By David Schmidt
Planning for the future
By David Schmidt
One would think that when your dad co-owns the business, getting a top job would be easy. Not so for 28-year-old James Krahn, the operations manager of Paragon Farms in Abbotsford, B.C.
Paragon Farms is one of three divisions of the Krahn Group of Companies, which also include a feed mill run by James’ brother, Jonathon, and a construction/development company run by his other brother, Dale.
James’ father is Fred Krahn, a well-known and long-time member of both the B.C. Egg Marketing Board and the Egg Farmers of Canada. After growing up on their parents’ egg farm, Fred and his brother, Hans, started their first layer farm in 1965. The Krahns now have six farms and hold a 109,000-bird layer quota, grow close to 100,000 broilers each cycle and produce 2.25 million kilograms of turkey each year.
Although James is now responsible for the day-to-day operation of the six farms, it did not start that way.
“I never thought I would end up on the farm,” he says. In fact, after high school, he enrolled in a criminology program at the local university.
“I was newly married and my job at a local restaurant didn’t pay enough to support a family so I asked to manage one of the farms when the then-manager left,” James says.
“My dad told me I would need to be interviewed by (then Paragon operations manager) Terry Friesen. I thought it was a little bizarre at first but the more I think about it, the better it was. How would I feel if I had been working somewhere for a long time, thought I’d earned a promotion only to have the owner’s son come along and take it from me?”
After learning more about the farm, he dove in head first, switching from criminology to business administration. Then, when Friesen left the company, he took on the added responsibility of operations manager.
Although turkeys are the most labour-intensive operation (they ship turkeys weekly), layers get the most attention. After being a caged layer operation for over 40 years, Paragon has come full circle. “We’re back in free run,” adds James.
A few years ago, the Krahns purchased a nearby free-run farm with 7,500 birds and an additional 5,500-bird quota, which was leased out. The quota is now coming back, so James is busy converting a second farm to free run.
The transition is important to James for a couple of reasons. First, his goal since becoming operations manager has been to grow the business, and Paragon added a turkey farm since James took over. Second, since “it’s a waiting game to see what will happen to cage production,” he says, turning part of the layer operation into free run can mitigate some of the risks.
Coincidentally, the cages needed to be upgraded – so converting the barns to free run was timely.
However, the free run of today is nothing like the barns of old. They are incredibly high-tech operations, complete with multilayered roosts, automated egg collection, bird scales, climate sensors, and even remote-controlled cameras.
“We’re using the Lumina Fancom system to network all our farms. I can now open my computer and see the history of each barn,” James says.
He is particularly enthused about the cameras, especially the fact that he can observe the barns anywhere through his iPhone. “Birds behave differently when you’re in the barn so the cameras let me observe them unobtrusively,” he says.
While the Krahns continue to look at expansion, they intend to stay close to home. “My preference is to be local. We recently looked at a turkey farm in Keremeos (about four hours away) but we decided against it because of the travel.”
And travel already occupies most of James’ daily activities.
“I live on one of our turkey farms and start my day by doing the chores on that farm. Then I go from farm to farm to make sure people are doing what they are supposed to. There’s also a lot of paperwork and a constant stream of meetings: with graders, processors, associations, suppliers and so on.”
But before the expansion plan gets too carried away, the Krahns need to deal with the elephant in the room: succession.
“That’s the challenge right now,” James admits. It may be the most difficult task the Krahn clan has ever faced, since Hans and Fred each have four children and only James and his two brothers are directly involved in the company.
“The three of us work well together and we want to keep the company together but how do you go through succession without breaking it up when only three of eight are involved? We don’t know how it’s going to play out.”
In the meantime, Fred’s three boys are all following in their father’s footsteps by getting involved in industry associations. James is a director of the B.C. Turkey Association (BCTA), Dale is a director of the B.C. Chicken Growers Association (BCCGA) and Jonathan is a director of the Fraser Valley Egg Producers Association.
“It helps us get more involved in the industry,” James says, adding “you can’t complain about change if you’re not part of the process.”
James’ role on the BCTA is focused on education and events, something he is extremely passionate about. “There’s such a lack of knowledge among consumers about what we do,” he says, “we get hit by everything.”
A few years ago, the BCCGA and B.C. Hatching Egg Producers Association created a “Poultry in Motion” mobile display barn to help teach urbanites about chicken production, and the BCTA recently signed on, allowing turkeys to be included in the display.
“The barn is very popular at the Pacific National Exhibition and we take it out to dozens of schools, fairs and other events each year,” James adds.
Krahn has also started taking on some of the responsibility of organizing the annual Turkey and Egg charity golf tournament. Each year, the industry raises about $50,000 for the Union Gospel Mission in Vancouver’s notorious Downtown Eastside. “It’s part of education and it’s also a great cause.”
In turn, the Mission uses the funds raised to buy local eggs and turkeys for their daily meal program. It creates a market for local producers and “gives the Downtown Eastside something they can use which they don’t get a lot of. We will also go to the Mission several times a year to serve food.”