put on the shelf and some are worth pursuing.
So now. With our farm, I think, uh, And with my background, I think I’m doing a lot of interesting things with these different cropping methods. Like intercropping, for example, everybody’s talking about this, it’s easier said than done to plant a small seed crop in a big seed crop at the same time. Yeah, then there are some very expensive equipment out there that you can buy, but to make it work on a thousand acre farm, you’ve got a smaller budget, but that I have discovered in the last three years of doing it. There are some huge advantages to it, even just, uh, you know, intercropping sweet Clover, which is an old crop, but we know it puts down nitrogen and it has other benefits. And what’s with modern seeding methods with air seeders, minimum tillage you gotta, you got to experiment with that. And it’s not exactly a popular technique because you can’t use all the herbicides with that because you’ll kill the Clover and you can’t, you’re not necessarily going to buy a lot of fertilizer because the Culver’s going to offset that.
But I’ve got a canola crop coming. That’s interesting. with some clover and I have very low diseases and some pretty strong stand going on there. So that’s kind of stuff I like doing now I mean, it’s commercial scale. You’re doing it to make some money, but it’s, there’s definitely R and D going on there.
Dan: [00:10:47] That’s my impression is that. A lot of the folks in conventional agriculture looking over the fence and they want some of that. Goodness, you know, I mean, there’s obviously upsides to doing it, but the pain of actually going in that direction is, is visceral. And I’ve been out to the field day. Last year when my brother grew a peel, a flax Ola and it was brutal.
You know, and here’s a guy who loves trials, he’s very reasonable farmer or any, you know, he’s grown a lot of different crops, like are very diverse rotation, like nine different crops type thing, but it’s, it’s quite, uh, it’s quite as summit to scale. So do you think, you know, with your, with your background and we’ll get to it, obviously working alone on the farm is quite a juxtaposition to a large scaled.
You know, company with hundreds of employees, are we going to be able to scale some of these practices where you’re trying to make more money per acre?
Intercropping I don’t know if we want to say regenerative practices, but, or is that going to be something in these like one man alone, tinkering, you know, one man alone against the variety of nature here to try and reign it in and make, make something of it.
Ben: [00:12:00] It’s a bit back to the future. When there were a lot more smaller farms, you had a lot more adventures and more time, you know, today’s professional farmers are, you know, they’re using technology a lot more. They don’t have as many tools in their hand. So there’s, there’s obviously still a lot of inventor farmers, but it’s not, it’s just, it’s a sheer numbers.
It’s not as many. So the scale it today, most farmers want a turnkey package with a warranty plan. They want to agronomist to sign off on it. Theres a reason why monocropping is very popular. It’s easy to grow that one crop. And take it to the mail or the elevator or canola crusher, and they buy it and you get paid. And that’s easy
If you grow peas and canola together or soybeans or whatever, and then you have to clean it. On farm cleaning is tough, and then you got to deal with possible, you know, train, wrecks, and then not get paid. That’s the part that people don’t like and crop insurance, doesn’t like too much. No there’s other factors.
So I, I think for these practices to take hold, just antidotaly any of my neighbors that are asking you questions about these strategies, they’re looking because they’re looking at their existing crops and the yields aren’t good enough. And so if they’ve invested 150 to $200 an acre into a canola crop, and they’re only getting 35 bushels, the acre, it’s not working.
So they gotta, they gotta change something. Either the short rotations are hurting them or the higher costs are hurting them at any rate. They’re looking at it. It’s not penciling out for them anymore. So they want to try something else. You know, I’m worried about agriculture from, um, just from the vantage point that you and I grew up when it was more populated in the rural areas, had more people.
And it was, we sort of reckoned back to that and say that that was the good, that was the good example that we want to make, you know, retain that. But our communities are smaller and there’s not very many young people there anymore. It’s just not going to be like, yeah. So the reality is, I mean, to find ways to create an aggregate.
The culture that society likes, you know, they still want that old McDonald farm, but we have to do it in a professional, industrial scale. So, you know, marrying together practices that are transparent, that consumers will accept, but doing that a scale because we don’t have the people or the communities anymore.
So there’s a bit of a tug of war going on there. But I do think the challenge can be met because farmers are entrepreneurs and the money talks.
Dan: [00:14:39] I’m totally with you. And I, I, that really resonates for me. I think that I don’t know exactly where we lost the moral high ground, but farmers, I mean, farmers used to be a highly respected occupation and I don’t think I have to point
out it’s not rocket surgery.
I think most people are feeling it.
It’s not quite as, uh, held in high esteem. Like it used to be in fact, The average person that’s benefiting from the
infrastructure that agriculture
affords us is, is sort of
railing against it.
I had mentioned the story about talking to somebody, you know, urban female from the States and in some seminar that I was in and she explained what we do and she’s, Oh, I hope you’re not flogging that Glyphosate.
