Short Grass Ranches Ltd. was recently announced as both the Medicine Hat and District Chamber of Commerce’s Large Business of the Year, and as the winner of the Chamber’s highest award— its 2017 Award of Excellence.
Randy Lehr is one of five partners in the corporation, working alongside sons Scott and Craig, brother Ken and nephew James. Lehr says it is a tremendous honour to be chosen as the winner in both award categories over some pretty stiff local competition. He is thankful to the Chamber for its recognition.
“It validates what we are doing, is the big thing,” says Lehr, “and it is humbling to be mentioned in the same category as these other businesses.
“It has also kind of come to light the last few years since the downturn in the oil and gas industry how vital agriculture is to the Medicine Hat economy and the area. As one local welding shop said to me recently: ‘We have come to understand the agriculture is our bread and butter; oil and gas is the gravy.’”
Lehr credits his dad Reiny, who sadly passed away a few years ago, for his foresight in establishing the solid foundation and corporate model for Short Grass Ranches Ltd. back in the 1970s.
“He had a philosophy that served us well,” states Lehr. “If you joined as a partner, we were part of the business and we were shareholders. Dad taught us how to live together as a family, and how to work together as a family. We weren’t treated like employees. With corporate structure, and everybody being a shareholder and a partner, you don’t run into situations where you see with some guys they own land and they own cows, and they opt to farm together and stuff like that.
“The problem with that is you get discussion like: How come you are seeding your quarter today? You should be over seeding mine. Or that’s my tractor, and that sort of thing …
“Everything in our company, other than our personal vehicles, is owned by the corporation. So it is in everybody’s interest everything be done on the most timely and efficient basis. You have to look at the greater good.”
At Short Grass Ranches diversity is the key, with every aspect of the business being backed by solid marketing research.
“Marketing is huge today,” confirms Lehr. “You can’t have a set pattern where you are going to take them in and sell them on such and such a day as was maybe done more in the past. Markets move, and there are different opportunities through forward-contracting, through hedging, and this type of thing. There is times when there are opportunities to lock in a profit. We closely follow the Futures Markets on a day-to-day basis. All you need is a smartphone.
“Our business is complex, and we really need to stay on top of things,” adds Lehr. “We have a cow/calf operation, we have a backgrounding feedlot, we have irrigated and dryland crops.
“We grow canola, peas, wheat, barley, triticale, and feed corn. It’s a multi-faceted operation.”
Lehr says his company is always open to looking into new ways of farming to increase efficiency. Short Grass Ranches is currently undertaking research on its prospects to expand into companion seeding and double-cropping.
“We tried something for the first time this year called companion seeding, where we seeded canola alongside peas because they compliment one another. Peas provide nitrogen for the canola because its a nitrogen-fixing legume. We used to have trouble with gophers eating on the canola when the plants were really young, but they don’t like the peas. So it helps keep the gophers away.
“Another thing we have done with the irrigation is we have gotten into double cropping. We harvest in June or July to provide silage for the feedlot and then we go back in and re-seed with different crops like sorghum sudangrass and tillage radish. They are called a radish but its a long tuber-like thing which actually helps loosen the hardpan; so it improves soil production. We get a silage crop off the grass and then we bring cattle in to graze the radishes in the irrigation.”
Embracing new technology is also key to Short Grass Ranches success, says Lehr. He gives a few examples.
“It’s less difficult physical labour to work on our farm today, but we actually put in more hours simply because with better equipment you can work at night, and with GPS systems and stuff you can see at night,” says Lehr. “And there is a lot more technology than there used to be. We now DNA test our bulls for 15 different markers now. With precision drills you can seed in perfectly straight rows, and you can precision spray. My son Scott won’t even let me drive the combine now, and I don’t want to. It’s almost like flying a jet.”
Lehr says successful farming today means being on watch for opportunities to increase operational efficiency and enhance production through use of technology, better agronomy, superior husbandry practices, and capping it all off with strategic marketing practices which take advantage of pricing and other trends.
“It doesn’t necessarily mean acquiring more land base,” states Lehr. “It is more like growing the business internally so you can be more efficient and switching some land uses so you can grow different crops … We are always looking to diversify.”