By Donna Fleury
Innovation, best practices and strong industry relationships are priorities for this Alberta producer.
By Donna Fleury
With an eye on the growth of the industry, David Hyink is passionate about his family farm operation and the broader Canadian poultry industry.
David and his brother Eric are partners in a family-owned broiler chicken business and shareholders with their parents, who bought the first farm in Ponoka, Alberta, from Lilydale in 1976. The original farm, which was located in the town of Ponoka until the mid-2000s, has been re-located outside the town and the Hyinks’ have converted the original farmsite into the Chicken Hill residential subdivision. They have expanded their operation to include three farms between Ponoka and Lacombe, with an annual production of close to three million kilograms per year.
“Eric and I manage the day-to-day operations of the three farms and are building the business together,” says Hyink, owner of Hyink Farms together with his wife Sharlene and their three children Justin, Travis and Kristen. “When we moved Hyink Farms to the new location, we built a fairly modern farm to take advantage of the technology we have today, as well as modernizing Eric’s Chicken Hill Farm, Red Barn Farms. Incorporating new technology and innovation into our farms allows us to minimize the labour required to run the operations. The two of us manage most of the ongoing farm operations, but we do hire teens from the community to help with certain jobs during peak periods.”
The three broiler operations include eight barns varying in size from 10,000 to 20,000 square feet of open area with automated feed lines and water systems. The ventilation system manages temperature, humidity, C02 and other aspects to maintain a proper climate for healthy birds. Hyink also installed high-pressure misting systems into the barns to help cool the birds when the barns are running at full capacity. All the barn operations are computerized, making monitoring and management easier. The ability to check and control the computers in the barn from smart phones has allowed the Hyinks to have a high standard of care for the birds even when they are busy and away from the farm.
Animal care is important to the Hyink family business and is a passion of David’s who carries that past his operation to various provincial and national industry boards. Hyink emphasizes that it is because of the farming partnership with his brother that he is able to be away from the farm to participate in the many boards and committees across the country.
Animal care and food safety a priority
Over the past several years, David has held board positions on both provincial and national industry associations and task teams. He was elected to the Alberta Chicken Producers for the first time 14 years ago and continues as Alberta Director on Chicken Farmers of Canada Board, today, with only one year off in that time for mandatory step down. He has also served as Vice Chair, Chair and member of the Alberta Farm Animal Care (AFAC) board and member on the Alberta’s Natural Resources Conservation Board (NRCB) policy advisory committee, the regulator for intensive livestock operations in Alberta.
“Based on the important work done in Alberta by the various representatives on animal care, then General Manager of AFAC, Susan Church, and myself got involved with other stakeholders across Canada to help create the National Farm Animal Care Council (NFACC) in 2005 and get it up and operational,” explains Hyink. “For the first two years I sat on the executive as the Farm Animal Care representative. It was exciting to help build something off the ground and see how well that organization is continuing today. It continues to bring credibility to the codes of practice and assessment programs that are developed and improved in Canada.”
Hyink, who was also the first chair of the Chicken Farmers of Canada’s Animal Care Committee, is pleased to see that after many years of hard work and lots of effort a successful chicken industry animal care program has been initiated in all provinces across Canada. “I believe our program is very comprehensive and world class, and compares well to other programs out there,” says Hyink. “This auditable animal care program allows us as producers to assure consumers that the chicken they are eating has been grown under controlled conditions and farmers are actively audited and monitored to maintain those standards. This is an important piece of the puzzle to put those practices and processes in place and be able to prove we are following the program standards.”
The Chicken Farmers of Canada also has a mandatory On-Farm Food Safety Program across the country, and were the first commodity organization to receive third party audit by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) for the program. He believes it is an excellent program and important to have the credibility of CFIA behind the program. “From an industry perspective, it is important to have credible national programs in place and implemented across the industry,” adds Hyink. “I think it provides a level of stability and consistency, and assurance for consumers of our chicken products.”
