Pulse Beat Individual Articles

On-Stage with Farmer/Musician Bryce Pallister

An MPSG director profile

June 2021
Toban Dyck, Director of Communications, MPSG

BRYCE PALLISTER’S GRANDMA wasn’t around to see him graduate, but he finished his agriculture degree for her.

“Every time I would go visit her, she would ask, ‘when are you going to get your degree?’” said Pallister. “So, I got it for her. I ended up getting both my agriculture diploma and my degree.”

Pallister was elected to Manitoba Pulse & Soybean Growers’ Board of Directors during the association’s virtual AGM in February. He farms alongside his brother, William, his father, Jim, and Marlo McArthur, a long-time employee-turned-partner.

I called him at 8 a.m. sharp. My dad was heading to the field with the seed tender he and I had filled a few minutes prior to this interview. Pallister’s dad may have been on the field, too. I never asked (I always think of the good questions too late).

When I called him, Pallister had just finished the morning meeting, giving direction to the farm’s staff, comprised of four permanent employees, 10 or so seasonal workers and a van-full of retired farmers, who help out when things get really busy.

“We service the tractors and combines and the van with retired farmers arrives a few hours later to just jump into the combine and go,” said Pallister.

Managing people is a special skill and it’s something he enjoys, so I had to ask, “What’s your secret?”

“It’s not easy managing people,” he said. “What is the key? Age — it probably helps. Also, be calm. Roll with the flow. As farmers, we get mad about the mistakes that get made on the farm, but really the mistakes that an employee can make are usually pretty minor compared to the mistake we can make as owners. If you, say, use the wrong chemistry and the weeds didn’t die, or you sold and the price increases, or you didn’t sell to the right buyer. The stakes are so much greater for us owners.”

Pallister’s farmyard is located west of Portage la Prairie, close to Hwy 1. Most of his family-run operation’s land is located north of Portage, and they also farm in the community of Edwin, which is located southwest of Portage. It’s safe to say, Portage la Prairie is an agricultural region the Pallisters are familiar with.

Pallister is not an unfamiliar surname in Manitoba and for reasons both obvious and perhaps less obvious. “You can Google me,” said Pallister. “I’m on there. I was a solo artist.”

“Bryce Pallister — Driftn” is the first video that comes up, amid a grouping of three others that appeared below a link to his Twitter account and a sampling of Google images of him, with his guitar and his band.

“I’ve been farming since I was a kid. Well, I had a music career for a few years. I was a country singer,” he said. “Semi-professional would be the classification, I guess. I was always farming at the same time.

It was during the “semi-professional country singer” part of his life when he met his wife, Jenna, a nurse currently working at the Rapid Access to Addictions Medicine (RAAM) Clinic.

Jenna and Bryce have three children: Dawson, son, five; Evelyn, daughter, three; and Aimelie, daughter, one.

“Five, three and one. It would probably make you wonder why I became interested in joining the MPSG board. You’d think I have enough going on in my life,” said Pallister, amid our laughter. “We moved into where I grew up — the main farm site. We’re taking that over, and yeah, the kids are all running around here and things are good.”

The Pallisters grow wheat, canola and their staple crop, edible beans. “Navies and pintos, primarily.”

They have, in his words, “dabbled in soybeans, dabbled in corn and we’ve dabbled in red lentils,” something he says they couldn’t resist trying three or four years ago when the prices had spiked.

“Soybeans are a little tricky for us due to the potential for cross-contamination with our edibles,” said Pallister. “It’s a fear, really — a fear of getting the edibles and the soys mixed up. We’ve definitely grown them and they are a good crop. But, you can only grow so many crops, I guess.”

Pallister enjoys the marketing and management side of his family’s operation, and he especially enjoys no longer being in charge of human resources, a responsibility he passed along to his brother, William, who, according to Bryce, is much better at it than he was.

There are roles assigned to each partner of the Pallister farm, but he was quick to clarify that everyone still does a little bit of everything.

“I like running a crew. When it’s harvest time and I’m sending guys in 15 different directions. That’s the part I enjoy. The pressure, “said Pallister. “It’s also fun to see new ideas/innovations through, getting to see the fruits of those changes. A big example on our farm happened a few years ago when we moved from swathing our edibles to direct-harvest with a flex header. It was one of those generational changes. Dad had been swathing for years and doing it successfully. We had a couple of bad, wet falls, 2017 and on. That was what really drove the change. We had some quality issues, and then just the labour requirement of swathing on our scale was pretty stressful. We took the plunge and moved into straight-cutting our edibles and it has worked well.”

Pallister utilized MPSG’s on-farm trial results as well as its research on edible beans and soybeans to help them through this transition. He applied what MPSG released regarding air reels, cutting angles and combine settings to their farm’s switch from swathing to straight cutting. They worked hard to augment their headers to limit edible-bean splits, damage and losses.

Pallister joined MPSG’s board to challenge himself, expose himself to smart people and people interested in similar things.

“With fewer and fewer farms around, you have to go a little farther to find contemporaries, colleagues and like-minded people, “he said. “That was part of it. And to be challenged by those people. Once COVID-19 is done, we’ll participate more in meetings and we’ll be able to get out and talk to farmers. It’ll help expand my network.”

For Pallister, correcting the misconceptions the general public already has or are developing about agriculture should be a priority for the sector. Ignoring this mandate could pave the way for these misconceptions to grow, fester and lead to unnecessary restrictions being foisted onto farmers, keeping them from producing as much food as they possibly could, according to Pallister.

“We’re making food more affordable to the whole world by maximizing production, which should keep food costs down. The problem is, it’s not enough of an issue in the rich world. We’re hiding from the fact that there are a lot of hungry people out there,” he said. “If groundless policies are tying one of our hands behind our backs, that’s one bushel per acre less for somebody who really needs that food — needs those calories.”

Pallister’s farm runs three, 20-plus-year-old seeders and, in general, runs older machinery, favouring its money going to skilled employees able to keep old iron in dependable condition over signing expensive service contracts to the greens, reds and yellows of the ag world. “I guess the one thing that makes our farm unique is that we try to run older equipment,” said Pallister.

We had been chatting for a while at this point. Pallister was coordinating the receiving of a shipment of something, having to leave our conversation for brief spells to deal with the many things that no doubt compete for his time during the growing season.

“Hey, Steve — Sorry, Toban — Hey, Steve. It’s 20 total.”

I don’t know what that meant or to whom he was speaking, but I knew I only had room for one more question: “When you think about the 2021 growing season, what are you most excited about?” I asked.

“I am excited about this day: it’s summer. It’s the middle of the growing season and I’ll be looking at the forecast and hoping it doesn’t rain because we’ve received way too much already. That’s a day I am looking forward to, “said Bryce Pallister. “I have been looking forward to a day like that since 2016.”