That’s killing everybody. I mean, she can’t even pronounce it. She doesn’t likely know. Oh, what’s going on or how it’s advanced a lot of, you know, our ability to have cheap food, cheap energy is sort of the infrastructure society’s built on, but they don’t get it. So my big question for everybody is like, how the heck are we going to take this moral high ground back?
How are we going to be super respect? And we can’t go back to certain things that were, but I think there’s a way to evolve through it. And some of what you’re doing might be part of that because you must be generating X amount of more revenue. Like you’re not getting. Twice as much, you know, not getting two crops every season, but you’re getting incrementally. What? 30, 50% more yield in terms of revenue or how are you doing that math?
Ben: [00:16:10] I try to look at it as margin as opposed to gross, you know, if I can get at a high yield, that’s great. But, um, the crop seed grows. So if you, if you grow a specialty crop like flax, we know that’s worth a lot. It’s harder to grow. It has more of an agronomic challenge and it requires.
Certain rotation plan, but the profits are spectacular and there’s opportunities to grow crops in a way that there are premiums. So, if you want to grow crops for premium, by choosing certain methods like organic or chemical free or conventional, even there’s conventional choices, like, I mean, I’m growing some non-GMO canola this year because they’re emerging markets for premiums for non-GMO canola.
Not because I don’t like GM, I’ve grown plenty of GM canola and money talks.
Dan: [00:17:08] So it looks like you’re using you’re using edge or
Ben: [00:17:11] yeah.
Dan: [00:17:14] Back to the future baby
Ben: [00:17:18] You know, and I’m at a very different climate zones. So our region is still using a fair bit of tillage. It’s not a, it’s not a hard thing to do when you have. 1200 to 15 inches of rain.
Every year, we, we generally have more crop failures because of flooding that will be due because of drought.
Dan: [00:17:40] Everybody’s got their own set of problems. Don’t they I won’t go into the whole Smith’s Creek watershed drainage stuff cause that’s a whole other controversy.
Ben: [00:17:49] Well, we’ve done some cool stuff on the farm over the years too that probably isn’t that popular nowdays
we’ve done some good drainage programs and farm some nice low land. That’s very productive, but it’s not, uh, it’s not as likely to be popular today to drain wetlands farm though. But I mean, I grew up. In a development mindset. We had over three quarters of the land. I farm now it was Bush. We broke it. You know, I’ve cleared it, broken pick the stones, made it into farmland.
So that’s, I don’t know of anybody doing that now.
Dan: [00:18:22] No, you see it incrementally, not on the same scale. Like you see the edges are getting cleaned up and some Bush being pushed a little bit every year, at least from what I see in my travels.
Yeah. Here and there,
where are you guys located? Exactly. Can you just give us a visual?
Ben: [00:18:39] Uh, so in Northwest Saskatchewan, um, the, for the provincial forest boundary is two miles from my farm.
Dan: [00:18:45] Whoa. Okay. Yeah, you’re right up there
Ben: [00:18:46] So there. So there’s logging operations near my farm.
Dan: [00:18:50] So how far are you from Saskatoon and I’m trying to visualize or an
Ben: [00:18:53] hour and 45 minutes North.
Dan: [00:18:54] That’s some thinking time.
Ben: [00:18:56] Yeah, that’s a good, it’s a very pleasant, drive though. So it is, it really is.
Dan: [00:19:01] Right. Like, isn’t that, that’s a pretty important time to get in life that we’re not often afforded.
Ben: [00:19:07] My poor friends will tell you. You don’t see me as often as they once did. I definitely won’t sacrifice family time. There’s no way that that gets, uh, Set aside. So it’s pretty, pretty important to be with the kids then my wife, every day,
Dan: [00:19:25] Are the kids out and a stick shift in it and try to the straight well that’s
Ben: [00:19:31] yeah, they got to, they’ve got a few toys. Um, I think. I’ve been reflecting on that a lot because it’s, it’s just not the same world.
You just can’t just throw them in a tractor and let them go, it’s not the same world. And, uh, and I think there’s so much more occupying their face time nowadays. Like there was no, I had one TV channel growing up, CBC, no internet
Dan: [00:19:58] right here. Oh, we’re there with the rabbit ears.
Ben: [00:20:01] I had an antari. That was my video game. That was a, that meant you were outside and that was normal today. There’s tons of things to entertain kids and they’re growing up in a far more luxurious setting than what. I got to grow up in. But that’s, that’s every kid now pretty much. I mean, the opportunity for them to set themselves for the next 40 years is, uh, it means they have to learn different skills.
And I learned, I wish that they could, you know, clone all that knowledge that I got. Yeah. When I grew up with pounding nails and running welding rods, but that’s, that’s only one of the skills they’re going to need. If they don’t have all these technology oriented skills, they won’t survive in the new world either.
