Fred and Alice Perkins were pioneers who came to Alberta in 1908 in search of new opportunities for their family. They set in motion a tradition of farming and a commitment to pioneering that endures almost a century later in the heart and mind of their grandson, Bryan Perkins. Their legacy continues in the remarkable energy, intelligence and innovation with which Bryan approaches his life’s work. From a farm rooted in history, he has helped foster a promising future for agriculture in the province.
Bryan was born on June 22, 1946 in Edmonton and raised on the family farm outside Wainwright. He enjoyed a typical rural upbringing, working the farm with parents Jack and Vern and siblings Susan and Mark, and taking part in scouting and local sports. He attended the University of Alberta where he earned a B.Sc. in Agriculture in 1969. He began farming that year and married his wife, Sharon. Sharon taught school before turning her attention to raising their young family and helping out with their farming operation and fertilizer and chemical business.
In addition to running the farm, Bryan kept busy as a volunteer. He served with the Wainwright Credit Union, the Wainedge Gas Co-op, on the board of Grace United Church, as a trainer, coach and manager of local hockey and swimming teams and as an active volunteer for minor and amateur hockey organizations. Bryan’s keen business sense, natural diplomacy and strong public speaking skills also made him a valuable asset to a number of industry organizations. He served as chairman of the Agricultural Diversification Alliance, vice president of the United Grain Growers, an early member and then president of the Western Hog Growers Association, director of United Oilseeds Products, board member of the Alberta Agricultural Research Institute and chairman of the board of Fletcher’s Fine Foods.
As Bryan’s participation in the industry grew, so too did Perkins Farm. The family sold its fertilizer and chemical business in the mid-1980’s and focused on the pig and grain operation. In the mid-1990’s, Bryan began developing an innovative and successful approach to farming that would have a positive effect on hundreds of family farms across Alberta.
Today, Perkins Farms Inc. includes land farmed by Bryan and Sharon, their children, Bryan’s brother Mark and family, Sharon’s brother-in-law Matt and family, and their close friend Ken Wasmuth. They are all part of a unique organization called Sunhaven Farms, which is made up of approximately 150 farm families. Each family operation maintains its independence while also belonging to one of four local groupings of farms that work together. These four groups, in turn, make up the larger Sunhaven Farms. Grain grown by group members goes to Venture Feedmill at Irma, which is run on a non-profit basis by Sunhaven. The group also includes individuals and local businesses. Bryan serves as President of Sunhaven, as well as each of the smaller farm groups.
The benefits of this approach are many. It allows independent operators to pool resources and take advantage of economies of scale. It also helps to mitigate the risks of diversifying an operation as members can pool knowledge and take advantage of expertise within the group in areas such as nutrition, marketing, risk management and agribusiness. They can also access outside expertise as a group, thereby expanding their collective pool of knowledge. A further benefit comes from the collective scale of Sunhaven, which allows for a value-added approach to production and gives each farm the ability to access bigger markets and opportunities.
Bryan acknowledges the approach demands a willingness to work together and delegate some decision making to the group. He finds the benefits far outweigh any negatives. He points to the collective energy and talent of the group as one of its greatest strengths and enjoys being around members who are enthusiastic and positive about farming. He’s also rewarded by seeing young farmers who are excited about agriculture and committed to staying in the community.
Bryan’s own energy and enthusiasm for his profession show no signs of flagging. He is chairman of the board of directors for the Prairie Swine Centre in Saskatoon, which furthers research in a range of areas from animal welfare and nutrition to agricultural engineering. He also fundraises for agricultural scholarships and for the Swine Research Centre at his alma mater.
Bryan’s focus on the future and his caring nature are evident when asked what he hopes for his grandchildren. “I hope they’ll farm if that’s what they want,” he says “but, more than anything, I want them to be people who know how to appreciate and share love with their family and their community, who understand some things about nature and respect the land and the people around them.”
When asked what he values most about Alberta, Bryan points to the “great entrepreneurial spirit of Albertans and the diverse opportunities that exist for all different kinds of people, ventures and trades.” Those qualities are what drew settlers to the province at the beginning of the last century, and they will continue to define Alberta in the 21st century, thanks to the vision, commitment and innovation of leaders like Bryan Perkins.