Growing forwardBy Melinda Cheevers
NOTL couple wins 2011 Outstanding Youth Farmer Award
Reporter from the Niagara This Week
|Growing forward. Wes Wiens and his wife Briar (not pictured) |
were recently named 2011 Ontario Outstanding Young Farmers.
The couple are grapevine propagators operating
Gemmrich W. Nursery in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
For Niagara-on-the-Lake farmer Wes Wiens, being nominated for the 2011 Outstanding Young Farmer Award, provided him just that chance.
“It’s funny, I’ve never really had the time to reflect back on the challenges we’ve faced or how far we’ve come, I was always just looking forward,” he said. “So it’s been nice to take the time to look back.”
Wiens and his wife Briar are grapevine propagators operating Gemmrich W. Nursery on Line 5. Within the last five years, production at the nursery has almost doubled from 800,000 vines grafted in 2006 to 1,400,000 vines in 2010.
On March 11, the couple was chosen from a group of six farmers from across Ontario as Outstanding Young Farmers of 2011. They took home the award from an awards ceremony held in Ajax, Ont.
Wes said it was an honour just to be nominated, let alone taking home the title.
“We really didn’t expect it,” he said.
The Wiens were nominated by the Grape Growers of Ontario. Wes said once they were nominated, the lengthy application process began. The couple was required to write a 15-page essay about the company, the challenges they have faced and looking forward to the future. Wes said once they were shortlisted, they had to develop a presentation for the awards ceremony in Ajax.
Wes comes from a family of grape and tender fruit farmers. Growing up he learned the value of hard work and knew innovation was a key to success in the agricultural industry. When he was approached by Martin Gemmrich, a third generation propagator of grapevines who operated the Line 5 nursery in Niagara-on-the-Lake and asked Wes to buy the business from him, Wes said he had to consider the proposal. He eventually decided to go for it, with Gemmrich as his partner at first. Under Gemmrich’s tutelage, he learned the propagation business.
Now, using a mix of old techniques learned from his mentor and new technology, the future of the business is looking brighter than ever. It currently has 60 per cent of the market share in the Canadian grape vine industry. Wes said they are exploring GPS mapping for the vineyard and soil sampling as future services.
Wes is responsible for overseeing the day-to-day responsibilities of the nursery while Briar plays a different role. In addition to caring for the couple’s children, she also helps to organize employee events.
At the awards ceremony, the couple were given two trophies, a banner to hang in their office and a painting depicting the various aspects of Ontario’s agriculture industry.
For more information about the Ontario Outstanding Young Farmer Award, visit www.oyfontario.ca. For more information about Gemmrich W. Nurseries visit www.gwnvines.com
Local couple win Ontario’s Young Farmer of the Year AwardBy Penny Coles
New technology in an industry steeped in tradition helped earn the award
Reporter from the Niagara Advance
|Wes and Briar will represent Ontario |
at the National competition being held
in Brandon, Manitoba where
they will compete for the title of
Canada's Outstanding Young Farmer.
Wes and Briar Wiens, nominated by the Grape Growers of Ontario, attended an awards ceremony held in Ajax recently, where each finalist gave a presentation about their business to the judging committee and about 200 people at the event.
Wiens says he was proud to be nominated for the award—and winning it was a huge honour.
He grew up working in first his grandfather's NOTL vineyards, then alongside his father and uncle. He has done everything from hoeing weeds to helping with the grape harvest, he says. Now he has gone back to the beginning of the grape cycle, grafting and selling grape vines to growers across the country.
About eight years ago he and his wife decided to buy an existing operation, Gemmrich Nursery on Line 5. The previous owner, Martin Gemmrich, stayed on as a mentor for a couple of years, but since then, Wiens has applied his knowledge of modern technology to an industry steeped in tradition.
It's his industry-leading innovations that helped win the award.
"Any business owner that is going to have success has to look at all the tools at your disposal and apply them to their industry. One of those tools is new technology," says Wiens.
The last eight years have been quite a journey, he says, beginning with learning the business. Keeping up with changing government regulations came next, and then the Ontario market took a bit of a nose dive—not just in agriculture but in most industries. That forced him to focus on out-of-province sales, which gave him an opportunity to attract new markets, first in BC, now in the eastern provinces, and to increase his market share to about 60 per cent—all the while using research and technology at their Line 5 nursery to raise the quality of the product.
And it has worked—the nursery grafted more than 1.4 million vines last year, almost doubling the number from 800,000 in 2006.
They also provide services such as potted vines, custom grafting and brokering imported vines.
