Upon graduating from the University of Guelph’s Ridgetown Campus in 2006, Graham Learn had a pretty good idea what he was getting into when it came to raising pigs. After all, he grew up helping his dad take care of the herd on his family’s farm, so it came naturally to him.
But to those who think he was simply settling for something that was familiar and safe, the 29-year-old producer from Oxford County has these words: “When you’re just out of college trying to look into the future, it’s tough to ignore the opinion that there is no future in farming. But I felt such a strong sense of community and I wanted to pass it on to the next generation. I’m glad I decided to stick it out.”
With markets fluctuating and animal disease a recurring threat, operating a farrow-to-finish farm with 350 sows isn’t for the faint of heart. With the support of his wife Allison – who runs one of the finishing barns and manages the administrative side of the business – and the assistance of his brother Adam, who helps with the pigs and does the crops, Graham quickly learned the value of turning challenges into opportunities.
“I believe having fewer producers has forced us to innovate and become a bit bolder in our approach to farming,” says Learn, who built his own feed mill and whose operation is fully land-based. “We embraced a fairly new concept called batch farrowing, where we basically have two weeks of production in one, allowing smaller- production farms such as ours to be more efficient and competitive.”
“I wish more people from urban areas had knowledge of what we do and how much we care about our animals. They’d also see how sophisticated our operations are and how much investment is required for us to be at the cutting edge in our industry. As I often say to those who ask me about my career choice: People will always need food. You can either import it or produce it. I picked the latter and I’m glad I did.”