Dan Wiebe grew up in a farming family and started his own poultry business in 1970. With decades of experience behind him, he has more recently connected with the business as mission community and become a mentor to others. We asked him to share a little about his story and some of his advice for those doing BAM in the agriculture sector.
Dan, could you share a bit about your own experience in the agriculture sector, about your own background and how your family business grew?
I grew up in a family agri-business as the youngest of 7 children. My father, a second generation Canadian, had taken Teachers Training in the 1920s and by 1940 retired from teaching to manage his farm in the prairies of Manitoba, Canada. In 1949 he moved our family to western Canada to begin intensive farming with poultry.
By 1970 I was ready to begin my own poultry operation with one chicken house and 10,000 chickens. This was a time when poultry became the consumer’s more popular choice over beef. Not only was the market expanding rapidly because chicken was a healthy alternative to red meat, but the cost of producing chicken dropped significantly as scientific improvements were introduced in nutrition and selective breeding to bring chickens to market much faster. The use of hormones in chicken production has never been legal in North America so chicken is still the safest and healthiest meat available to consumers.
I grew up observing in our own family business ways to involve all segments of a farming enterprise with the support industry in order to produce a better quality and more efficient end product. I used these lessons to integrate my own farming operation into the only fully vertically integrated chicken farm in Canada, from farm to plate.
From the modest beginning in 1970 we have grown our farms to 25,000 breeder birds that produce fertile eggs, hatch 5 million chicks per year in our modern hatchery, grow out two million meat birds and 300,000 turkeys per year, produce 25,000 tonnes of scientifically balanced feed rations per year in our feed mill, and process all the farm production at our two slaughter plants. Our loyal employees are able to fill the Canadian supply chain with our brand of poultry products and our company has grown to 350 employees with seven operating divisions.
How did you get involved in business as mission?
The organisation Youth With a Mission has been branching out into how to impact all the seven spheres of society. I became interested in business as it relates to mission in the business sphere. In 2007, shortly after I turned 60, I retired as the CEO of the Rossdown Group. We had completed the last phase of our integration goal so the timing was right to put my efforts into helping startup businesses in the agricultural industry. I discovered a real hunger from people in developing countries to not only produce healthy food efficiently but to become role models to their communities and families. Chicken is the most efficient converter of feed grains-to-meat protein of all livestock and it is the most accepted meat in all countries of the world. It was not a big shift to consult and share my knowledge to people in developing countries.
My first public involvement was to give a few presentations at Business as Mission conferences which led, to speaking at YWAM’s business-focused courses, and then eventually to invest in projects in developing countries. I have consulted to, or supported, small startup chicken farms in Uganda and India, a dairy farm in Ethiopia and a coffee shop in India. It is gratifying help others put into practice business principles that I had learned over my 50 years of farming in Canada.
The US ‘Shark Tank’ model of funding by experienced business leaders to small business startups has become popular for BAM people that want to test their projects. I am only able to assist a small number of initiatives so I choose very carefully whom I work with.
What makes agriculture a great sector for BAM people to get into?
The production of food is important anywhere in the world, it is a process that is essential for survival. Producing healthy food efficiently has a great future; there are new advances in science for producing food much more efficiently than in the past and as the population grows we will need all the help we can get to produce food for the masses. As developing countries’ disposable income increases the need for protein increases exponentially. Find an opportunity and fill the opportunity by doing it better than anyone else and the business can be successful.
Where do you typically see BAM practitioners running into trouble with agriculture companies? Are there common mistakes you see people making?
First, start out small, work out the challenges and then expand. If you make mistakes when the business is small the costs are small. By starting small the business startup has an opportunity to establish infrastructure, supply chain and a market. Make use of agricultural extension departments at universities or the Ministry of Agriculture departments of local governments. They can be a great resource in providing advice with local knowledge and information about feed ingredients for livestock.
It is important to have access to the supply of raw ingredients, land, access to markets, labor and capital. Invest profits back into the business so that the ratio of equity to debt increases or, at worst, stays constant. Very accurate record keeping is essential to monitor how well the enterprise is doing and where it can be improved. A constant problem in any business is maintaining a good relationship with stakeholders, staff or partners. A business that neglects relationship-building can flounder.
What solutions or advice do you typically bring to people struggling with a business in the agriculture industry?
If the farming business is crop farming with uncertain weather history, perhaps a green house operation is an answer to minimize risk. If it is livestock industry then a healthy alternative to conventional production may be organic or raised-without-antibiotics. Whichever livestock is produced, it is important to use professional, scientific balanced rations to get the best nutritional gain to maximize profit and minimize cost. Producing food is honorable and treating it as a business is necessary.
How would you encourage a BAM practitioner starting out in agriculture? What advice would you give them?
Start small, keep accurate records, choose the right industry that matches the area where you intend to farm, listen to wise counsel and pray for wisdom to pick the right people to work with or for you. Find a problem, solve a problem and do it better than your competition and you are off to a good start.
With thanks to Dan Wiebe for talking to The BAM Review
Dan Wiebe and his wife Mimi live in British Columbia in the hub of the Fraser Valley, Abbotsford, just north of the US border. They have four children and ten lovely grandchildren. Dan’s entrepreneurial skills were developed in his family’s agriculture-related industry. In 1970 Dan stepped away from the family business to begin his own poultry farming operation, and in 1995 he pioneered an integrated approach to food production. Rossdown Group of Companies has developed into a 100-million dollar agri-business with over 350 employees with 12 locations and 8 divisions in the Fraser Valley of BC. Leaving his sons to run the family business, Dan retired in 2007 to devote time to his passions of learning, missions and evangelism.
Dan has also served on numerous agriculture-related government committees both provincially and nationally. He currently serves his local civic government on an Agriculture Advisory Committee. Dan also serves on the Advisory Board of the YWAM University of the Nations.
Although Dan currently serves his family company as Chairman of the Board he leaves the operation in the capable hands of his sons who continue this honorable tradition of producing food for the world, at the same time influencing lives of people with whom they come in contact.
Image credit: Rossdown