So it’s, it’s finding the balance. I think. You know, when someone would go to the farm, uh, they’re not on technology as much. It’s more, uh, they’re, they’re finding pieces of wood and they’re building something or they’re, uh, riding bikes. So they’re riding with me and the equipment or whatever, but, uh, um, you know, planting a garden is still important and making pickles and, you know, butchering, I had several friends who are pretty high, uh, highly respected CEOs that. Always want to know when we’re butchering, they will be out there in a minute to experience that,
you know, it’s unfortunately not exactly for, you know, it’s a bit brutal to, you know, but it’s part of our society. And, uh, we have a huge circle of friends that want to eat beef raised on our farm because they know where it came from and they just want to trace it back.
So my dad still has cattle and I still get to benefit from that a little bit.
Dan: [00:21:43] I think that’s great if people had that opportunity to experience that, because we were just so far removed from that. It’s not even funny, like nobody can relate.
Ben: [00:21:53] Yeah. Yeah. It’s
yeah. It’s going to be interesting. I think, I think the pandemic has raised people’s awareness a little bit more about food, food culture.
They’ve had to cook more, they’ve had to educate themselves and what is all this stuff and where did it come from? What makes it special? Um, you know, living in Europe, they have a much higher appreciation for local food than we do here. Here and a great rich history to their food and want to tell the story. I think that’s starting to make some inroads in North America as well, but broad acre agriculture, and still highly dependent on scale food processing and export.
So it’s hard to connect the story to the consumer all the time. Yeah.
Dan: [00:22:37] I think, I think there’s some interesting changes going on. I know last week at my brother’s farm day, they had a dual pronged opportunity where they had a protein plant that was paying a premium for stuff that wasn’t sprayed. And they had drone technology that was creating a prescription map for green on green spring and weeds that reduced your chemical uses by like 85%.
So I’d love to see the spreadsheet. If you put those two opportunities together that you’d call like the most sustainable play on planet earth, those are big opportunities to do things radically. Like that’s no brainer math. So
I think it’s technology like that, markets like that are going to change everything.
Ben: [00:23:12] Yeah, it’s a signals coming from the green companies is pretty remarkable. I don’t know. I’ve never seen it before, to be honest, where the price spread between non desiccated investigating crops is just an, and it’s not just every single crop. Now I’ve had three grain companies. Tell me theirs. Between 50 cents and a bucket bushel premium, if you don’t desiccate, wheat, canola pulses.
So it’s, they’re just basically saying if you can grow it without doing that. We’ll pay you more because there’s an unmarked that’s willing to pay for that knowledge.
Dan: [00:23:51] Are you spending more time on average than the conventional producer, looking at novel markets like that, would you say, is that part of your strategy making money?
What you’re doing?
I don’t know. I think every producer I talked to and spends a lot of time on it now everybody’s trying to find a way to get a little more, I guess my appetite for risk is maybe a little higher than others because I haven’t. Entirely dependent on the farm for, so I can, I can say working off the farm is primarily how I pay the bills.
If they take a little risk on the farm and it doesn’t pay off, I’m not devastated. Right.
What’s the mix. Now between the farm and your other professional endeavors, you’re doing some consulting or what, what, what’s the professional mix off the farm
Ben: [00:24:33] I mean yeah, working full time in a company. I’ve done that a few times in the last 20 years.
And then I’ve had, uh, several times that I was an entrepreneur and doing more consulting and development and start meeting other companies. It comes and goes. I, uh, I would say right now I’m half and half, a little more, a little heavier on farming, a little less on business. And then when some of these ventures maybe take off a little more, I’ll pull back away.
But I’m set up to be grateful. People used to laugh at me cause I used to park my semi in the parking lot. And then I’d go into a board meeting
Dan: [00:25:16] Nice Nice. Well it’s a crazy life. My dad always worked off the farm when I was growing up. I always worked out off the farm.
Ben: [00:25:25] They either have a business on the farm they’re doing. Trucking you’re working as the trades and working in the oil fields, any, any of the above to make money so that you can enjoy life. A little more agriculture is a long game.
It’s not an annual game, right? So you have to be prepared to make those long game investments and you have to be prepared for a year or two that may not pay off.
Dan: [00:25:48] Yeah. Or for some that it goes up decades, you know, like the thirties, it’s like a whole series of 10 years in a row. But, um, how does, how does one go?
I mean, a lot, a lot of education, you’ve got a lot of experience. I’d love to unpack all your experiences all around the world. We don’t have the time on the show, but obviously one of the highlights was recently, you know, you were CEO of a large. Company and most of us from small town, Saskatchewan, can’t imagine being a public CEO of a large
company on that scale, the company was Morris.
Ben: [00:26:19] Yeah. It’s um, it’s neat. I mean, you can look around the CEOs of most of the companies in Western Canada. Actually, a lot of them started out in small towns or like Jim Patterson’s from small towns.
Dan: [00:26:32] Right. Right. Jim Trevlig is from Verdun
actually, now that you say that I, you know, that’s a great point. Maybe there’s something to that. They’re been from small towns, for sure.
