Not All Eggs In One Basket
By Ted Noonan
By Ted Noonan
The Beerstras are doing what more poultrymen should attempt – diversifying. Their progress will be watched with interest.
Henk Beerstra of Vernon, B.C. is well on his way to building up a unique North Okanagan family farm dynasty.
Combining egg, dairy, beef and hay production on only 160 acres east of Lumby, a small village near here, Henk is working very hard to make his operation efficient enough so his whole family can make a good living from the property.
But the enthusiastic Dutchman says he has been used to hard work since he arrived from Holland 27 years ago with a “couple of suitcases and $35.”
Until 1969, he drove a truck for a living while attempting to build his modest fleet with the money he made. During this time, he decided a sideline for his wife Gertrude to work at and they became limited egg producers.
8,800 Egg Quota
He soon found he liked working with the birds and in 1969 he bought a quota of 8,800 layers and became a full time egg producer on a four-acre spread at Aldergrove in B.C.’s Lower Mainland.
“But I found I still had to truck in order to make ends meet” he says. Beerstra says he soon ran into a problem affecting many farmers in recent years – that of figuring out a way to bring his sons into the business on a unit that would not support any additional families.
He says his son Joe, 24, wanted to begin farming, and his son Rick, 22, was also interested. He wanted also to give the opportunity to his younger sons, Ted, 15 and Dave, 12, to do the same thing when they finished school.
“I felt if I could help the kids get into farming, I would do it. I knew our four-acre egg operation was just not enough for my plans. We were also having subdivision problems where we were and it was just getting too crowded.
Re-located in Okanagan
Beerstra says he began more than three years ago to look for the property he wanted and his travels extended to most of B.C.’s Interior before he decided n his present 160 acres.
“This is it as far as I’m concerned,” he says. “We moved onto the land about a year ago and went to work.”
The first step was to move his egg-producing unit from the Coast and establish it on the new property.
Beerstra moved chicken barns and his quota, now 8,300 birds, to the property with the intentions of using this operation as a base for future plans.
“We can’t expand the egg business much more than we already have,” he explains. “The only way a person could do this is by buying a new quota and the price of quotas has gone out of sight. You can’t build a quota up and the price a farmer gets for eggs today does not justify buying it.”
“It takes years to pay for a new quota. I guess we will leave that part of the operation as it is for the present,” he says.
Limited in expanding in this direction, Beerstra turned to dairy farming and completed a dairy building at the end of June last year.
He is slowly working now to build up him milk quota and herd.
He recently purchased second had dairy processing equipment and has worked his quota up to 91 litres of milk. He expects this to be increased next year. The herd has been built to 30 milk cows and 26 Holsteins are now being milked.
Beerstra says building up the dairy operation is the best and easiest way to bring his sons into the business.
“The federal government is now encouraging a certain number of young farmers to get into the dairy business. You don’t have to buy a quota and are allowed to build it up,” he says.
He says he expects to take a loss on the dairy operation until he can build his quota up but the other operations, particularly egg-producing, should be able to subsidize this end.
The haying operation, mostly operated by Joe with an assist from Beerstra’s two younger boys, is proving to be a pleasant surprise.
The complex has 150 acres sown to alfalfa, which is used for the beef and dairy operation with the surplus sold on the local market, Beerstra says. “We sold about 200 tons last year – most of it local.
“This part of the operation is one of the few private enterprise features left in this business. There are no quotas on hay. It is up to us to sell it and because it costs $30 a ton to produce, we have to get at least this to break even. We have been lucky and have sold most of this year’s hay crop.” He says the hay is not hard to sell if the price is kept reasonable.
“Some try to sell it for too high a price. I would rather get my cost of production out with a small profit rather than let it sit in the fields.”
And a Beef Herd
The beef herd is still in the beginning stages, consisting of 11 head of Angus-Hereford Cross, but he says he intends to build up this part of the operation as soon as possible.
Beerstra says the future looks bright but he expects he will have to purchase more land if the younger boys become interested in joining the family enterprise. A company has already been formed with family members as officers. The ones not involved in day-to-day operations are silent partners.
“Possibly, as the boys come into the business, I might be able to retire,” he says. “If we are successful in building the business up, it should be big enough for the boys,” he says.
Finances will be tight during the building process and industry problems faced by most farmers will not help this process, Beerstra says.
He says import restrictions on egg imports are not working because of the bad distribution of eggs. This bad distribution is hurting the local producer.
He suggests putting the Egg Marketing Board in charge of first receivership of egg imports so they can be controlled better. The federal government now has the right to first receivership.
“If this happens, egg distribution would be more efficient and transportation costs would be cut. The way it is, the control is too remote. The people who control imports should know where they are needed. It would make a real difference to the local producer like myself,” he says.
He says he could not comment on the dairy industry until he has been in it for a longer period but noticed that “things seem to change too fast. You don’t know what regulations you are dealing with from one day to the next.”
Financing It All
Beerstra says he had no trouble arranging the financing for his new combined operations because the bank examined his previous good credit ratings and liked his plan to increase equity and assets.
He says they liked the idea of the family being involved because it meant more security with extra help being necessary, thus keeping down the overhead.
“But things will be tight for a while. I am not worried because I have been in tight situations before. We poured every cent into this operation representing 22 years of hard work,” he says.
“I guess you can say we are starting from the bottom again,” his wife Gertrude adds.
“But you can’t get to the top of something if you don’t start at the bottom first. If you are at the top you can only go down,” she says.