Even at the age of three years old, Ryan Mercer knew he wanted to grow up to be a farmer. Having grown up on his parents’ farm just south of Lethbridge, Alberta, tractor and combine rides with dad were a regular source of entertainment as a kid.
Now operating the family farm his father started, Mercer is involved with the Lethbridge Growing Project through the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, where he donates the proceeds of flax crops to help end global hunger. It’s a cause Mercer is passionate about, knowing that he has the opportunity to give to those who do not share the same level of material wealth.
Over the years, Mercer had friends and family members, including his brother-in-law, who had been involved with Foodgrains Bank initiatives, and was aware of the organization prior to his involvement.
“I’ve always known about Foodgrains Bank, but it was Andre [former Alberta regional representative for the Foodgrains Bank] who visited our farm and asked if we would be interested. I definitely jumped on the opportunity, because I’ve always thought that it was a valuable, worthwhile project, and the fact that its Christian-based was important to me as well.”
Shortly after, Mercer was approached by Viterra who offered a partnership to further donations into the Foodgrains Bank system on land he was already farming for, and he jumped at the opportunity. With Viterra supplying some of the field operations, and Mercer sourcing inputs from local suppliers as well as farming the crops, it’s a friendship that has grown since its conception.
“I helped build that elevator, so I’ve always had an affinity to the elevator itself, to the site, and then since Viterra bought the elevator we work with them a lot. We deal with all the team there at Viterra Lethbridge and we talk to them often about advice and cropping advice, marketing advice, and then of course we do the same Foodgrains Bank project together.”
It’s dealing with the people that makes his job so enjoyable, says Mercer, as well as operating all the farm equipment. From colleagues to neighbours, suppliers, sponsors and customers, the community aspect of the work is something that cannot be undermined.
“We can’t do it without the sponsors – Viterra, Richardson, Nutrien, Parrish and Heimbecker and UFA – it’s a really integral part to make it all possible. If everybody contributes a little, it ends up being a lot at the end of the day, so it doesn’t put too much burden on any one particular link in that chain. By everybody pitching in and helping out, whether its supplying crop inputs or doing some marketing or helping with the actual crop operations, at the end of the day it’s a large achievement by everybody putting in a little bit of time and effort and financial resources.”
Throughout the entire growing season, the Lethbridge growing project field only received an inch and 4/10 of rain – but the flax harvest isn’t completely finished yet.
“We were very dry this year. The yields were a little bit disappointing – not that our expectations were very high, because we knew that we would not have a really good crop this year. But the quality is good and the pricing is good, so those are two factors that are going to help.”
Despite somewhat of an average season due to lack of rainfall, Mercer is holding onto the hope there will be some rain and wet snow to replenish the sub-moisture in preparation for next year’s crop, before the ground freezes. It’s a balance of always dealing with the current season while planning ahead for the next, he says.
And whether the harvest is productive or disappointing, Mercer finds the most joy in bringing people together for a good and worthwhile cause – the mission to end world hunger.
“There’s a lot of hunger in the world and we’re so richly blessed here in Canada beyond measure, so it’s a way we can share a little bit with the rest of the world that has much less than we do. It’s a great way to bring friends and neighbours and crop suppliers, input suppliers, grain marketers, the whole agricultural industry, people of all ages together for a great cause. Even though you may be competitors in the industry, it’s a nice way to take your hat off for a minute and just work together for a good cause.”