Wider Horizons

One of southern Alberta’s most prominent agricultural entrepreneurs is ensuring that the future ofCor Van Raay agribusiness and the agricultural sector remain strong through a major philanthropic gift that will benefit students at both Lethbridge College and the University of Lethbridge.

Cor Van Raay, the founder of Cor Van Raay Farms and a leading Canadian cattle producer, donated $5 million to the college and university, jointly, to establish the Cor Van Raay Southern Alberta Agribusiness Program. Van Raay and the college and university announced the donation on June 19.

“As educators, we strive to improve the lives, futures and potential for our learners and society,” says Lethbridge College President and CEO Dr. Paula Burns. “With this gift, Mr. Cor Van Raay has done just that – and more. He has made a difference to the next generation of people working in agriculture and business. This generous gift will resonate for decades to come, and will help Lethbridge College achieve its vision of inspiring and facilitating learning and innovation to meet economic and social needs, as we work to lead and transform education in Alberta.”

The $5 million gift will support the Cor Van Raay Southern Alberta Agribusiness Program, a joint program offered by the college and the university that will focus on agriculture-related education opportunities. Specifically, students will be able to study ag-economics, business development, entrepreneurship, finance, human resource management, commodity and futures trading, and general management and leadership with a focus on agricultural innovation.

The goal of this program is to develop graduates who reflect the dynamic and changing careers within the agricultural industry – including those within primary production to value adding enterprises to technology and data-driven enterprises. Students who graduate from this program will have the skills and the entrepreneurial spirit to better prepare them for successful futures within the agricultural sector, in Canada and around the world.

“This is an incredible gift, and we are extremely grateful to Cor and his passion for agriculture and his commitment to southern Alberta,” says University of Lethbridge President and Vice-Chancellor, Dr. Mike Mahon. “Through the establishment of this program, we will be able to create student opportunities such that we educate future generations in agribusiness practices that enable them to successfully operate wide ranging businesses in the agricultural sector.”

Van Raay and his late wife, Christine, settled in the Iron Springs area of southern Alberta in the early 1960s. The couple purchased a half section of cropland, to which Van Raay added a small herd of Holstein cattle in 1966. By the 1970s, the Van Raays were growing grain and sugar beets and, as their cattle numbers grew, began to establish what would become one of the country’s most successful cattle operations. In the early 1980s, Van Raay co-founded Butte Grain Merchants and continued to build his cattle business with an increasing emphasis on sustainable business practices. Around the same time, Van Raay became a majority owner of a very successful southern Alberta John Deere dealership from which he recently retired. Van Raay has now shifted his focus to a new farming operation he’s establishing in Saskatchewan.

“In partnership with Lethbridge College and the University of Lethbridge, this gift will help position southern Alberta as a leader in the agricultural industry,” says Van Raay. “I’m really looking forward to the future.”

This gift supports Lethbridge College’s “The Possibilities Are Endless” campaign, an ambitious effort to raise $103 million to support five innovative and essential college initiatives, including the new Trades and Technologies facility and student awards. Once complete, these projects will serve as long-term economic drivers for our community, will promote industry partnerships and will help develop a skilled workforce. They will also contribute to the college’s mission of inspiring and facilitating learning and innovation to meet economic and social needs.
The program will fund the following opportunities:

• $2 million for academic programming ($1 million each to Lethbridge College and the University of Lethbridge)

• $1 million for endowed student awards ($500,000 each to Lethbridge College and the University of Lethbridge)

• $1 million for an Agriculture Entrepreneur in Residence program at Lethbridge College. Visiting experts and successful agricultural business leaders will be welcomed into the program as Agriculture Entrepreneurs in Residence to create opportunities for students at the college and the university to gain practical, real-world experience while generating impacts for existing agriculture operations and businesses

• $1 million for an Innovation and Entrepreneurship program at the University of Lethbridge. This funding will be part of THINC (The Home for Innovative New Companies) and will be used to establish a 12-week course on business development and entrepreneurship, supported by agriculture mentors and entrepreneur mentors for students who have an innovative idea or concept that they would like to turn into potential business opportunities.
Facts about agriculture in southern Alberta (source: Economic Development Lethbridge)

• Beef producers in the Lethbridge region have the capacity to produce more than half a million head of cattle per year valued at approximately $700 million. That is 10 per cent of the total number of cattle and calves reported across all of Canada in the 2011 Census of Agriculture.

• More than 120 established processing businesses in the Lethbridge region produce food and/or feed for local consumption and export.

• Lethbridge Inland Terminals has shipped more than 1,000,000 tonnes of grain since it opened a few years ago on Highway 4 southeast of Lethbridge.

• The Lethbridge Research Centre (LRC) is the largest within Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s national network of 19 research centres.

• The southern Alberta agricultural region has an annual production capacity of over 860,000 acres in canola crops – 21 per cent of the Alberta total canola crops are grown here.

Wider Horizons
Lisa Kozleski
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