Ben: [00:26:50] It’s probably, there’s some statistical report that tells the general average of forge nation of small town versus city people. And who has the highest chance of being a CEO.
But you know, when I was growing up, most people left Saskatchewan to go to Alberta. I think that was the natural. Push was this a graduate from university, go to Alberta. That’s where the job opportunities are. I mean, there was ads on the TV at that time about how to improve the economy to keep our young people here.
Right. So there was a significant motivation to prove. The mainstream wrong. So right out of university and started a company and I was doing engineering and most of my clients were farm equipment companies, developing products for a dozen or so products on the market today that are still out there that we find time.
Dan: [00:27:37] So you started out with the manufacturing design company of your own?
Ben: [00:27:40] Yeah, we weren’t manufacturing, but we were building prototypes and we were designing it for other manufacturers. So, I mean common names today, AGI and Daigle men and Shelties companies like that, they would hire us when they needed more capacity.
So I had, it was natural for me. I mean, I loved farm equipment. I love designing stuff. I like welding. So let’s put it all together. And once you’ve been an entrepreneur for a while, especially when you’re younger, there’s a lot of momentum and the people one, I want to talk to you. There’s opportunities to start to merge.
Then I started working for bigger companies and. It just became natural to apply what you learned. And the stakes get really big when you’re in that seat. There’s only a handful of people in the world that, uh, end up in executive positions and it’s not a, um, it’s not for the faint of heart.
Dan: [00:28:33] When you’re the CEO, it’s kind of lonely, right?
I mean, who do you, it’s everything stops you. The buck stops with you. I mean, you know, you can have advisors and stuff, but at the end of the day, there’s really nobody for you to go to at six o’clock on a Friday night, when you got the weight of the world on your shoulders
Ben: [00:28:47] right now, it gets to be lonelier and lonelier for sure. I think the successful experiences I’ve had have been because of having fantastic teams of people and alignment with all the right stakeholders. So when I, when I own the company and I control it, it’s a lot different as I can call the shots and it’s, it’s my baby. And I can decide what happens, but when you’ve got partners and you’ve got all of these other institutions and a whole bunch of voices at the table, it is politics and trying to figure out how to manage.
Everybody’s needs and, uh, I think there are some very good CEOs in the world that have learned how to navigate that. And then there’s everybody else learn
Dan: [00:29:31] Got chewed up and spit out
Ben: [00:29:33] Yeah, it happens.
Dan: [00:29:35] Yeah. I mean, business at that level is, is a incredibly ruthless game. Really with
no mercy. It is so.
Ben: [00:29:46] But it’s like everything else mean. Why do people want it? Why is that the American dream that you want to be?
Dan: [00:29:54] What was it for you?
Ben: [00:29:56] Well, do you remember growing up? Did you remember the show? The facts of life?
Dan: [00:30:00] Absolutely.
Ben: [00:30:01] There’s always this recurring theme on there was Blair she’s the blonde. She’d always be like, I’m going to be the CEO of general motors.
It was like the biggest and most important job at Google. Or Microsoft today, but that was what every child should strive do. Right? It’s to become the leader of the biggest company. Yeah. And that, for whatever reason, that has become a big part of our motivation. As you know, you go through school and there is a genuine pressure for all of us to strive to be successful.
I do great things.
Dan: [00:30:33] Was that your first was Morris your first kick up again for being chief executive officer, or you ha other companies prior to that,
Ben: [00:30:40] I’ve been a CEO ever since I left the university, actually. So I was CEO of my first company. And then I worked in venture capital for a few years in finance.
And then I worked in private equity, which is essentially a fancy word for large private owned companies that all companies. When you’re in that world, you have to become a generalist and learn a lot about it, different industries, and be able to help the other managers figure out how to manage their digital business.
But that one was probably one of my more fascinating experiences. Uh, so I worked with the metal Lake tribal council, which is a very close to where my farm is. And, uh, I spent seven years there helping them with their group of companies, which spend everything from agriculture to forestry, to trucking aviation hotels, you know, huge portfolio.
And, uh, I learned a lot. It was a lot of fun. It was a great success. I think there’s, you know, you can always say retrospectively, what went wrong or how could things have changed? I think the next two years of in North America and particularly in Canada, we’re going to see a lot of great companies struggle.
And we’re going to say what happened there and why did they not succeed? And we’re going to say. Well, it must’ve been, this must have been not, but sometimes it just doesn’t go the right way and things don’t work out. It’s just like, farming, I mean, um, people will say to me why are farmers so grouchy and pessimistic all the time and that’s not, it, they’re not pessimistic.
There are simply preventing insanity by talking through scenarios of possible downside,
If you can get throught that conversation and still convince yourself that it’s going to work in the end and you plant the crop against all odds. Well, good for you. You’re insane. Like, I mean, we talk a lot about the mental health issues in agriculture. Now it’s important to bring them out of the shadows, but that is the reality is most farmers wrestle with the risks.