Wes, 34, and Briar, 33, are proud parents of four aged from just 15 months to eight years old, so Briar's role is of necessity mostly one of support. But although she may not have much free time to spend at the nursery, "we're in this together, whether she's here everyday or not," says Wes.
There is some traveling involved to more established wine regions around the world in the name of research, and fortunately they are able to do most of that together, he says.
Wes and Briar will represent Ontario at the National competition being held in Brandon, Manitoba where they will compete for the title of Canada's Outstanding Young Farmer.
Grape Vine Propagators named as
2011 Ontario’s Outstanding Young Farmers
released by ontariofarmer.com
Nominated by the Grape Growers of Ontario, Wes Wiens was born and raised on a grape and tender fruit farm in Niagara-on-the-Lake and learned two important lessons early on in life - that agricultural success is built on innovation and adaptation, and that agricultural survival is attained through commitment and stamina. He feels that “both of these life lessons have helped me become one of Canada’s leading grapevine propagators.”
As one of Canada’s leading propagators, Gemmrich W. Nurseries (www.gwnvines.com), named after Wes’s mentor and former partner, Martin Gemmrich, a 3rd generation propagator of grapevines, has been able to benefit from steady market share gains. Within the last 5 years, the nursery’s production has almost doubled to respond to customer demand.
Commitment to quality supersedes all other aspects of management practices at Wes and Briar’s nursery. They add value to operation by providing services such as producing potted vines, doing custom grafting and brokering for imported vines. They are also affiliated directly with another family operation which provides custom planting, trellising and harvesting services, making them a one-stop operation. In the future they would like to add vineyard GPS mapping, soil sampling, viticultural consulting, missing vine counting and over-grafting to their list of services.
The Wiens' find that keeping up with new developments in the industry is challenging, as there is no educational institution that deals specifically with viticulture propagation. Due to this they and their management team have traveled to more established wine regions around the world in order to learn more about their practices and technological advancements. Wes has also made it a priority to focus their own research and development program and conducts joint research projects with various educational institutions including the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre, Brock University and Niagara College.
Wes has also been a director for the Grape Growers of Ontario, a member of the Canadian Grapevine Certification Network and the American Society of Enology and Viticulture. The whole family, including their four children, Kaityn (8), Berlin (6), Rowan (4) and Addisyn (1) are heavily involved with their Community Church, and with regional minor hockey and baseball teams.
The Wiens' were chosen from a group of six farmers including Paul and Kelly Brooks (Brooks Farms, Uxbridge), Ed and Julie Danen, (Danzel Holsteins, Shakespeare), Ian and Vicki Mayberry (Mayberry Hill Farms, Ingersoll), Jason Verkaik (Carron Farms, Bradford) and John and Maxine Zekveld (Zekveld’s Garden Market, Wyoming). Market garden farmers, John and Maxine Zekveld from Wyoming received runner-up recognition. For information on all of the finalists, visit the Ontario OYF website at www.oyfontario.ca.
Winners of the award are chosen based on career progress; environmental and safety practices, crop and livestock production history; financial and management practices and contributions to society. The judges, Jim Glenn (OOYF winner in 1986), Terry Daynard (retired from Ontario Corn Producers and the University of Guelph), and Marlene Werry (Durham Region Economic Development Officer) chose the Wiens' in part due to their industry leading innovations and commitment to their product quality and customer service.
Over 200 people, including the Honourable John Wilkinson, Ontario Minister of the Environment, and Maria Van Bommel, Parliamentary Assistant to the Ontario Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, were on hand at the awards banquet to celebrate with all of the finalists. For the first time, food items from past OYF winners, and finalists were showcased in the delicious local food menu.
Eadie Steele, Co-chair of the 2011 event noted that “Spending time with such imaginative and successful young farmers reminds us all that farming is a rewarding occupation and we need to keep that in mind more as we deal with our daily challenges. The Ontario finalists showed the diversity of Ontario agriculture too, representing the dairy, horticultural, wine, goat, cropping and agri-tourism sectors.”
Celebrating 31 years of identifying great agricultural successes, Canada’s Outstanding Young Farmer’s program is an annual competition to recognize farmers that exemplify excellence in their profession and promote the tremendous contribution of agriculture. Open to participants 18 to 39 years of age, making the majority of income from on-farm sources, participants are selected from seven regions across Canada, with two national winners chosen each year. The program is sponsored nationally by CIBC, John Deere, Bayer CropScience and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, and supported nationally by AdFarm and Canadian Farm Business Management Council.
The 2011 Ontario event was sponsored by Pioneer Hi-Bred Limited, TD Canada Trust, Syngenta, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, Better Farming, Ontario Farm Fresh and GROWMARK.