Influencing the future of sustainable agriculture< More Stories
Verstappen landed in the upstart category.
“I’m extremely honoured,” Verstappen says. “It definitely caught me by surprise. I feel like I’m so early in my career and path in agriculture and there’s so much left for me to do, it’s amazing to be recognized so early in my career and that people can see that what I’m trying to do is making a bit of a difference.”
Originally from Holland in The Netherlands, Verstappen moved to High Prairie, Alta. when she was still a child. Raised on a cattle and sheep operation, Verstappen had her heart set on attending Lakeland College since Grade 9, when she first learned she’d be able to bring her horse with her.
“I wanted to make sure that when I went to college, it was an academic focus but was also going to build my skills in networking abilities with people in similar industries,” Verstappen explained. “I have a passion for judging so Lakeland’s judging team was especially exciting. Being able to learn from some of the best in the business at Lakeland was a huge draw.”
Bringing home new ideas
She intended to apply for an animal science program but in the end, her mother convinced her to try something new – an unconventional move that Verstappen credits with her unique approach to agriculture now.
“The day I was applying, my mom asked me why I was going into animal science and I told her how much I love animals and cows. She told me that there was so much more I needed to learn in order to manage a farm properly,” Verstappen explains. “She suggested I try looking into something else that would add to our cattle operation instead of growing the knowledge I already had. Bring home some new ideas.”
Verstappen ended up enrolling in Lakeland’s environmental sciences diploma and majored in conservation and restoration ecology.
“Looking back now, I wouldn’t change it for the world. Those were some of the most valuable courses I’ve ever taken,” Verstappen says. “It really gave me a good start with knowledge on plant biology, how things grow and what we need to do to rejuvenate pastures and cropping land. Regenerative and sustainable agriculture really became a big part of what we like to do on our farm.”
Following her environmental sciences diploma in 2016, Verstappen completed Lakeland’s agribusiness diploma in 2017 and then did a year of university transfer courses to complement the management skills she learned in agribusiness.
She explains, “The agribusiness side really helped me understand the risk-reward ratios and how farm management works. I was raised on a farm but I wouldn’t say that I had a background in management. I knew daily what needed to be done, but I didn’t have any idea how to run a farm from a business standpoint.”
The combination of environmental sciences, agribusiness and management studies has given Verstappen a unique perspective on agriculture, one which helped land her on Agribition’s Top 50 list.
“My education has made me so well-rounded for the ag industry,” Verstappen says. “The variety of options played together so well. I loved my time at Lakeland. The hands-on learning was such a crucial part of my overall growth. There’s not a single course that I didn’t keep my notes from. I met some amazing people and great instructors. The true value I got from going to Lakeland was being able to gain an incredible education while being able to network with so many people.”
“We try to be a leader on the forefront of existing with the wildlife and nature that surrounds us,” she says. “Coming from Holland, it’s a passion for us. There isn’t really a whole lot of nature left in Holland, so coming to Canada, we wanted to maintain some forested areas on our land instead of clear cutting. We wanted to be able to see wildlife around us because it was something we didn’t have before. It’s really important for us to try to maintain that ecosystem around us.”
The key to being a predator and wildlife-friendly ranch is running a sustainable and responsibly managed operation, Verstappen explains. She and her family have found that avoiding wildlife conflict and co-existing naturally with the predators around them has not only allowed them to protect the ecosystem, it has also proven to be more profitable, with less predator loss.
“There is a profitability in sustainable farming,” Verstappen explains. “We have our livestock guardian dogs and really good fencing and have had great success with that strategy from a long-term livestock management approach in reducing and eliminating wildlife losses on our operation.
Verstappen believes that sustainable and responsible farming is a growing trend in the agricultural industry, especially with steadily increasing public scrutiny on agriculture.
“From a long-term standpoint, I saw what happened with agriculture in Holland and the lack of nature there. I don’t ever want Canada to get to that point. There are a lot of other people realizing that too.”
Verstappen also tries to be a good mentor for other youth looking to get into the industry, particularly those who may not have been raised in it.
“I try to show the long-term success of sustainable agriculture and be a strong influence for other youth in agriculture. It’s not easy to integrate into a whole different industry, so I try to be a resource and mentor people, and help them out in any way I can to see the future in agriculture.”