It’s like, I’ve put all this money in the ground. And the hail storm to come along and wipe it out. Like how could I have controlled that? And sometimes businesses like that,
best laid plans and you put all these things together and you’ve got what looks like a great team and partners. And then it’s fragil, sometimes things crumble because somebody put a chisel in the strategic spot and it’s fractured the foundation.
Dan: [00:33:07] What fascinates me is, is the nature of risk. I mean, the thing that keeps us up at night, Isn’t necessarily a thing that’s going to kill you. It’s the thing that you, you never saw coming, just like Covid, who was planning for airborne and respiratory virus that was going to fundamentally alter our civilization overnight.
I wasn’t, I mean, we were looking at all kinds of risks in our business, but that was not the thing that was keeping me awake six months ago.
Ben: [00:33:28] It’s it’s taught us that we need to start thinking about the highly unlikely scenarios continuing to happen. I, I don’t know if anybody’s following this one, but I just read the other day that the flooding in China is absolutely catastrophic right now.
Dan: [00:33:43] their dam is kind of like the dam in manadosa here, Manitoba it’s like creaking and groaning and his crack showing. Yeah. A lot bigger scale is
Ben: [00:33:52] potentially going to overflow. And if that happens, then just there’s talk that, you know, a third or quarter of China’s agriculture output could be wiped out.
So that’s, that’s huge.
Dan: [00:34:03] Swine flu too. Yeah, it’s crazy.
Ben: [00:34:04] Yup Swine Flu. So these black Swan events are, are more likely to hit us without um, without a lot of notice and part of what clouds it is that we’re inundated with so much information now that it is hard to sift through what’s real and what’s speculative. Like I get those morning blasts from all the experts.
Right. And it’s incredible how contradicted they all are one person saying, Oh, then crop prices are going, gonna fall because of good crop prospects in North America. And then the next analyst says, well, there’s a record of shortage of wheat worldwide and bull run. How do you sift through it all and get something that makes sense.
Dan: [00:34:44] Now I’m fascinated by these two worlds that you have and, you know, one end you have this CEO, like, I don’t know if you go in a phone booth and just like switch
you know, throw on the Cape Superman to go into the boardroom battle. Cause you know, cause you know, that’s what often in the boardroom is it kind of battle that.
Pretty pretty Epic in nature. Like it’s, it’s something to behold in my experiences. Wow. That’s exciting. That’s really, and then you’ve got the solitude of the farm.
Ben: [00:35:09] Yeah, it’s neat. It’s neat. Like to do that. I I’ve been blessed with the ability to have a city of life and country life, and I like it. You know, it’s hard to split your time and have two things to look after and all that, but I have found a way to manage.
Dan: [00:35:26] So are you going to be, uh, I guess you’re going to be, you’re a partner in a new venture. Is the CEO in you carrying on then just chance stuff.
Ben: [00:35:37] I’m liking it. It’s good to get my hands dirty again. And it’s nice to be solving a real problem. And I guess sometimes I look at what people are doing and it’s like, you’ve got a solution in search of a problem.
And it was kind of fun to have somebody come along and say, I think I’ve solved the neat problem. And a lot of other farmers are asking me for this and if we could figure out how to build it, I think they’d want to buy one. And that’s, there’s something very attractive about just that good old fashioned.
Let’s get her done, build this thing and get it out, you know, not over complicated and not make it, you know, I like selling a $25,000 farming farm equipment
Dan: [00:36:20] I just saw that.
Yeah. Well, the equipment’s so big. I mean, I was in that game too. And I mean, a company like Morris, especially with air seeders, like
the complexity, the scale, like yeah. That quantum unit. I mean, it’s a thing of beauty. Yeah. But
like, Whoa. Yeah.
Ben: [00:36:36] Hype high price machine. The market wants that stuff. And there going to have an abundance of options to continue to buy farmers love that stuff.
We all want to have another tool in our toolkit. I’m very glad to be launching something from scratch and trying to use all my wisdom for that. And, uh, you know, there’s lots of cool stuff that we’re going to do, but yeah. And so I would say, we’ll see how it goes in the next little while I know how to manage the risk.
Dan: [00:37:05] This is a lot more about it. This is a bite sized risk here, you know, it’s palatable, but for listeners who might not know him, I know that seeing the Western producer article and that’s really what. I mean, I’ve known you for, I guess a couple of years now to do the stars event there. I saw that article is like, yeah, I got a, I got to chat with you.
Cause you know, it’s been a little bit since you’ve been at Morris and I know you’ve been back farming, we chatted about some of what you’re doing on the fertilizer side, and now you’re coming out with this, but it just seemed like such, such a cool little solution. And, but it, it does, you’re fixing a, a bigger problem on the horizon or a shifting of the other guards. So to speak with the way agriculture’s going, you were alluding to that earlier that, uh, because we might not be using glyphosate as much
or at all
in, you know, spraying of crops to bring them in for harvest. This is helping with that. So is this, who are you going to be selling this to?
