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One Earth Farms Corp.: Acting Now for the Agriculture of Tomorrow
One Earth Farms Corp. (OEF) was formed in 2009 to represent a new model for North American farms. A partnership between the private sector and First Nations, OEF is committed to mutually beneficial, equitable relationships and agronomic stewardship for communities. Utilizing professional, progressive practices, OEF has developed a unique, scalable agribusiness model that offers improved land management, equity participation, job opportunities and training offering benefits for both the present and the future across Saskatchewan, Alberta and Manitoba.
“Generally speaking, the sustainability of agriculture and land quality is a multi-generational priority for the First Nations, which fits very well with our mission to do business in agriculture very differently,” asserts Larry Ruud, CEO of OEF. Now the largest corporate farming operating in Canada, OEF strives to challenge what is industry norm for farming. OEF provides fair market rental rates of First Nation lands, providing the core inputs in the wholesale market and resources in the processing phase that allow for bypassing the stockpiling of initial farming supplies and machinery and the subsequent sale of end products that can be daunting to the majority of start-ups.
Cattle and crops are the two main focuses of OEF, and the Saskatoon, Saskatchewan-based company was formed to bring long-term sustainability at the forefront of responsible agricultural production methods. Instead of simply buying up land for forming co-ops, OEF does business as directly as possible, building a series of strategic relationships with key input suppliers and end users and developing branded products, particularly in natural beef.
“As a country, we inherently have a socio-economic interest and responsibility to the First Nations, and we formed this company because we identified a disparity between the size of First Nation landholdings and agricultural activity,” says Ruud. As the OEF team saw it, the two were a natural match.
Building Key Strategic Partnerships
Of course, negotiating large business deals with any partner requires a lot of tact, and OEF recruited the best the industry had to offer. Today, OEF is proud to employ two former Chiefs of First Nations: Ted Quewezance of the Keeseekoose First Nation and Gordon Lerat of the Cowessess First Nation. OEF further supports constant and open communication for the development of mutually beneficial partnerships through its First Nations Business Development division, headed by Don Ross, who brings 25 years of business development experience. Together, OEF works to identify opportunities that will encourage agriculture across the Canadian Prairies, stimulate local economies, provide employment opportunities with vertical mobility, and account for the future quality of the land.
OEF has to target two separate production chains in terms of sustainability. In the case of farming, sustainability translates into a diversity of genetic species grown within crops, growing across diverse regions, and employing the most advanced cultivation methods and industry experts to support long-term productivity. As for the cattle operation, OEF uses selective breeding to develop a comprehensive All-Natural Beef Program raising cattle with highly desirable traits without the use of antibiotics or artificial hormones. The program also accounts for stress levels to the livestock and the program is structured to allow cattle to be born, raised, and finished on the same ranch, minimizing handling and confined feeding operations as a result. All efforts also integrate new ways to ensure consumers receive only the most safely produced and handled food products.
Additional innovations placed primary production and processing aid OEF, including precision agriculture, variable-rate technology and real-time information gathering. Leading-edge technologies such as GPS enable OEF to manage logistics and inventory of its large machinery and equipment fleets, and this informs better decision making on how to direct assets. Additional equipment monitoring information from sprayers, tractors, seeders and feeders is combined with GIS land information, crop health information from UAVs, real-time weather and market information and fiscal information systems to inform the overriding methodology. Partners such as Ag Growth International share OEF’s positive outlook and supply products such as portable and stationary grain handling, storage and conditioning equipment.
Despite all this proactive thinking, OEF is still a young company and has had to maneuver it fair share of hurdles, and the company’s team has been preparing for an increase in the need for management material since its inception. For both private and First Nation locations, the company has specific training programs to support everyday operations, but OEF looks nationally for the right management material. “We are a very different agribusiness so we require a very specific skill sets. We are lucky enough to live in a country where these skill sets are available, but as we grow long-term it will continue to be a challenge for us,” admits Ruud.
Strengthening the Entire Stream of Food Production
OEF does business down the production change in a very different way, with a goal of achieving unparalleled margins in the industry, and as a result carries different expectations of its contacts. As a young company the first few years of business have been geared toward establishing solid business partnerships with input suppliers to control costs and effectively trickle those savings down to the end-user. In order for this model to be successful, though, OEF needs to build partnerships with processing companies, brokers, and distributors.
“It’s jarring for some of our contacts not to negotiate pricing with us, but we expect them to act as true distributors on our behalf, with a certain amount of built-in service,” asserts Ruud. The end goal, as Ruud sees it, is to work together with great structure, flexibility and responsibility to make one another more efficient and more profitable.
Ruud hopes to see the business continue to mature and develop vertically for greatest sustainability. “Ultimately our goal is to own our products as far along the value chain as it makes sense, which as we move forward could mean working directly with retailers,” he explains. Though nothing has been set in stone as of yet, the company is already thinking long-term about the market potential of its products sold under the OEF brand.
The company is content for the moment to continue diversifying its operations and developing its own professionals, emphasizing continuous training and accountability. “I come from a long line of people working in this industry and I have the fundamental passion for it, and we look for people who can exhibit that same enthusiasm,” admits Ruud. This passion has shown positive results – the company has now celebrated the sale of OEF Natural Beef and its second year of crops brought to market – and One Earth Farm Corp. is on track towards bigger and brighter days ahead as the company continues rapidly evolving the operational and ethical norms of the agricultural industry.