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ALakeville couple who continue to innovate and evolve their family horticultural operation is being celebrated among Canada’s Outstanding Young Farmers. Philip and Katie Keddy, partners in Charles Keddy Farms Ltd., were the 2020 Atlantic regional winners in the Canada’s Outstanding Young Farmers (COYF) competition. Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the national competition wasn’t held last December, but it is going ahead this year. The Keddys have been looking forward to the national competition since they won the regional title in February 2020. Katie said this has served to increase the level of suspense and anticipation. Philip said to receive recognition as an outstanding young farming couple means a lot. He added it’s nice to know that peers across Atlantic Canada saw they met the criteria and were fitting to represent the region on a national stage. “We’re being acknowledged for the hard work and changes we’ve put in over many years,” Philip said. “Farmers make changes every year, but sometimes over many years, you move the business forward.” He said it means a lot to them to bring awareness to the hard-working horticultural sector in Atlantic Canada and represent nationally “how unique and diversified” the industry is here. Katie said a great deal of technology and innovation is being implemented across Atlantic Canada’s agriculture industry. “I think we’re seen sometimes as the small provinces in the east, and it’s not necessarily realized what huge things our farmers and producers are doing here in the Maritimes,” she said. Katie said it’s an exciting opportunity to tell and promote the story of Atlantic Canadian agriculture on a national level while telling their own story. For Philip, the recognition is a legacy. He and Katie will be the second generation of his family to compete nationally with COYF. His parents, Charles and Doris Keddy, were the Atlantic representatives back in 1992. Philip said the farm has evolved a lot over the years, but their core values and many practices his parents started 45 years ago have remained the same. ABOUT COYF The national competition is being held in Saskatoon, Sask., in early December. Seven entrepreneurial farm couples from across Canada, chosen from their home regions, will present highlights of their operations at the virtual National Recognition Event on Dec. 3. The annual event brings recognition to outstanding farm couples in Canada between the ages of 18 and 39. Katie is 36 years old and Philip is 37. Philip pointed out that people still operate many farms over age 60, so 40 is considered young by Canadian agricultural standards. Katie said the competition would look a little different this year with pandemic safety being the top priority, and there would be fewer people in attendance. However, she said it presents a great opportunity to get to know the nominees from other regions. Katie said they have two sons under age 12 — Benjamin, 7, and nine-year-old Charlie — who can’t yet be vaccinated. Because of this, Philip will be going to Saskatchewan to compete, while Katie will be attending virtually from home. She said she feels fortunate that she’ll still be able to participate in some capacity. Philip said the competition involves an interview process and several presentations, so there is still a lot of work to be done. Katie said it has been a somewhat chaotic past couple of years in general due to COVID-19, and they have had to improvise and make changes to keep the farm operating. Philip pointed out the competition involved submitting a lot of writing about their operation, which has since had to be edited and updated. INNOVATIVE PRODUCERS The Keddys maintain a diverse business model. They are the largest producers of sweet potatoes east of Ontario, with a storage and packing facility with the capacity to hold 1.2 million pounds. Their main variety is Covington, but they also grow some Radiance. Philip said 2020 was the warmest, driest year in a quarter-century. Being subtropical, the sweet potatoes loved those conditions and the crop was “phenomenal.” On the other hand, 2021 was one of the wettest and cloudiest years in the past couple of decades. Philip said the crop was average, but they got “a decent yield.” They’re now getting ready for packaging and shipping. The Keddys grow other crops as well and raise a herd of 55 beef cattle. They’re also one of the largest producers of nursery stock strawberry plants in Canada. One of the latest innovations on the farm is a sterilization system for strawberry plants that uses UV light. Philip said they were at a strawberry symposium in Orlando, Fla., and saw a presentation about research conducted with the technology. “Some preliminary testing showed that this may be an option for controlling powdery mildew, which in the past had been controlled all chemically,” Philip said. He said they reached out to the researcher at Cornell University and got involved, building a prototype UV sterilization machine. They would go out at night and run the machine over the fields. The UV light creates an imbalance in the cells within the mildew. Philip said it would take years of research to refine, but preliminary tests they’ve conducted demonstrated it could be an effective method for controlling the mildew. “Other farms were trying it with grapes and raspberries, so there were four of us carrying out test pilot projects with these prototype machines that we all created ourselves.” Philip said it’s great to be one of the first people to try new technology and move something forward that could benefit the entire industry. PANDEMIC LEADS TO LABOUR ISSUES Katie said they rely heavily on temporary foreign workers. She recalled that when they competed regionally in February 2020, one of the questions posed was what happens if you can’t get them in to the country. At the time, the Keddys responded the program was stable and solid, and they couldn’t foresee that being the case. A month later, along with many other farms across Canada, that was exactly the situation they found themselves in as the pandemic lockdown went into effect. This was a great stressor for stakeholders in the horticultural sector. “We didn’t know at the time how relevant that conversation was during that competition,” Katie said. “What was a question that we didn’t think would ever be a reality has been a reality for the past two years.” However, Philip said that most farmers are very good at adapting to the unexpected out of necessity. They quickly pivoted, hiring several parttime workers to help get them through crucial planting and harvesting times. Katie said that generally, their seasonal workers are retired from other jobs but still want to work. She said they have been loyal and reliable, and this has taught the Keddys to rethink and expand their idea of an ideal employee when talking about local labour. RECOGNIZING PROGRESS, EXCELLENCE COYF program manager Carla Kaeding said the program was started to foster better urban-rural relations and recognize farmers’ achievements. “It is important to discover, celebrate and recognize progress and excellence in Canadian agriculture because these people will feed the world now and into the future,” Kaeding said. “What they do has an effect on everyone.” There is no fee to attend the virtual national recognition event. People can register online at https://www.oyfcanada.com/language/en/event/ oyf-national-event-2021/.