Finding balance on the farm: Dad, Dairy farmer, and ATB Director

By ATB Financial 4 June 2021 4 min read

November 2017 was a milestone month for third-generation dairy farmer Dylan Wyntjes. It was the month he and his wife Nicky launched Prairie Hill Dairy Farm in Red Deer County—and the month he started working at ATB. For the next year, until the birth of their son, they both worked in town and managed their 50-cow dairy operation at the same time.

“As long as I can remember, I wanted to live on the farm, work on the farm, milk cows, have cows,” he says. “I love working in the fields. You have to like it, otherwise it doesn’t work.”

Getting started on their own

After attending Olds College, Dylan returned to the family farm, married Nicky, who grew up in Red Deer, then they branched out on their own. Their operation, Prairie Hill, is one of about 500 dairy farms in Alberta which produce a combined total of 2.2 million litres of milk per day. Across Canada, the dairy industry employs 221,000 people and contributes $19.9 billion towards the national GDP.

Dairies run every day, all year round. It’s a difficult but rewarding lifestyle for those who choose it, with many following in the footsteps of their parents or partner.

Nicky feeding the calves at Prairie Hill Dairy Farm.

Nicky plays an integral role in running the farm, and is a full business partner, handling all the bookkeeping and banking, as well as helping in the day-to-day operations—including raising their young son. Her involvement makes it possible for Dylan to attend to his ATB clients in his role as a supply management segment specialist.

Everyone works hard and makes sacrifices to keep a farm running, and having a team behind you is vital, Dylan says. “To me, family and community are hugely important. The support is always there from your neighbours and friends. Everyone always watches out for each other, helping whenever somebody needs it, even without asking.”

Balancing on-farm and off-farm with the help of technology

Nicky and Dylan's shared commitment to the farming lifestyle plays a large part in the operation’s viability — but after careful consideration, they decided a robotic milker would be a valuable addition to the farm. The stand-alone unit works 24 hours a day, every day, handling up to 60 cows.

The couple decided on the robotic milker when they were planning their farm, and completed a cost-benefit analysis of robotic versus conventional milking systems. “It actually wasn’t that much more than putting a parlour in, and it would allow me to keep working in town, offsetting some of the start-up costs of the farm,” Dylan says.

Dylan operating robotic milker.

The technology frees up an additional four to five hours a day, giving Dylan the time he needs to focus on his role at ATB. A typical day sees Dylan completing an hour or two of morning chores—feeding the cows, scraping the barn, preparing straw bedding, feeding calves—before logging in to his first video call with his farmer clients to talk finances, lending, growth and succession.

While he brings insights from his hands-on farming experience to work, Dylan also applies his ATB experience to his own operation. “I try to look at my farm through the same lens and make decisions that way. It lends a lot of perspective to what we are doing, and if certain things make sense,” Dylan says. “What is our position? Do we debt service? Do we have enough spare money at the end of the day to push the farm forward?”

Farmers helping farmers

With one foot in each world—farming and banking—Dylan finds it easier to relate to his clients: “I know where they’re coming from, farms are complex businesses that are often at the mercy of things we can’t control. It's good to have partners who understand this industry and what it takes.”

Dylan on the phone with a client. 

For example, Dylan identifies rising capital costs, from land and quota, to equipment and building, a barrier for agribusinesses looking to expand. The key to managing the risk is ensuring the financing is appropriate, timely and doesn’t leave the producer with a debt load they can’t carry, Dylan says. “You need to weigh out the costs of each farm management decision. There is no silver bullet. There are so many moving parts on these farms, each decision affects other parts of the operation.”

For the new generation, challenges around high capital requirements represent a significant barrier and come either with a high debt load or involvement of the previous generation. All the hard work helps Albertans feed their families, but often is undervalued, Dylan says.

“I think agriculture is a huge part of Alberta, a huge part of our history and a huge part of our economy. In this modern world, it’s the unsung hero of the province: even through the pandemic, people go to the grocery store and the food is there,” he says.

The Wyntjes family at their dairy operation. 

All roads lead back to the farmer

His unique mix of financial and agricultural experience and expertise lends Dylan credibility with his clients, but ultimately, it’s his sincere desire to help them succeed that builds trusting relationships. “The biggest thing that helps clients trust us is understanding their business and actually caring about what they are trying to achieve,” he says. “And doing what we say we’re going to do. At ATB, we see ourselves as partners to our clients, not just advisors. We want to help them succeed.”

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