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by BETTER FARMING STAFF
A Wolfe Island couple achieved the top spot Tuesday night in a competition that recognizes outstanding young farmers.
Jason and Christina Pyke, who farm bison on the largest of the 1,000 Islands, are Ontario’s 2009 Outstanding Young Farmers. Judgment criteria included: agricultural career progress; soil, water and energy conservation practices; financial and management practices; and community participation.
The Pykes were among six couples and individuals who made presentations about their farm ventures at the competition’s awards ceremony, held in London.
The Pykes, who both grew up on dairy farms, say they became involved in bison production shortly after graduation from the Ontario Agricultural College at the University of Guelph.
They encountered the animals during a six-week trip across Canada and the United States. They bought 30 in 1996; today, their herd numbers about 130 and they anticipate 30-40 calves will be born this spring.
“The one thing that we like about bison is that they are very low maintenance and extremely hardy as well,” says Christina Pyke, noting the animals stay out all winter and grow thick winter coats. But they’re not domesticated and therefore need properly designed handling equipment.
The couple sells bison products, which include meat cuts and custom-made leather products, at markets in Kingston and Ottawa. They also supply restaurants, health food stores and meat shops in the Kingston area. They plan to open an on-farm store in the spring.
“We have found that the demand for bison has continued to rise every season,” says Christina.
With the help of Jason’s father and brother, the couple grows 700 acres of corn, soybeans and small grains using no-till. They have also recently agreed to lease land to a wind developer for four 80-metre wind turbines that are part of an 86-wind turbine power generation project.
In 2002, Jason participated in a local Hay West project that donated 1,104 round bales of hay to western Canadian farmers tackling drought.
The couple competes with six other regional winners in competitions across Canada at the national competition in Ottawa in December.
The national and provincial awards programs, intended to recognize farmers’ achievements, are modeled after programs in the United States. The national program debuted in 1980 organized by the Canadian Junior Chamber/Jaycees.
This year’s 22 nominations for the Ontario regional competition was a record breaker say its organizers.
The other Ontario finalists were Kevin and Jo-Ann MacLean, Napanee; Shawn and Tara McRae, Bainsville; Jeff and Eleanor Robinson, Osgoode; Edwin Sterrenburg, Stayner; and Len and Tracey Vis, Jerseyville.
Three judges evaluated the finalists. Nominees must be between the ages of 18 and 39, operate a farm and derive a minimum of two thirds of their income from farming. BF
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