Steward of the land, focused on the future Early one evening in 1978, Brian Otto and a few neighboring farmers met at the farm of Ike Lanier to discuss the marketing of their winter wheat.
“The outcome of that small meeting was the formation of the Lethbridge Terminal Winter Wheat Association. Our goal was to establish better marketing opportunities for the region’s winter wheat producers and we accomplished that.”
That meeting was Brian’s first foray into working on behalf of Canadian grain producers. Now nearly 40 years later, he’s still hard at work.
Following that initial farmhouse gathering, Brian, Ike, and four others worked to create the research-focused Alberta Winter Wheat Producers Commission, where Brian served two terms, two years as chairman. In the years since, he’s served as a director with Alberta Barley Commission and Western Grains Research Foundation, as well as president of Western Barley Growers Association (WBGA) and chaired the Wheat Advisory Committee for WGRF.
On behalf of the WBGA, Brian was invited and chaired meetings focused on the formation of an organization that could speak for barley at a national level. And that’s where his current journey is today.
“We had to identify all the national players in each sector of the barley value chain,” he says. “It wasn’t just producer groups, but also our industry partners, grain handlers, malt, research, seed and life sciences, brewing, feed and feed processing. We formed the Barley Council of Canada (BCC) in 2013 and it was through the cooperation of everyone around that table that created the council.”
The group collectively agreed that the board of directors include representation from British Columbia to the Maritimes with seven directors from producer-farm organizations and seven from the industry. “The board shows the spirit of cooperation throughout the barley value chain. This is an organization that can effectively speak nationally for our barley industry,” Brian says. Current BCC executive director Phil de Kemp has known Brian for many years, and says his thoughtful and direct approach is just one of the many strengths he brings to the table.
“As far as the barley industry goes, Brian is committed, he’s passionate about it and he’s completely unselfish in his contributions,” Phil says. “His concern lies further than the here and now. He is consistently looking to the future and where we need to go.”
That forward-thinking approach also extends to his farm, Provident Farm Ltd., which Brian and his wife Carolyn have operated for 43 years. Near Warner, AB with a view of the Sweet Grass Hills in the SE, they grow 4,300 acres of pulses, safflower, yellow mustard, winter, durum and spring wheat with 1,000 acres dedicated to malt barley.
“Barley is a natural rotational crop to break the cycle between oil seeds and pulses,” he says. “It grows well in southern Alberta and we are able harvest it early, often an advantage for malt companies. The other advantage is its reliable financial return. On our farm it fits exceptionally well with all our crops.”
Established in 1907, the Otto farm has always operated with an eye to progression and preservation of the land for its future generations. Brian adopted direct-seeding techniques over 25years ago. He has also cooperated with the Lethbridge Research Center for over 30 years, setting aside plots of land for winter wheat variety trials.
“Agriculture has always been on the forefront of implementing new technologies and techniques to improve production and sustainability,” Brian says. “We’ve always embraced building our operation, maintaining soil quality and the health of our farm. Good land stewardship has always been our focus.”
The future of Provident Farm rests in the hands of the Otto’s’ younger son Andrew, a heavy duty mechanic, and his wife Shauna as the farm transitions to them. The couple and their three young daughters will be the fifth generation of Ottos on the farm. Brian and Carolyn’s older son Simon is a veterinary epidemiologist with Alberta Agriculture and Forestry’s Animal Health and Assurance Branch. He is transitioning to a faculty position in Food Safety with the University of Alberta in January of 2017.Their daughter Catriona is a partner at Field Law in Calgary.
“It’s time to start slowing down a little,” Brian explains. “Carolyn and I will continue to live on the farm and help Andrew. Today, I’m having a lot of fun working with Andrew on the farm and focusing on the BCC, being there from the very beginning, getting it off the ground and now, watching it grow.”