indicatorGrowth Management

Unearthing success at North Paddock Farms

By April 2024 edition of Business in Calgary, and Business in Edmonton. 10 April 2024 5 min read

Alison Davies, owner of North Paddock Farms, stands with her ATB Relationship Manager in her facility

Since the 1990s, Alison Davie watched her parents launch and grow North Paddock Farms. They started with sugar beets but in 2000, the farm began growing potatoes. Inspired, Davie obtained an agribusiness degree with the intent to run the farm someday.

“Someday” came sooner than anticipated.

Davie’s parents moved to Nicaragua to work with La Semilla Ministries’ agri-development program. While her parents come back annually to help Davie and her team with the harvest, at 23-years old she and her husband Michael assumed ownership and control of running North Paddock Farms.

“That definitely came with some challenges; it was a few bumpy years in the beginning,” she reminisces.

At a time when many people their age were still figuring out their life’s path, they suddenly had a business to run and employees to manage – full-time.

That wasn’t the only adjustment. The Davies took over in 2013 and shortly after disaster struck, making 2014 North Paddock Farms’ worst harvest on record.

“We had eight inches of rain in the fall and then a killing frost. All harvest we were battling mud and rot. Once harvest was done, we turned around and started washing and shipping right away. I still remember sitting on top of a pile of potatoes with my husband and a few of our key employees thinking, ‘What can we do?’”

Compounding the issue was something all too familiar for the women-led business. People tended to overlook Davie, discount her thoughts and trying to go over her head to talk to her father. Despite being raised in the business and being familiar with the farming community, it took some time to gain acceptance and to have her voice heard.

“It takes a little while for people to warm up to you when you're young and also a woman,” she says. “People weren't really sure how to take me at first. However, as people got to know me and what I can bring to the table, it got easier over time. I decided to just focus on being the best farmer I could be and everyone else could just ‘get over it.’

Her skills, leadership, team and success with the farm rapidly helped the naysayers ‘get over it,’ and so did W by ATB, the financial institution’s initiative dedicated to powering possibilities for women in business.
W by ATB delivers gender-intelligent practices, solutions and services designed to overcome gender bias across industries.

“I choose to work with W by ATB because my relationship manager, Ryan, likes to come out and understand our operation. Every farm is unique and because he’s been to the farm so often, he knows our crops, our cash flow cycles and our family dynamics,” says Davie. “Since he wants to understand us, we want to work with him. I also appreciate how ATB brings awareness and understanding to the challenges that women face in business.”

She continues, “Additionally, ATB empowers me by helping me have a successful business. I want to run a profitable farm with my husband and with our crew. ATB gives us access to timely funding and that's a big part of how we succeed because I might need to act quickly on land or equipment as the opportunity arises.”

Despite weather challenges, North Paddock’s potato acres have doubled and the Davies have diversified the farm. In addition to the signature potato crop, North Paddock also grows timothy hay, seed canola, wheat, flax, faba beans and garlic.

Davie also champions the role of local, Alberta crops and their importance in the provincial, national and international food chain.

In 2023, the agri-food sector accounted for 10 per cent of Alberta’s international merchandise exports, amounting to $17.7 billion. Alberta ranks third in agricultural product exports in Canada, following Ontario and Saskatchewan. The province leads in potato and barley production, ranks second in wheat and canola production and holds the top position in beef production.

The primary agriculture sector contributed $6.8 billion to Alberta's real GDP in 2022, while food and beverage manufacturing generated $4.2 billion. The agri-food sector's economic impact surpasses several other industries, including information and cultural industries, accommodation and food services, utilities and arts and recreation.

Approximately 75,000 individuals were employed in primary agriculture and food and beverage manufacturing in 2022, representing 3.1 per cent of Alberta's total employment. The Camrose-Drumheller region notably exhibits a higher proportion, with primary agriculture accounting for approximately 10 per cent of total employment.

Moreover, in 2023, food manufacturing in Alberta yielded over $2 billion monthly, constituting more than 23 per cent of the province's manufacturing sales. With an annualized revenue of $24 billion, Alberta possesses the third largest food and beverage manufacturing sector in Canada, trailing behind Ontario and Quebec.

Davie helps consumers locally and abroad understand the importance of Alberta agriculture, and she does this, in part, by leveraging social media. Her modern approach shows short but impactful, punchy messages combined with colourful photos on Facebook and Instagram that immediately grab and hold attention. From veggie close ups to important information like the value of snow packs for irrigation, from conference coverage to showing off farm tech and instruments, the North Paddock Farms’ social feeds are fun, engaging and educational.

That is not the only way Davie helps promote the importance of Alberta agriculture. She encourages initiatives to inspire and support more women entrepreneurs to attend conferences and events.

“I’d love to see continued support for women to access training, attend conferences and other growth activities. I have attended the Advancing Women in Agriculture conference in the past and I found it a great encouragement for stepping outside my comfort zone and networking with likeminded individuals.”

Davie has overcome it all from a trial-by-fire start in the world of business to gender-based obstacles and even facing down the uncontrollable challenge of bad farming weather. Through it all she took each hurdle and turned it into a building block, growing and nurturing a diverse farm that provides local employment, shines as an example of a successful women-led business and champions Alberta agriculture to the world. With partners like her husband, team and W by ATB by her side, she invites you to watch and see what grows next at North Paddock Farms.

Learn more on Facebook and Instagram (@northpaddockfarms).

From the April 2024 edition of Business in Calgary, and Business in Edmonton. Shared with permission.

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