Hyink emphasizes that the economic impact on producers and the costs to implement programs to improve safety and welfare need to be recognized. “As a result of this program, many farmers had to make real production changes on their farm and invest in new technologies, which had significant economic impacts on their business. Producers made these changes for the good of the industry at large in Canada.”
He has also served on the National Farmed Animal Health and Welfare Strategy, an advisory council with stakeholders from federal and provincial governments and agencies and industry organizations. “Antimicrobial use and resistance is one of the issues this partnership is bringing leadership to. In addition to the work of the partnership I am proud of the steps the chicken industry has taken to proactively address this issue,” says Hyink. For example, industry completely restricted “preventative” use of Category 1 antimicrobials in chicken production as of May 15, 2014. Category 1 antimicrobials are deemed to be the antibiotics most critical for human health. This change will create challenges for farmers to be even more diligent in the work they do. “We continue to make progress to address these challenges and issues for industry.”
Hyink believes that developing strong, honest and meaningful relationships with industry partners is very important, both for his own business and for industry. As industry issues come up, those relationships provide a way to have difficult conversations and solve issues and challenges together. Hyink continues to be involved in many provincial and national industry boards and activities. He is also very involved with his family and community, supporting his kids’ sorting endeavours and activities. Christian faith and service in his church and community are also very important to Hyink and his family.
Growing demand for the future
In 2007, the Alberta Chicken Producers identified the rapidly growing population in Alberta as a key industry issue and have been working with the Chicken Farmers of Canada and other provinces to address the future allocation system for industry. “Every federal and provincial agreement has to face this reality and the chicken industry is no exception. We believe that for our chicken supply management system to stay strong, we need to address the reality of this growth situation and find a fair, robust allocation system to provide a strong platform for the Chicken Farmers of Canada to move forward in the future,” says Hyink. “I am a very passionate proponent of a strong national system of the Chicken Farmers of Canada and the work they do, and you won’t find a director in Alberta who would think otherwise. We continue to work diligently along with every other province to try to find a new allocation system that includes meaningful differential growth and that will be acceptable to all 10 provinces.”
Karen Kirkwood, Executive Director of Alberta Chicken Producers, and Hyink have been leading a team from Alberta to address this issue and held many meetings consulting with producers, processors and those they are negotiating with to try and resolve the issue. However, despite all of the efforts, consensus was not reached, and as of January 1, 2014, the Alberta Chicken Producers were no longer part of the national agency and are operating on a temporary agreement, which expires in July 2014.
“A strong national supply management system is very important to us and we hope we are able to come to a solution soon and get all 10 provinces to sign back on to an agreement,” explains Hyink. “We are very open to long-term sustainable solutions and addressing the issue strictly out of the growth of the industry. Chicken farmers in Canada are fortunate to be in a vibrant growing industry and a solution will not need to impact any current allocation and production across Canada. No farmer in Canada would be growing any less chicken than they were before or shutting down their barns. We will continue to work towards trying to find a solution based on a positive view of the future.”
Supply management supports farm transition and growth
Transitioning the farm from one generation to another, or supporting new farmers to enter the business is a challenge and is very expensive for any type of farming operation. However, Hyink believes that supply management, although sometimes criticized as a costly venture and difficult to get into, actually makes it easier for young farmers. The chicken industry in Alberta and in other provinces has one of the youngest demographics across the agriculture industry.
“For young farmers who are patient, have a long-term focus and work hard, supply management can provide stability and a consistent business that banks will consider financing,” says Hyink. “Although it has taken 20 years of hard work, off-farm income and perseverance, without supply management I don’t think I would be in farming today. It has provided a way for my brother and I to go to the bank and arrange to transition the farm from our parents and, at the same time, expand and grow the business to where it can support our families. I couldn’t imagine even being a farmer it is wasn’t for the consistency of the supply management system. And hopefully, this system will remain strong and provide the opportunity for transition to the next generation in the future.”