If the federal government is aiming for diversity in its new Canadian Agricultural Youth Council, it succeeded, at least in its selection of Saskatchewan-based members.
Sameeha Jhetam, Brent Kobes and Andrea De Roo come from urban, northwest and southeast regions of the province, all with different focus areas in agriculture.
They’re to help form the 25-member council, which will have direct access to Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau; the council is to meet with her in a virtual meeting planned for this month.
The three Saskatchewan members spoke with a local journalism initiative reporter based at the Regina Leader-Post to share their insights about the industry.
(Edited for length and clarity)
Sameeha Jhetam, 24
Q When did you first start working in agriculture?
A I’m currently a master’s student; I’m in poultry management and welfare. I first got into agriculture when I went to (the University of Saskatchewan) to study a bachelor of science in animal bioscience.
I grew up in Johannesburg, South Africa, which was an urban setting. So I didn’t grow up around agriculture, but I always had a love for animals or livestock. [As an undergraduate], I found a love for poultry, which pushed me to pursue a master’s degree in poultry management and welfare.
Q What kind of work do you do in the agriculture sector now?
A My master’s thesis is looking at the impacts of stocking density on the performance, health and welfare of turkey hens.
I’ve done a smaller research project looking at feed-related enrichment for turkey poults when they’re young, trying to encourage them to eat feed in the first few days of life.
I’ve previously worked for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency as a primary inspector. That was a good sector to work in, looking at meat processing and the importance of the CFIA in meat processing.
Q Why agriculture?
A What really drew me was the importance of science and research in advancing the agriculture industry to meet the growing demand for food, for livestock and poultry that are being raised under higher welfare standards.
Q What is your earliest childhood memory of being exposed to agriculture or just being out on a farm?
A I definitely was afraid of chickens when I was younger, I didn’t like birds. And so now my love of poultry was definitely surprising.
Q Do you view yourself as having any significant role by being a Muslim woman in agriculture, in terms of being a role model for other women?
A I definitely consider myself part of that conversation. I think being a woman in agriculture at first is already making a step in diversifying.
Being an immigrant woman of colour, a Muslim woman, it’s definitely bringing a lot of diversity to the industry. I think it’s really important for others to see people they identify with or recognize to know there should not be any barriers or boundaries to any industry you want to go into or explore.
Q What interests you in the animal welfare aspect of agriculture?
A I think many people don’t realize animal welfare is one of the main focuses for producers. As a researcher, it’s centred around everything we do, because without healthy, well-cared-for animals, livestock is not profitable.
Producers are well aware of implementing proper welfare and handling of animals. By being in the research and science sector, you can help advance that and continuously help producers to improve animal welfare. With the increase in demand for food, there’s only going to be an increase in the amount of animals that people have to raise.
Brent Kobes, 23
Q Did you go through the agriculture program at the University of Saskatchewan?
A I was a political science student. I graduated in 2019.
Q Do you work in agriculture now in any capacity, or have you in the past?
A I grew up on a beef- and a mixed, multi-generational-operation in Edam, Sask. I mostly grew up doing the beef side, then I had an uncle who did mostly grains.
I currently work for the Agriculture Producers Association of Saskatchewan (APAS) as a researcher, so those are kind of my connections to the industry.
Q Can you tell me a bit about your family’s farm?
A It’s my grandparents, my uncle, my cousin and then my father: We all help out each other, and that’s how we run our operation. My uncle mostly does the grains and pulses sides, but then my dad and I are mostly doing beef livestock.
Q How are you hoping to merge your political science studies with agriculture?
A I do want to preface that I’m a member of the Canadian Agricultural Youth Council as a citizen and not as a member of APAS.
Having a political science degree does help you gain understanding of how the regulations and how policy actually do affect individual farms and how farmers and producers can hopefully make changes to improve their conditions.
Q Are there any previous MPs, MLAs or local politicians who you look up to, who you’ve thought, ‘Okay that was a good policy made by this person’?
A There’s nothing I’m going to point to in particular that I thought was a really great policy, but I think when you have producers’ input into the creation of policy, it does sort of bring forward better-planned things, as opposed to just the top-down approach.
Q Was there one thing that really pushed you to be a member of the Canada Youth Ag. Council?
A I think when an opportunity presents itself you should apply, because the worst thing they can say is ‘no.’
And to ensure there is some voice from here in Saskatchewan to be able to raise the issues that procedures here in the province have to (Minister Bibeau). It is kind of direct access, which is pretty valuable.
Q Is there a discussion point you hope to bring to the council?
A I think the last few years the theme we’ve seen is a decline for margin. Thematically, understanding that when margins decline that really hurts families and it really hurts the province too.
I come from a farming background, too, and I know how good the good years are and how bad the bad years can be, so kind of remembering that margin stability and retention is important.
Q What is one of your earliest childhood memories of farming?
A I grew up on a farm, so there’s not much before that, but I do have a very specific memory of my dad purchasing my first cow when I was probably like three or four.
I was very, very set on naming it Simba, after The Lion King.
Q Were you allowed to do that?
A Yes, I was, even though it was a cow, not a bull. It was a gelbvieh.
Andrea De Roo, 29
Q What’s your connection to the agriculture sector?
A I was born and raised on a mixed-grain and cattle farm in southeast Saskatchewan.
I’ve been involved in the agriculture industry my whole life: Down on the ground as a producer and farming with my family now, all the way to working into some policy research groups as well as private entities.
[Now] we’re just south of Moosomin, and then I also live on an acreage in Indian Head where my husband owns it and we rent out.
Q Can you recall where you got your first work in the sector outside of your family farm? What was that like and what did you do?
A It would have been a local grain house. It tied really well with my passion for plants and food and vegetables; that would have been back in high school, probably in Grade 10. I had just got my license; I was 16 years old.
My first job in the industry would have been working as an agronomy scout with Cargill, out in Yorkton. That’s where I really gained some more perspective on farming outside of our little bubble here on the farm.
Q What does an agronomy scout usually do?
A We spend a lot of time in the fields looking at crops, assessing plant health, threats from any pests that might be in the area, trying to understand decisions that need to be made in terms of products being applied or timing of harvest.
Q For your master’s degree, what was the main topic you tackled in your thesis?
A My research focused on weed science, more specifically cleavers, which have become a very problematic pest in canola fields; the seed of cleavers is actually the same size and shape as canola, so it contaminates the samples when not controlled, which then causes other issues and contaminates the product when it hits store shelves.
Q Is there one discussion point you want to bring to the table to help create dialogue among yourself and other council members?
A How do you get into farming now? When you’re young, you don’t have all the assets and capital behind you yet.
You face other challenges if you do get the opportunity, because you’re a bit of a high risk as a young farmer.
So, how can we move forward as an industry to get more young farmers out there, especially as our farmers are starting to age and move on?
Trying to find support for young farmers that are looking to take over the farm, those that may want to get into the industry as a producer.
Q What’s your earliest childhood memory of farming, one that really stands out?
A Family. I can remember being a very young kid, going to work with mom at an auction barn and all the guys there almost kind of babysitting me as we were watching cattle in the back.
Then I also remember days being spent with dad or grandpa in the tractor or in the combine and just in awe and amazement of it all.