Bar-B-Dee Farms Ltd.
Ontario is home to a vast expanse of farmland, so it’s no coincidence that according to the 2011 census of agriculture, the province is also home to more than 50,000 farms. While there are still small-scale operations, the family-owned farm is somewhat of a dying breed in the age of mass farming and consolidation. But in Bornholm, Ontario Barb-B-Dee Farms Ltd. remains a third-generation, family-run, and independently-owned grain elevator and full service custom-farming operation.
“We’re still independently owned, which is less and less common in this industry,” says Randy DeBlock, president of Bar-B-Dee and second-generation farmer. While other farms consolidate and join larger networks, Bar-B-Dee has grown through family ownership and strong ties to the local community. “We still do pretty much everything in-house,” says Randy. “Although we often work with them, we don’t have any ties to larger ag companies.”
The DeBlock family has been farming in Ontario for generations. “I’ve been in this business my entire life,” says Randy. “When we incorporated in 1980 it was myself, my father and mother and my brother running the operation. Eventually, my brother and I bought out my father and mother and then my wife Leanee and I purchased my brother’s shares and brought my son Tony and his wife, Sheena into the business.”
About a year later, Randy’s daughter, Mandi and son-in-law, Jeff Layton, joined the business too. Jeff manages the grain elevator side of the business, while Tony works as field manager. “We all do a little bit of everything, including field and office work; it's really four families and three generations under one roof at Bar-B-Dee," says Randy. "My father, Henry DeBlock, is still very active in the business. He works as the office manager."
Since its genesis in 1980, Bar-B-Dee has concentrated on partnering with local producers in the greater Bornholm-West Perth community. “We serve a very local radius – approximately 15 miles from our home base in Bornholm,” explains Randy. “All together with the family members, we have about 10 employees, but we hire on more seasonal help through busier times.”
Just because Bar-B-Dee has kept business concentrated in Bornholm doesn’t mean the operation isn’t growing at a good clip. “Our customer base has grown steadily over the last five years,” says Randy. “This is largely in part to our ability to receive and process quickly. As everything grows in the farm community the need is there. When things get bigger in the field, you have to get bigger on the receiving end too.”
In an effort to match more field production, Bar-B-Dee has more than doubled its capacity in the last several years. “Our output has substantially increased and we’re now getting customers in and out a lot faster than we use to,” says Randy.
Room to grow
The newest addition at Bar-B-Dee is a sizable receiving pit capable of 10,000 bushels an hour. “We’re in the process of adding another to replace an old pit and once that expansion is complete we’ll be able to receive 20,000 bushels an hour,” says Randy. “This, combined with improvements to other storage facilities, is really making a difference in our capacity.” Bar-B-Dee has also doubled the size of its grain dryer.
Nothing is slowing on the custom farming side either, where Bar-B-Dee handles corn, soybeans and other edible beans. “We’re constantly updating our farm machinery and now everything is mapped by GPS and electronic field mapping technologies,” says Randy.
“We farm approximately 1,500 acres of our own land and about the same amount in custom work,” adds Randy. “We work with smaller farmers who don’t have the machinery and acreage we do. We do tillage, planting, as well as combing and then truck the product to the elevator for them.”
Staying ahead in a cyclical business
Bar-B-Dee faces the same challenges all small farming and elevator operations do. “You buy and sell grain for the best price you can – that hasn’t really changed,” says Randy. “The economy on the farm side has dropped substantially and market prices have curtailed activity but the elevator side is a pretty steady run out here.”
Fortunately, Bar-B-Dee has some flexibility in having a multifaceted operation. “With the grain elevators, farming equipment, custom farming services and trucking, all of our eggs aren’t in one basket and this gives us the flexibility we need when one side of the business isn’t performing as well,” explains Randy.
After so many years in the industry, Randy has seen the cyclical nature of farming firsthand. “I started farming right out of high school,” he recounts. “I’ve seen the cycles and learned to save for a rainy day. Right now, economically, we’re in a low, but I’ve seen it come back and I’m confident it will again.”
He says success in agriculture is about staying sharp. “We track our yields and volume very closely and if there’s an issue we address it – you’re not going to win them all, but those are the big indicators of success for us,” he says. “That and keeping customer happy of course – we’re fair and honest and supply them with what they require. There’s no clear-cut game plan in this business because you never know where the industry will go, but if you serve your customers right, things work out.”
“We’re always wondering what the next step will be as things come and go and technology changes; you have to look ahead,” adds Randy. “You’re either moving forward or you’re moving backward.”
That’s been the attitude that has worked well for Bar-B-Dee Farms Ltd. for the last 35 years as the company continues to grow its customer base and capacity as Bornholm’s trusted farming partner.