By 5 a.m. Wednesday, Jeremy Rouw had his eye on the thunderclouds gathering above the mountains near his family’s dairy farm on Walcott Road.
Rain had already wiped out plans to make hay at a nearby farm the previous day, and Rouw was hoping for a sunnier start.
That’s a typical morning for a B.C. farmer, maybe, but not your average 20 year-old.
Rouw is one of a handful of Bulkley Valley farm kids looking to get their start in an industry where the average farmer is more twice their age.
“It’s a little different,” he says. “It’s more of the older generation right now, and we’re kind of barging our way in.”
Rouw just graduated from Lakeland College, an agricultural school near Vermillion, Alberta.
Jeremy’s dad, who also went to Lakeland, likes to say that his son chose it because of the pretty girl on the college brochure.
“That’s his story,” he says, laughing.
But judging by the scholarship Rouw earned there last year, let alone his 5 a.m. Wednesday, it seems farming was the bigger draw.
At Lakeland, Rouw studied animal science, covering everything from anatomy to animal nutrition and disease.
“It’s a lot of hands-on stuff,” he said.
In his senior year, Rouw’s class broke into beef, sheep and dairy teams and ran a student-managed farm.
Rouw took charge of dairy production.
At one point, when the students over-shipped their milk quota, he brokered a deal with a neighbouring dairy to lease some of the quota they weren’t using.
And while Lakeland instructors didn’t set their work hours, Rouw said he and his roommate would be in the barn at midnight if they had to.
“You get what you put into it,” he said.
Set on rolling prairie hills just a half hour from the Saskatchewan border, Rouw said Vermillion farming is a far cry from what he knows in Quick.
“They can build their barn and have their land right around them, whereas we’ve got the mountains and the creeks to fight with, trees to drive around,” he said.
Alberta dairies also have lower shipping costs, he said, noting most grain gets hauled here from Westlock, Alberta while Bulkley Valley milk has to be shipped either to Edmonton or to Abbotsford.
Those factors partly explain why Alberta dairies are nearly double the size of the national average.
While Rouw enjoyed seeing how Alberta farmers run their dairies, he is hoping that upcoming free-trade talks don’t shut down the Canadian milk quota system that is so vital to dairy farmers here.
“I think it’s good for Canada to control supply and demand in our own market,” he said.
“We can keep our dairies small, like family farms, rather having to upgrade to 500 cows just to make it.”
At $40,000 per cow, Rouw said Canada’s milk quota isn’t an easy thing to start on, even with the first-year break for starting farmers.
“A million dollars doesn’t seem like so much anymore.”
But working at his family’s Goldoni Dairy and Robin Creek farm, Rouw seems on track.
And whatever his dad might say, when asked about the number of girls studying at Lakeland, Rouw did admit they made up at least half the class.
“There’s lots of interest there,” he said. “On the prairies, everyone really likes the farm life.”