What, what problems are you going to fix? Like what kind of scale are we talking here? Well, the
Ben: [00:38:06] farmers that have expressed the most interest. So the product is called the arrow and we came up with that name cause we took two words and put it together. So we air rate swats or Windrose and first guy that bought one is a mixed farmer grows, I think six or 7,000 acres of crops.
He has cattle and the last year and had a pretty tough harvest with crop. It was at various stages of maturity and he had tough rainy, wet fall. Yeah. And some of it, you can strike up, but some of it in the end is locked. And then we had other neighbors who had a spring harvest and had to deal with that had to things like.
When you have a spring harvest and the deer have been in your crop and you have deer droppings all over the spots and it’s impossible to have those out, you know, so we lifted every swamp and all the droppings fell out. You got a clean sample, this in itself. Think of the trouble that, that deer poop caused in a market.
Dan: [00:39:03] Is that going to be the brochure like just pivots photo of
Ben: [00:39:07] probably not.
But we, you know, we sped up as harvest and you got a better, you got a better quality sample as dry, and that was worth what I paid for the machine, basically just on that one event. So I think our view is that it’s not gonna, uh, I don’t think every region, every farmer’s going to want this. Um, but. Every year, circumstances change a little bit.
Every farm experiences, a dry year or wet year, and they want to be able to change their practices and still have a good harvest window.
Dan: [00:39:44] Oh, I love it. You know, I think, I think a lot of farmers will be interested in how, what, uh, how does it actually do what it does?
Ben: [00:39:51] So make it pretty simple. My partner, Ryan Somerville, he’s actually the brains behind the original concept.
He’s a big cattle producer and puts up a lot of hay and he was really struggling to get his hay dry. So he wanted to lift his swats after they had rain or heavy do, but he had done what a lot of farmers do that take like an old Baylor, you know, take the belts out of it and just use the pickup and drive through his fields and lift the swats up.
And then they’d kind of fluff them up. But, uh, the Baylor was plugging or can’t drive really slow and it was. Wasn’t working like he wanted. So he thought, is there a way I could drive really fast and get my swats to lift better than the way it is now. So you came up with a, a rotor, which is just basically a pipe with Baylor teeth on it, but there are no bands or any other devices it’s just covered in belting. And when it picks up the crop, it doesn’t tangle in the teeth and it turns faster than a normal pickup and it lifts it and tosses it backwards and you can drive 8 miles an hour. So we have one of these, we built a prototype this winter and we had it running, uh, with one producer and he had to, he had to combine 1600 acres of barley in the spring and we were staying ahead of spree combines with it.
So it was pretty neat because you can see the moisture. So the bar that was tough. They just started processing the field at night in the morning and the combines can start at 11 and, uh, the Barley’s dry. And if they didn’t do that, the bar is still tough. So they got us through a day of Columbine time and dry Snapple and they shook the deer poop.
Dan: [00:41:36] The fluffer extraordinarily, there’ll be different models of the fluffer. I love it. Yeah. How are we going to get it to market? What’s your, what’s your plan? Um,
Ben: [00:41:45] well, uh, that’s kinda neat actually. I’m thoroughly enjoying the benefits of years of experience in marketing farming for me. Cause now we can really look at it and say, okay, how is the best way to get it to market?
That’s true. It says the social media internet now is so much different than it used to be. Yeah. That’s great. When you have an article and the producer has some exposure,
Dan: [00:42:09] not a bad loss.
Ben: [00:42:10] There
Dan: [00:42:10] you go.
Ben: [00:42:11] Yeah, I know. But you know, the medium term, we’d like to get some dealers set up. I’m interested in that, like to see, uh, see how we can work with them.
So we haven’t started that process yet because they want to see the finished product and we are still working on that. Should have that done in a couple more days. Yeah.
Dan: [00:42:35] What colors you got to pick a color as is a green or red or yellow. These are big decisions.
Ben: [00:42:41] The first ones blue. Yeah.
No. I think the, I think the plan is to do this in a way that’s pretty sustainable. We’re not going to build a factory. We’re not going to start a big bunch overhead. We’re going to get them built, get them sold, do know rinse repeat. So there’s a lot of good things about a product like this week can um, We can build them fairly quickly, everything’s readily available.
And I took a lot of knowledge, the years of design experience. We have a much more mature supply chain now than we’ve ever had for machinery. So if you need components made, they can be made very, very quickly and the qualities unbelievable. So, you know, the, the old metal bashing welding days. Is far more sophisticated than it’s ever been.
You can, it’s like Ikea, you know, I have designed this in CAD software. I order it from a laser cutting shop, everything fits together with notches and tabs and it can go together backwards and welded and it’s done. I love it. It’s not as hard, you know, the drill press and the saw are. Sort of things in the past,
Dan: [00:44:02] well, will be smaller farmers that are getting this and they might even just, well, I’ll put it themselves to take together themselves in the shop in the winter, or is it going to be larger producers?
