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Ag up-and-comer’s love of machinery and family sets path to success

  • 4.5 min read

Like many farm kids, Gerrit Pastink grew up around machinery, on his family’s sprawling dairy farm, Henria Holsteins, near Conn, Ont.

But Gerrit wasn’t content to just be around it – he wanted a deeper dive, to actually get inside it and see what made it tick.

His passion for machinery grew through his teens, leading him to a co-op work term at a nearby farm equipment dealership, Robert’s Farm Equipment, in his final year of high school.

And by then, iron – the kind that goes into farm equipment – was permanently flowing through his veins. Ultimately, that passion led him to the Olds College two-year agricultural machinery technician program at Olds, Alta. Now 19 years old, he’s in his final year.

“I decided to go to Olds College because there aren’t any educational institutions in Ontario that offer the kind of specialized training that Olds does,” says Gerrit. “The program was highly recommended by mechanics I met during my co-op at Robert’s. They were impressed with the program’s diversity and applicability.”

Gerrit’s parents Henk and Maria Pastink supported his decision to seek higher education.  But they and sister Reba, 21, will be happy when he returns.

Grand, and growing

With a herd of 600 cows and a land base of 3,200 acres, Henria Holsteins is one of Grey County’s biggest dairy farms. And it’s still expanding – a new young heifer facility has just been completed, making this bustling farm poised for even more growth.

The new heifer facility adds to Henria Holsteins’ stunning appearance. The farm features a state-of-the-art barn with a 50-cow rotary milking parlour with brick decking. The streamlined, custom-built barn by renowned builder John Ernewein is impeccably maintained, inside and out.

At Henria Holsteins, all family members have specific roles. Reba looks after the nursery full time, Maria is the herdsman and Henk is the main farm operator. They hire an external bookkeeper, six full-time milkers, two calf feeders, a full-time TMR (total mixed ration) operator and six full-time and three part-time outside crew for crops and heifers.

Farm tech attracts younger generation

The Pastinks count on networking and on industry specialists for ideas, information and support. They use Twitter and other online resources such as the Journal of Dairy Science to learn about innovations and new practices. 

“We want to keep learning and investing in new products and technology so we don't get left behind,” Henk says. “It helps keep the next generation interested, and that’s important to us.”

“I was lucky to grow up on a farm, and gain experience at school as well as at part-time jobs while I’m in Alberta,” Gerrit says. “I can use a lot of this knowledge and these skills back home.”

Q&A with Gerrit

What kind of educational activities are you involved in?

Preparing and overhauling engines, mechanical and power shift transmissions, tractor hydraulic and electrical systems, tillage machinery and spraying and harvesting equipment.  

What’s been the high point so far?

A six-week assignment with a classmate to strip down a New Holland T4 to the block.

What do you like most about the program?

The program is mostly hands-on – I’ve found that I learn best through physical application, so this program is right for me. 

What do you hope to do with your education?

Plans call for me to become our farm’s equipment manager, and someday, to take over the farm with my sister Reba.

On the farm, what do you like most about dairy production?

My favourite part about dairy production is the full-circle aspect. I like that we grow our own crops to feed our cows and in turn, the manure becomes nutrients to feed the next crop. And I really enjoy long hours spent in the fields or the shop.

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned from working with your family on the farm?

That you can always rely on each other. When my mom and sister are both away, my dad or I can do an evening barn check for them. If we are short hands in the field, Reba is available to help. Another important lesson we live out is to take time to discuss what’s happening in each of our respective areas and what our future plans are. You can quite often find us at a table of our local restaurant discussing, drawing, planning and laughing!

How will your role as the farm’s equipment manager change as a result of future automation?

More automation means things are becoming more complex. It’s almost impossible to fix a tractor with just a couple of wrenches now. A machine that doesn’t require any services or repairs is unheard of, so I think there’s still a lot of job security on the farm.

What skills do modern farmers need the most?

Experience. It’s also really important to have people and management skills. A big part of the day is spent with people, like employees and industry representatives who we need to be able to get advice from. I find it really important to have money management skills. Luckily my sister and I have practiced this with our small heifer-raising business … keeping receipts, sticking to a budget and tracking expenses are key.    

What do you do for fun?

I love being on the large equipment at home, and I have a Ski-Doo for taking time off in the winter and going sledding with friends. 

From an AgriSuccess article by Owen Roberts.