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Young farmer fulfils passions for tourism and ag science

  • 4.5 min read

Peaceful and picturesque Campbellford has become one of Ontario’s most popular day-trip destinations. You can almost feel your blood pressure drop when you arrive for a relaxing picnic along the serene, tree-lined Trent-Severn Waterway that meanders through its core.

And if you’ve stopped at the town’s visitor centre for directions to attractions like the world’s biggest toonie or the 300-foot-long Ranney Gorge Suspension Bridge, odds are you’ve spoken with affable tourism assistant Julie Milne.

That is, provided she was done milking cows.

Farming is a family affair

Hometown proud Julie, 21, hails from nearby Milbrae Farms, a fourth-generation, 40-cow dairy operation started by her great-grandfather William in 1906. The farm is now run by her dad Glenn and mom Ann, both University of Guelph graduates. Julie and her brother Eric, 19, are following in their parents’ footsteps. Julie is entering her final year in the bachelor of science in agriculture program in the Ontario Agricultural College, while Eric is finishing his first year as an Aggie there.

Besides promoting Campbellford at the visitors’ bureau, Julie has been immersed on the farm as the lead milker. It’s a role she embraced – but when Milbrae switched from a traditional tie-stall operation to a robotic milker, retrofitting a solid, century-old barn that was ideally suited for the task, things changed.

“I lost my milking job,” she smiles, “but that’s OK. We all like being on a computer and managing the data that the robot provides. It’s increased our production significantly. Plus, now I get to help with more field work, and the calves.”

Student volunteer

Not that Julie has problems filling her time, particularly in her leadership role at Guelph. There, she’s the class representative on the college’s student federation, which includes serving as the student risk management co-ordinator for the college’s club events.

Her job is to make sure organizers have taken detailed, prescribed measures to address student safety. And in an era of growing accountability, having fun is a serious role.

Promoting local fun

Back home, Julie believes the future of small towns like Campbellford – and the rural areas that surround them – is enhanced through tourism, promotion and marketing.

To that end, as the reigning Campbellford Fair Ambassador, she will compete this summer with up to 70 other contestants for the title of 2019 Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) Ambassador of the Fairs. This year-long position takes the winner across Ontario, representing the CNE and all agricultural fairs at dozens of events.

And what comes after that, and after graduation?          

“I want to be involved in promoting and marketing science,” she says. “Whether it be direct to farmers or with other groups and industries, I believe everyone can benefit from understanding more about how food gets from a research trial to a delicious meal.”

Q&A with Julie

What’s the most significant activity you’ve been involved with lately on your farm?

Renovating the barn to install the robot while maintaining production and cow health. This past year we installed a manure pit to better manage the manure and the nutrients it provides for the crops. The rolling hills of Seymour township around us add to the challenge of getting the right nutrients in the right place at the right time.

When you decided to go to university, why did you choose Guelph?

My parents went there too, so that influenced me, as did the emphasis on research. It’s strong. I like the science, the hard facts and evidence behind modern agriculture. I knew Guelph was a university that shared my interest that way. You see research everywhere, in things like the food price index, for example. And although I like research, I don’t think I’d actually like to do it. I’d rather tell others about it as a science communicator.

What’s been the highlight of your university experience?

Last year, from February through July, I spent a semester in New Zealand studying agricultural science at Lincoln University. It’s a small school 40 minutes or so outside Christchurch, with about 3,000 students. I was one of about 100 exchange students there.

Why New Zealand? That’s a long way away, and a very different type of production.

My dad went there in 2007 as a member of the Advanced Agricultural Leadership Program and talked about it a lot after. And while everything is mainly pastured there, to me, a cow is a cow. You can manage it differently, but it’s still a cow. There are definitely differences, though. There’s no supply management. Farms aren’t as generational as they are here – you’ll see urban people move out to the country and start farming. Maybe that’s why their culture seems less removed from farming than ours. Environmental legislation is strong, and people are very concerned about things like nitrate leaching and waterways.

It sounds like you’ve been bitten by the travel bug. Where do you want to explore next?

I want to travel in Canada more. I haven’t seen much of it, and we have such a beautiful country – there’s the Northern Lights, the wide-open prairies, the coasts. In New Zealand people talked about how gorgeous British Columbia is. I’ve spent six months in New Zealand, but I’ve only been to British Columbia for three days!

From an AgriSuccess article by Owen Roberts.