Like, are we going to, are we going to go back to swathing? Is that what you’re saying here?
Ben: [00:44:16] Well, you know, I guess in your region and here you’re more Southern region of the Prairie’s, you know, swapping hasn’t been around for a long time, other than canola. And even that’s starting to disappear, you guys have been straight cutting for a long time.
The Northern half, the green belt is still a very high percentage of swathing though. And then of course, all the Hayne that’s done is. Involves swapping. So we think the markets in the hade, a world, for sure. And on the cropping side, we think that there is going to be somewhat of a return to swapping. Um, but not, I don’t think it’s going to completely revert.
I think lots of producers are still going to be able to straight cut their crops, even if they can’t desiccate. But if you have a shorter harvest window, you’re going to need to do something and some farmers will return some of their farm back to swapping in order to try to expand that harvest window.
Dan: [00:45:11] Well, it looks like there’s going to be a premium here in the near term for, for not, not spraying with, with glyphosate in some circumstances or other chemicals. So
Ben: [00:45:20] yeah, I mean, or it’s an outright. Ban right. You have no choice. You have to do it only. I know lots of producers that straight cut their crops without desicating, but they have very clean fields and beautiful soil and all one consistent maturity in my place.
I got three stages of crops.
Dan: [00:45:51] Right?
Ben: [00:45:51] I have no choice, but the swatch.
Dan: [00:45:54] You can’t variable rate that like into a next table top?
Ben: [00:45:59] Yeah. [inaudible] Yeah. I’d say the market is, it’s a niche product. I think it’s got some broad interest right now. There’s lots of,um, lots of excitement about it because of the, how fast you can go and the productivity side. So I don’t know lots of farmers, I won’t ever go back to swatting. So why would I need this thing?
And that’s right. But you know, I’m sure they said that about the first grain baggers.
Dan: [00:46:27] Yup. That’s true. Yeah. Crazy. When they first came out and you’re thinking what the heck is going on, and now it’s a pretty common.
Ben: [00:46:36] I think it was like, I think of all the niche products in ag right now, like conveyors and grain bags and all of these tools that we buy that are in the 20 to $50,000 range, but are hugely popular now.
But when they first came out, there is plenty of. Well, that’s not going to be mainstream. So why would anybody buy that? I mean, I don’t, I don’t have a green bagger on my farm, but every single neighbor has and 10 years ago they didn’t exist.
Dan: [00:47:03] Oh, I love that. You’re, uh, taking a journey where I’m sure you’re getting to the point where all your wisdom and experience, you can apply it now with great patience and just joy for the process. A and just sort of enjoy the journey of what your doing.
Ben: [00:47:16] Yeah. And I’m still young and. I’m sure they’ll be other experiences yet to come for me. I mean, I’m not closing the door on anything. Um, I’m excited to see what happens in the world in the next few years. Something is going to be some pretty neat opportunities.
I, there always is when there’s some major disruptive event,
Dan: [00:47:34] isn’t that true? Uh, the shifting of wealth here, the transition. You know, the opportunities, this is credible
Ben: [00:47:41] well, and I think that, uh, I think we’re learning a few good lessons in Canada right now about the benefits of scars and learning how, like, I mean, every, every really good.
Story, every good movie. The hero always has to be downtrodden once the victory emerges. Right.
Dan: [00:48:03] It wouldn’t be very interesting. And otherwise you would not tune in for two to three hours at a time,
Ben: [00:48:08] for sure. Yeah. So I think in life, that’s true too. You can’t just go from victory to victory. You have to have, you know, you have to learn a few hard lessons once in a while.
Dan: [00:48:19] Yeah. So going forward, what, what is next in store? What are you most excited about? Or what do you, what are you going to do next?
Ben: [00:48:26] Well, I, I really enjoy we’re working with small companies, so I do spend a bit of time helping them with my experience. And right now the arrows taking up a bunch of my time for a little while yet.
Um, And I said, if demand takes off, well, then I’ll be very busy
getting the, getting the prototypes out and getting that first unit out is always a marathon that night. I enjoy it, but brilliant. You know, the pandemic has changed everything. I mean, I’m working from home is just a normal thing though. And having your kids around you and your family, that’s actually, I don’t mind that I would always like that and it’s going to be hard to not have a future everybody’s together.
Yeah. But I understand that if there’s a, if there’s a vaccine and everything works well, people will be very hungry to get back to the way it was evolved to that. For a reason.
Dan: [00:49:24] Yeah. It’s going to be hard to go back to that extent though. I think for, for a lot of us, I mean, and I don’t know how much harder you could go.
Everybody was striding around like a chicken with your head cut off. Like whether it was locally for different things that you’re involved with with the kids or traveling abroad. I mean, it was wild.
