Alberta farm CEO puts her heart into it
Every corporate leader needs a vision – a guiding idea they can aim towards and rally others around. For the past 16 years, Elaine Bellamy has run Will Farms near Rosebud, Alta., according to a maxim her father passed along.
“My dad taught me something vitally important,” Elaine says. “That was, to love the land and throw all your energy into growing the best crops possible.”
Division of labour
The operation spans 10,000 acres of crop production with wheat representing two-thirds and canola one-third. Elaine is chief executive officer, her husband Keith is responsible for operations, and daughter Heidi Bell and son-in-law Justin are also involved. With a farm this size, the division of responsibilities is important.
“I’m the problem-solver,” Elaine explains. “That’s the job of the CEO. You have to be passionate about its success. I have a tremendous asset in my husband, who has always been involved on the operational side. Together, we’re a great team. We’ve carried on from my dad and we just manage it and love doing it.”
Under Elaine’s leadership, as the third generation on this land, Will Farms is built on high quality crop production and four overarching values:
Elaine is proud to be a canola grower. One key reason is the proven health properties of canola oil and its acceptance by nutritionists, food processors and consumers around the world.
“I love growing canola because its oil has such healthy aspects,” she explains. “Most Albertans know canola oil is healthy, but I think it’s vital we educate all consumers and share scientific information to counter some of the fear-mongering out there.”
With her father’s ‘love the land’ advice top-of-mind, Elaine manages crop production in a way that benefits her family, the land and society at large. The fine details of agronomic management are carefully observed, resulting not just in high-yielding wheat and canola crops, but a thriving farm ecosystem, too.
“One important environmental aspect is my 10,000 acres of healthy plants growing here every year,” she says. “Can you imagine how much pure, clean oxygen my plants are releasing into the atmosphere?”
From the CEO’s chair, farm safety has become more important in recent years. With new health and safety guidelines to observe, ensuring employee safety and managing the risk of corporate liability has never been more important. Their on-farm safety plan is the blueprint.
“It’s simple things, like being sure fire extinguishers are certified, having first aid kits in all equipment, caged ladders on our bins, and that bins have temperature sensors so I don’t have to ask employees to climb and probe bins.”
On a recent summer day, something came to Will Farms that’s been scarcer this season than Elaine would like: a good soaking rain. As the skies opened, her two-year-old granddaughter let out a whoop and ran around the house. It was a moment that took Elaine back to her own childhood.
“I remember growing up seeing Dad standing in the shop looking out, watching the rain fall with this great contented look on his face,” she says.
Like any Canadian farm, Will Farms sees its share of challenges. Issues like global trade tensions, taxation, grain transportation, politics and a host of other concerns are never far away.
Still, Elaine figures that simply complaining about things isn’t going to change much. You have to get involved and speak up. She spent six years as an Alberta Canola Producers Commission director, an experience she feels expanded her knowledge and ultimately made her a better farmer.
Transition in progress
As the leader of this multi-generational farm, Elaine’s eye is always on the future. Her daughter is busy raising two young children, and Elaine recognizes a certain family passion in the next generation.
She notes Heidi was always intensely interested in the workings of the farm. A few years back, when the farm was short of workers, she stepped forward to operate the equipment at seeding and harvest.
Just as Elaine Bellamy has carried the torch her father passed to her, she’ll do her utmost to help the fourth generation, and a very young fifth generation, live the farming life and enjoy its rewards.
“The most important part of any transition is transferring the love for each field and each crop we grow,” Elaine says. “Running a farm is the best life you can have. Ours is a different set up, but I want Heidi to feel the pride that I feel in being part of Will Farms. And, I want her husband and her little girls to feel they are part of a wonderful farming family. I think we’re succeeding.”
From an AgriSuccess article (January 2019) by Kieran Brett.