Specialty agriculture creates jobs

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Arnaud de la Salle (Tr. AB)

Following the first part of our series highlighting some of the Pontiac’s

Arnaud de la Salle (Tr. AB)

Following the first part of our series highlighting some of the Pontiac’s
successful retail businesses, we devote this column to some specialty agricultural businesses. The Pontiac is a rural area that benefits from its geographic location and climate; the region is known for its agricultural status. The Journal spoke with Denis Dubeau, a farmer and president of the Pontiac UPA (Union of Agricultural Producers), who described developments in the Pontiac’s agricultural sector. The UPA is composed of about 280 members and has represented Pontiac’s producers for 50 years. According to Dubeau, the agriculture sector continues to grow, though succession seems more difficult. “We often see farms for sale that do not find new buyers; it is often neighbouring farmers who buy the land,” he explained. Young people do not seem very
attracted to this labour-intensive job thatrequires
a significant financial investment as well devoting their lives to the operation. However, there are many success stories. Below are two examples that vary greatly in terms of their geographic
location and the type of operation they run; both have found a niche that gives them reward for their hard work. 
Example one: Mountainview turf farm
The Journal spoke with Susan Hamilton, who owns the Quyon-based business alongside her husband; they specialize in sod production and employ 40 people. The couple started their business in 1979 and have emerged as a significant supplier in this niche.
The company serves
customers from Montreal to Kingston and although golf courses, school boards, and municipalities make up the bulk
of their clientele, the
general public can also purchase their products.
The business continues to grow; the farm has acquired new land, for a total of 500 acres. An added strength of the business is having the couple’s two children, Lindsay and Jared, at their side; the siblings also manage a poultry operation that includes more than 10,000 laying hens associated with the Burnabrae eggs brand.
According to Susan, the secret to their success resides in their ability to adapt to varying circumstances and conditions, and continually develop their services. The couple also credits their team of employees with their
success; some employees work alongside their children at Mountainview.
The company has paid special attention to their image over the past
fifteen years; their logo is represented on all the products, equipment, vehicles, etc., that are either sold or used by the company. As with any agricultural enterprise, the challenges they face are mainly due to nature and the climate; a dry season raises the costs of irrigation.
Mountainview has diversified, selling synthetic turf products, which has permitted the business to expand their market. Improving the operation’s production and products, and
thus their profitability, requires close monitoring of irrigation systems and machinery.
Although the majority of their business is done outside of the Pontiac, this success story contributes greatly to the Pontiac’s economy.
Example two:
Three Hills Farm
Located in the other extremity of the Pontiac county, in the municipality of Chichester, Jonathan Harkins’ business, which has existed for the last six years, specializes in selling high quality fruits and vegetables. The business employs two seasonal workers and intends on hiring two more in the near future. The business is steadily growing, which indicates that Harkins makes good decisions that guide his operation.
Harkins is also innovative in his commercial approach by finding partnerships that allow him to offer new services to his customers. He partnered with a Chapeau baker to offer a range of in-season fruits and vegetables at the bakery, which has been a success for both entrepreneurs; they decided to continue the partnership in 2015. Harkins has also developed a
partnership with Otter Lake camping and holds a sale every Friday night when campers arrive.
To better serve his established customer base, Harkins offers a VIP program to customers, which includes home delivery of fresh vegetables over a 26 week period.
According to Harkins, his business’ success resides in his stubbornness and unwillingness to give up, but also in
pinpointing opportunities and exploiting them well. The quality and variety of what he offers are also undeniable factors in his success. He hopes to be faced with new opportunities in the future, but remains patient because, with agriculture, one is always at the mercy of calamities, diseases and pests.  “With each new season, nothing comes easy and every year is a challenge,” he said.  
Although the majority of the operation’s business is done in Ontario at farmer’s markets, Harkins doesn’t overlook any potential in the Pontiac. “It is important to study your clientele…what they do and who they are,” he concluded. 
Future columns will focus on the construction, service, and tourism industries.  Readers’ feedback is appreciated.