Ben: [00:49:42] Yeah. I know. I used to travel so much. Parts of it that are glamorous, but I wouldn’t say that I haven’t missed that much
It will be hard to imagine how shows like ag in motion and crop production and Brendan ag days don’t happen in person again. Cause there’s, you know, you want to visit and touch things, but yeah. Um, but they could be vastly different with rules and expectations and social practices changing.
Dan: [00:50:15] Yes, they will be. But, uh, so you’re going to do, you’re going to, you’re going to be at some of those trade shows.
I’m sure with your,
Ben: [00:50:21] yeah. We’d like to be, we’d like to be the, um, but at this point, nothings
maybe it’s a good year to launch a product. You know, you get once a forgiveness for not attending shows.
Dan: [00:50:33] Well, that’s how I look at it too. I mean, we’ve been trade show warriors since we
started Abraham and egg,
I’m excited to see what you’re going to do next, man.
I think it’s pretty amazing the career that you’ve had and the things you’ve done, it’s probably harder to throw back a bit and enjoy some of the finer things in life a little bit more time and space, and then the family and all that. Farming.
Ben: [00:50:52] Yeah, a few, a couple of years ago, I was chatting with a guy that I wanted to connect with quite badly and had been immensely successful in the banking world and he had retired, and I had reached out to him and said, what are you doing? He said, I am having the most fun and the most fulfillment I’ve ever had. He says, I bought him a engine repair shop, which I knew nothing about. And I’m operating in. I have three employees in it’s fantastic. You know he was head of a gigantic bank, had thousands of employees and yet his most enjoyable career was now a small business owner with a balanced life.
So I, that story really stuck with me because thought wow. I thought he would have been on board, you know, some mega corporation and then another board of some foundation and doing all these things. Yeah. Hearing it, just taking a step back and said, what am I doing all this for. Is it just a keep treadmilling my way to the top of some mountain?
That everybody seems to be climbing or is this about life and then destination. That makes sense.
Dan: [00:52:07] I love that story and yeah, that’s Mecca. And I think, I think some people can do that within a business context too, but uh, often it’s something that becomes all consuming and it’s really hard, especially some of the levels you were talking about.
Ben: [00:52:20] I mean, you’re telling me about being up till four in the morning,
Dan: [00:52:22] trying to get things done. I mean, that’s. Yeah.
Ben: [00:52:26] Yeah. You staying up all night to hit deadlines and get things done and constant crisis. Isn’t that much fun. It can be a rush when it’s like once every three years or something that constantly isn’t.
Yeah. What am I, what challenge? What marathon did I just sign up to do this punishing endurance test. And you know, a lot of them are farm kids. So
Dan: [00:52:57] yeah, thats how we grew up. its our culture.
You had to outwork the next guy, that was the only way to get ahead, drive straighter on the summer fall and put in more hours than a neighbor. And you might make something of yourself, but I don’t know. I like to think that now we’re getting a little bit more enlightened and it’s not always home. How hard you work.
It’s how. How smart you can work and the people that you can work with to leverage other people’s talents and scale it. And if everybody’s working in their passion, I mean, I don’t want to work harder. I don’t want to, we’re going to get better at what we do and.
Ben: [00:53:28] Yeah, well, I mean, we can work very, very hard at something and are realized that it, unfortunately, isn’t the right thing.
Really interesting business study that I read once. And that was 125 years ago in New York city. What do you think the most profitable business was?
Dan: [00:53:47] Hmm, a hunred and 25 years ago, like 1900,
Ben: [00:53:50] 1900 ish.
Dan: [00:53:52] I want to say prostitution, but
Ben: [00:53:55] it was iced delivery. Yeah. So the company, a huge companies, or any business of harvesting ice in the winter and storing it in these large ice houses and then delivering ice to everybody all the time, year round for their ice box and along came the refrigerator.
Yeah. I mean, we’re going to keep adopting technology constantly and kicking the old stuff aside.
Dan: [00:54:20] Yeah. Who knows? I mean, nobody had any idea what was going to happen here. And I think. It’s hard for people to accept that things can change so much. It’s almost out of your control. Like we want to rationalize everything.
I think that’s where our safety comes from. If we can put it in context, but some things you’re going to get hit with and it’s totally out of your control and that’s just nature. And that’s what keeps us on our toes. Exactly.
Ben: [00:54:42] We’ll uh, I dunno, we’re innovators, let’s keep striving, succeeding. It’s in our nature, especially Canadian.
Dan: [00:54:50] exactly. Well, there’s something about being this far North
Ben: [00:54:53] very entrepreneurial people.
Dan: [00:54:55] Exactly.
There’s not, there’s only so many people that can live, you know, this far North, right. You’ve gotta be pretty tough and pretty innovative. Everybody that came here. Yeah, I think so. Well, I appreciate you coming on the show, Ben.
It’s always interesting. It was awesome. So take care of Ben. Good luck with the harvest and with your new manufacturing and thanks for enlightening us and