IWCA Q&A: Surviving the valleys
How Manitoba Ag Days general manager Kristen Phillips balances farm and family while succeeding through the highs and lows.
Kristen Phillips, the owner and operator of WP Acres Ltd., and the general manager of Manitoba Ag Days, based in Roseland, Man., has a background in agronomy and is an active participant in the ag community and beyond. Besides this, she and her husband Garret are raising the fifth generation of farmers on her family’s land. Together, they run a busy household with their three young daughters. Stefanie Croley, editorial director, agriculture, spoke with Phillips about her work experience, balancing career and family life and the future of Canadian agriculture.
Tell us about your background and roles in agriculture.
I grew up on a mixed grain and beef farm, just southwest of Brandon. I grew up with my dad farming, and that’s where I got my passion for the job. I did a degree in agriculture at university and started working as an agronomist in Brandon. I’ve had several different roles and am now working as the general manager of Manitoba Ag Days. I’m also very actively involved on the family farm.
How do you balance life on the farm with a young family?
I have a bachelor of science in agronomy, so I do all the scouting on the farm. I’m responsible for all the bookkeeping and marketing decisions on the farm. I assist in the decision-making on the farm when it comes to fertility and rotation. My husband and I have three daughters who love being on the farm. We involve them in our everyday activities; they come along for meals in the field and tractor rides with dad and scouting with mom. I had those same amazing memories with my parents.
Can you describe a defining moment in your career?
I was hired as an agronomist working in a retail position straight out of university. I remember going to training events or meetings in the offseason and I would be one of five females in a room of 300 men. I felt intimidated at first, but I wanted to be an agronomist and help producers. I made a conscious effort to meet lots of people. I think you have to build your network as an agronomist because you’re not going to know every answer. Knowing which friend to call in your circle will be one of your most powerful tools.
What’s a piece of advice you’ve received through your career that you’d pass on to others?
My dad said hard work and determination will help you climb many mountains, but you need to learn how to survive in the valleys. I didn’t understand what that meant until I started actually farming and doing the books. There are lots of highs and lows in farming; you have to be successful at both extremes.
What keeps you excited about agriculture?
I think it’s the desire to do better every year and push ourselves to our limits, try new things to learn and to achieve. As an agronomist, I’ve always used the tagline, “You have to scout to know.” If you are not out in the field making decisions in the moment, you’re not doing the best that you can possibly do. As a person working in agriculture, I think the most exciting part is how we are constantly evolving. I’m raising the fifth generation of farmers in our family. I think what my grandpa and great-grandpa went through in their careers in agriculture is truly incredible. What will we experience in our careers in agriculture? The possibilities are endless.
Do you think your kids will become involved in agriculture as they grow older?
I hope that one of my kids has the same interest. I think, too often, because I have three daughters, people think, oh, that farm won’t succeed. But my dad had four daughters, and two of us are farming. I don’t think gender should hold you back from doing anything. I think that if you want something bad enough, you can accomplish anything.
How do you see the industry changing in the next five to 10 years?
In the last 10 years, there’s been an incredible push in technology and innovation. And I don’t see that slowing down anytime soon. You know, only 1.8 per cent of the population actually farms, which means that that 1.8 per cent has to keep pushing and being innovative in order for things to work and be cost effective. I want to see my girls have that opportunity.