Business & Policy
By Kristy Nudds
Since arriving in Canada 13 years ago to become a chicken farmer, Jacob
Middelkamp has dedicated much of his off-farm time to furthering the
chicken industry in Alberta, and to serving the needs of his community.
This chicken farmer from Holland has immersed himself in the industry and tirelessly offers his time to numerous organizations
Since arriving in Canada 13 years ago to become a chicken farmer, Jacob Middelkamp has dedicated much of his off-farm time to furthering the chicken industry in Alberta, and to serving the needs of his community.
Before purchasing a broiler operation in Gibbons, Alta., Middelkamp operated his family’s farm in Holland, growing primarily potatoes and sugar beets, but also onions, wheat, beans and peas. Middelkamp wanted to expand his operation, but location was a problem: situated on a polder – an area of land that was reclaimed from water – the farm was as big as it was ever going to be.
|A new beginning. Jacob Middelkamp (R) and his son Harco stand beside their farm sign. The Middlekamps moved to Canada from Holland in 1997, purchased and expanded a broiler operation, and started a haying operation.|
But Middelkamp saw an opportunity to operate a larger farm in Canada, while in the summer of 1996 his then-teenaged son Harco was in Alberta on a student work exchange program at a dairy farm in the Wetaskiwin area.
On a visit to Harco in Alberta that summer, Jacob and his son looked at real estate in the province. Initially, Middelkamp says that his interest was in potatoes, but that wasn’t going to work out because, at the time, the province had a grower co-op that didn’t allow for newcomers in the industry.
He looked to grain, but, as he says, “the future didn’t look good for grain farming at the time.” He and Harco then looked at a small chicken operation for sale in Gibbons, which “seemed more interesting.”
The farm seemed to be the opportunity Middelkamp was looking for, so in September of that year Jacob, his wife Jannie, along with Harco and daughter Ingrid, travelled to Alberta to visit the farm and speak with the seller. The visit was a success, and Middelkamp says the family decided to “fill out our paperwork and go for it.”
The transition from growing vegetables to chicken wasn’t too difficult, he says. Middelkamp owes this to the fact that the family was well prepared before its arrival. Fortunately, the family had friends in Holland who had chickens, so the family had spent a cycle with them, learning how to care for the birds. When they moved to Canada on March 11, 1997, the seller of the chicken farm helped them with their very first cycle, showing them how things worked.
Initially, the farm – now known as Middelkamp Farms – grew 16,000 birds in a converted pig barn and consisted of 440 acres of land. Within months of arriving in Canada, Middelkamp says the family also started a cow-calf operation, consisting of 80 animals. But after the first year, he and Harco sat down and took a hard look at finances, and soon realized that the earnings from the cow-calf operation didn’t justify the amount of work involved.
|Jacob Middelkamp serves on the ACP , CPRC, and UFA boards, and has been an alternate on the CFC board. He is also deputy chief of his local volunteer fire department.|
They decided to sell the cows, and expand their chicken operation, building a second single-storey barn and increasing their quota by 21,000, which gave them a total of 39,000 birds.
Daughter Ingrid moved back to Holland after high school, the biggest reason being “she had a boyfriend over there,” says Jannie with a laugh. She’s now married to him, and Jacob says family members in Canada are lucky to have downtime between cycles, which allows them to visit with her at least once a year.
Harco helps with the chicken operation, but “there is not enough work for two people,” says Middelkamp. Harco has been involved in the operation from the beginning, and now lives on an adjacent property with his wife Miranda. In addition to helping with the chickens, Harco does custom silaging for a cow-calf operation and operates a snow-removal business.
Jacob and Harco are also involved in another operation big enough for the both of them – producing high-quality hay for horses. The two first started in hay when they needed to provide for their cow-calf operation, and the haying component has grown considerably since then. Initially utilizing their own land, the two of them now rent 1,000 acres, and use 700 acres for hay and rent out the remaining 300 to a local grain farmer.
Jacob also keeps himself busy serving his industry and community. Within a few years of establishing Middelkamp Farms, Jacob became involved with the Alberta Chicken Producers (ACP), serving two terms as a board director from 2000-2006. After stepping down for a year, he once again joined the ACP and is now in his second term.
Having been involved with agricultural organizations in Holland, Middelkamp was interested in being involved with the ACP and felt that it would be a “learning opportunity.” Since joining the organization, he has been a fixture at both provincial and national meetings, as well as workshops and seminars held by the University of Alberta’s Poultry Research Centre.
In 2005-2006, he was the board’s alternate for the Chicken Farmers of Canada, which he found to be a valuable experience. “When involved at the national level, sometimes you have to put on your national hat while still defending provincial interests. It’s a balancing act,” he says.
Middelkamp has been a great supporter of research, and is currently in his fourth year as a director on the Canadian Poultry Research Council (CPRC) board. “As an industry we need to be proactive,” he says. “Although it seems that research doesn’t work right away, you have to see further and realize its future potential.”
While on the ACP and CFC boards, Middelkamp has been involved with implementing CFC’s food safety program (Safe, Safer, Safest) and the new animal care program in Alberta, and discussing with processors the issue of density and differential growth.
Talking with consumers and monitoring extremist groups have also been important aspects of his role at ACP. With other board members and staff, he is involved with consumer education at the Calgary Stampede, Aggie Days in Lethbridge and Calgary, and Amazing Agriculture, a program that brings agriculture to school-age children in urban areas.
When the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) was active in Alberta seven years ago, Middelkamp was sent by the ACP to a demonstration in Edmonton, where he challenged the videos of chicken production being shown by the activist group. Having seen how regulations were created as a result of such groups in Europe, Middelkamp says that “we have to stay ahead of extreme groups who want to regulate our industry.” “When we make our own programs, and they are acceptable, then we are a step ahead.”
Outside of the poultry industry, Middelkamp also volunteers his time to his community and to other farm organizations. A volunteer firefighter in Holland, Middelkamp joined the Red Water volunteer fire department and is now deputy chief. He’s also the chairman of his local natural gas co-op, which serves 800 members in his area. In March 2010, he became a board director for the United Farmers of Alberta (UFA), a provincial agricultural supply co-operative, after having been a district delegate with the organization for five years. He hopes to use his previous experience with farmer co-ops in Holland and says, “there’s always something to be learned from different people from different sectors.”
His quest for learning and interest in continuing with board activities mean he isn’t quite ready to hand over the helm to son Harco. “You have to be a quota holder to be on the board,” he says, “and I still have almost three years left.”
Although he doesn’t know what the future brings, he feels comfortable that his son will have a good living. “Chicken farming has been good to us,” he says.