Wednesday, 29 July 2015 14:30

Bow Island family pleased to be honoured at Stampede

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The Van Roessel Family from Bow Island was the BMO Farm Family Winner representing 40 Mile County for this year’s Calgary Stampede. The Van Roessel Family from Bow Island was the BMO Farm Family Winner representing 40 Mile County for this year’s Calgary Stampede. Photo contributed

The Van Roessel Family, from Bow Island, was the BMO Farm Family winner representing 40 Mile County for this year’s Calgary Stampede.

It might take a village to raise a child but, according to Will Van Roessel, it takes a community to raise hybrid canola seed.
Van Roessel and his wife Jean own Specialty Seeds Ltd. in Bow Island and they are the 2015 BMO Farm Family of the Year for the County of 40 Mile.
Van Roessel grew up in the Bow Island community on a family farm. His family came from Holland in 1956 and worked in the area until they could purchase land of their own in 1960. Twenty years later, having just graduated from the University of Alberta with a degree in agriculture, Will rented a quarter-section from a neighbour and put a used pivot on it.
In his second year on his own, he decided to try the seed business.
“Staring out with a small amount of land, I was looking for ways to increase the yield per acre. At that time, there was a demand for a certain type of wheat in our area,” he remembers. “It was soft white spring wheat. We grew it for years.
“You have to start with a higher generation of seed. I bought some registered seed from another seed grower that I grew to produce certified seeds. Certified is the level most commercial farmers buy.”
In 1993, Will married Jean — also a U of A Agriculture graduate.
“Until that time, I was only growing about one field of seed per year. In 1995, we geared all of our acres to seed production,” recalls Will.
In 1999, the couple started Specialty Seeds Ltd.
The Van Roessels usually have between 1,500 and 1,800 acres in production.
“It varies a bit from year to year,” Will says. “We trade some land with neighbours and rent some land.”
The reason for the changes is that the farm’s main product these days is hybrid seed canola along with some hemp that is grown under contract to seed companies. Wheat, durum and yellow peas are also grown for Specialty Seeds Ltd.’s own retail customers.
All the fields intended for hybrid canola one year are inspected the previous year. The mile of isolation from other canola that is required can make things pretty complicated.
“A lot of planning goes into the rotation,” Will says. “We try to maximize the hybrid canola acres and then all the other acres we fit in whatever else will grow. We grow as much as we can working ourselves with my brother and the neighbours.”
Sometimes, he adds, the neighbours are part of the planning process to put crops being grown for the same company nearby.
Some of the land is direct-seeded and tillage is reduced as much as possible. The Van Roessels have also experimented with variable rate irrigation.
“We’ve made great strides in conserving water for irrigation and also in water placement — reducing the runoff and losses from drowning out in low spots,” claims Will.
Both Will and Jean work with Bow Island community organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce and the Figure Skating Club as well as a variety of growers’ associations.
For six years, they have hosted a customer appreciation dinner to showcase the farm and its products.
While Will enjoys the business aspect of what he does, the best thing about farming is quite simple, he says.
“I just like being out in the field, planting a crop and watching it grow and then harvesting a good crop.
“You have to work together with your neighbours, with the seed companies, leafcutter bee operators and honey bee operators to make the whole thing work. I have a neighbour who likes to grow edible beans, so we often trade. I grow hybrid canola on one of his fields and he grows a circle of beans in my field and we both feel like we came out ahead.”

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