The core business of Fairwind Farms is cash crops. The company usually farms in the range of 5,000 acres of prime agricultural land in Sarnia, Plympton-Wyoming and St. Clair townships, Lambton County, employing a rotation of corn, soybeans, winter wheat and sugarbeets.
Soybeans are the number one crop in Lambton County in both acres and overall gross revenue. Soybeans are the number one source of protein and edible oil in the world. There are millions of acres of soybeans grown, and millions of metric tonnes consumed all over the world. That makes soybeans an easy and liquid crop to market. But because it is a commodity just like oil or coffee, it is traded very tightly linked to cost of production, and those farmers who can produce more volume, at higher prices, using least possible resources thrive, while the lower profitability growers fail.
Fairwind Farms is able to grow a special variety of soybean that is high in protein, and low in taste that makes the finest soymilk. For climatic and soil type reasons, the variety displays these characteristics best if grown in southwestern Ontario, much like Bordeaux wine can only truly be made from the grapes grown near Bordeaux France.
This innovation of closed loop “farm to fork” type of relationships are rare in the world of bulk commodities, and provides a very attractive larger piece of the pie for its members, leaving out the middle man and leaving more profit and control with the participants. It is one of the goals of Fairwind to seek out and maintain more of these relationships in the future.
The sugarbeet industry in Lambton County generates between $3.5 and $5Million in extra gross sales per year over and above the alternate crop choices if sugarbeets were not available, through the 3,500 acres grown per year. This industry has been re-established in Ontario due in large part to the efforts of Mark and 4 of his Ontario farming colleagues. In 1997, Michigan Sugar Company, then a privately owned company, approached a group of Canadian farmers with the possibility of growing sugarbeets under contract for the company. That year, 700 acres were grown in Ontario as a pilot project, and Fairwind Farms was one of the growers. The following year, an agreement was made with Ontario to produce up to 10,000 acres of the lucrative crop in Lambton and Chatham Kent, to be delivered to the processing facility in Croswell MI, about 40km north of the Bluewater Bridges. Unfortunately for the Lambton area farmers, the “piling ground” that would be the delivery location for the sugarbeets to be stored until delivery to the factory was located half way between Wallaceburg and Chatham, about 50km in the wrong direction from Lambton. Thus the next innovation was born that ultimately transformed the North American sugarbeet industry forever.
Mark Lumley and Ken Smith, another Lambton area grower devised a plan for what has been named “deliver directly”. The company was approached with a novel idea: clean the dirt off of the beets “in field” instead of at the piling ground, and deliver direct to the factory in Michigan, clean and ready for “slice”. This concept has never been considered before in the 100 year history of the company, but because it would save both growers and company thousands of dollars in freight, and a $1M piling ground in the area, the company agreed, and approved the concept machine for cleaning. Throughout the next 4 years, the machine evolved, designed by Ken and Mark along with help of local fab shops, until a trip to Germany in 2006.
Ropa, a German family manufacturer of sugarbeet equipment had been producing a machine called a Maus for about 6 years. It was designed from the ground up to do exactly what we were doing in Lambton – de-couple harvest from delivery, and clean in field. So with the lead of Mark and Ken, they and the Vokes Brothers and some smaller farmers went together to form Lambton Beet Harvesting Inc. to purchase and import the first Ropa Maus into North America. Since then, this innovative idea has caught on and there are currently about 15 Maus in the US and 2 in Ontario saving growers millions of dollars in freight and logistics headaches each year. This innovative contribution to the local and provincial economy has earned Lambton Beet the recognition of the Warden of Lambton County with the Rural Organization of the Year Award in 2006, and Mark the recognition of the Premier of Ontario with the “Premier’s Award for Agricultural Innovation Excellence” in 2007.