One on One with Mack Emiry

‘You get more from being involved than you spend giving to it.’

By Emily Croft

When Mack Emiry, a dairy farmer from Massey, found out he was selected as a successful nominee to be inducted into the Ontario Agricultural Hall of Fame this year, he was surprised.

“I was dumbfounded when I realized I was nominated, and then again when I was selected,” says Mack.

“I’m not different from a lot of people who have farmed, and still do farm, in this province.”

Despite Mack’s humble reaction to joining the hall of fame in June, his contributions to agriculture in Ontario have been widespread and have influenced every facet of the industry.

He has been involved in many organizations, locally and provincially, including the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association, the provincial Nutrient Management Advisory Committee, and the Manitoulin West Sudbury Milk Producers’ Association.

Along with all his involvement, Mack shared his passion for agriculture with his children, who are all now involved in the industry.

Generations of farmers

Mack has been a dairy farmer his whole life.

“I grew up on the farm.

“My grandfather was the first on the Massey property in 1913, then my parents continued from there. My brother and I took over the farm from about 1958, and we farmed as partners for many years. My sons have continued it now.”

Mack Emiry Working in Dairy Barn
    Logan Emiry photo

Through all the contributions and achievements in Mack’s career, he says the thing he is most proud of is that all his children, and some of his grandchildren, are involved in agriculture.

“I am proud of the fact that all three of our sons and our daughter are all involved in farming in Ontario at the production level.

“That was not the objective we started off with. I never said to any of them, ‘You’re going to be a farmer,’ but I am quite proud of the fact that they are all involved, as well as my grandsons.”

When Mack reached the end of high school he considered going away to university. But as circumstances changed and he was needed on the farm, he came home after completing Grade 13.

“I finished Grade 13 at the local high school. At the time, I had thoughts of attending the University of Guelph, but the situation at home didn’t lend itself to that being possible.

Mack Emiry loading a TMR mixer
    Mack loads the TMR mixer at Borealis Dairy. -Logan Emiry photo

“I never worked anywhere, other than farming. I never took or had the opportunity to try anything else, but I was good with that.”

Although Mack’s formal education ended in Grade 13, his career has been abundant with learning opportunities through his involvement in his community.

Teamwork and support from his brother made it possible for the farm work to continue while Mack attended events and meetings around the province.

You get back what you give

Mack has been involved in the local and agricultural community since he was young.

“I got involved in loads of stuff,” says Mack.

“I became a 4-H leader and got involved in the local ag society and Massey Fair right from the beginning, and it continued over the years. I also got involved with the Soil and Crop Improvement Association, initially at local level and then moved into the provincial level as well.

“I was locally the secretary of the dairy producers committee and attended directors’ meetings with Dairy Farmers of Ontario and the Federation of Agriculture. I got involved with the Manitoulin North Shore Federation of Agriculture and was secretary until about two years ago.

“It was the local Federation of Agriculture that put forth my nomination for the Ontario Agricultural Hall of Fame.”

Through their involvement, the Emiry family also became avid supporters of programs and education for improving soil management. This interest evolved through connections to the Soil and Crop Improvement Association, as well as participation and planning for local crop projects.

Mack says his mantra when it comes to soil health is “to use soil to the best of our ability, and then leave it in improved condition for next generation.

“It is kind of a broad statement,” Mack notes.

“If you asked what it means, I’m not sure I could tell you exactly. We didn’t always understand what was going on with soil and probably still don’t. That’s what we need to carry on looking at and we need to take care of it.”

When he was the secretary of the local Soil and Crop Improvement Association, the group was exploring no-till and reduced tillage and was developing programs to assist farmers in adopting improved soil management strategies. Mack describes these as “the good years.”

Although he had not previously thought of being involved at a higher level, his work with his local Soil and Crop Improvement Association then led to a position with the provincial association.

To continue to contribute to soil improvement, Mack and his wife Beth established the ‘Emiry Family Prize in Soil Management’ – a scholarship at the University of Guelph for the student who achieves the highest grade in the fourth-year Soil Management course.

Mack’s involvement has had far-reaching benefits to Ontario agriculture.

“It’s one of those things where you get a whole lot more out of being involved than you feel that you have contributed yourself,” Mack explains, sharing that he appreciates every day in agriculture.

“Agriculture is interesting. Not every day is a great day – but all-in-all there are great opportunities. They can become challenges, but it is always interesting.

“I’ve not ever gotten up and went, ‘Jeez, I have to go to work today.’”

Mack advises young farmers to stay involved in their community and industry.

“If there are openings to be involved in an organization, do that, because there are great opportunities that come from that.

“You get more from being involved than you spend giving to it. Farming is changing, so you have to stay up to date on what’s happening as time goes by.”

The changing industry

As farming practices and technology evolve rapidly, staying involved in organizations and committees are an opportunity to keep up on the latest advancements.

Mack has seen many changes in agriculture during his career. He says one of the most interesting innovations has been in equipment.

“I never handled horses, but my father did, and I saw our farm being farmed with horses in my lifetime. I was around when our first tractor was purchased in 1949 or 1950, and I was old enough to run it two or three years later. We’ve gone from milking by hand to automatic equipment.”

Mack also believes that soil management has improved alongside advances in equipment and technology.

“The technology available to manage and understand soils and what is in it has changed as well. I’ve seen tile drainage going in – that’s all happened on our property since 1970. We don’t farm anything without tile now. It made a remarkable difference right away, but has caused continuing improvement as well,” explains Mack.

“It’s remarkable the speed of the change.”

He also believes this rapid rate of change will continue.

“My mother, who has been passed for a number of years, said a few times that ‘there will never be a generation that will see the change I have seen,’” Mack says.

“She came through pre-First World War time and pre-automobile times and lived until people were flying in jet planes around the world. She saw all the changes at the farm level and community level as well.

“But I don’t think you can make that statement, really – there will always be change and you can’t really guess what all the changes will be.”

Still involved

After many years of industry involvement, Mack describes himself as ‘semi-retired.’ He still spends several hours a day on one of his sons’ dairy farms but has taken a step back from participating in organizations.

After the COVID-19 pandemic caused many organizations to pause meetings or move them online, Mack stepped back and doesn’t anticipate returning. He has passed on the torch.

Instead, Mack looks forward to an upcoming trip to British Columbia, and gardening and reading farming magazines at home. He also stays busy with the dairy operation.

“Right now, I spend several hours a day with Keith at Borealis Dairy, which is newly established on part of the property that was Emiry Farms.”

He explains that Emiry Farms was taken up by his other son, Alan, when the farm transitioned a few years ago. Alan continues to dairy farm as well.

Mack looks after preparing feed for the milking herd, dry cows, and heifers at Borealis Dairy – a commitment that varies in time from day to day.

“A lot of my friends say I haven’t retired. I thought at one point I’d be happy to retire, but I don’t think I would be. I’m happy to be involved and it seems to be needed.” BF

Post new comment

3 + 3 =