Wider Horizons

Cor Van Raay took time away from the harvest last fall to talk to Wider Horizons about his decision to donate $5 million to Cor Van RaayLethbridge College and the University of Lethbridge to create the Cor Van Raay Southern Alberta Agribusiness Program. For the college, the gift will be used to support student awards, to develop academic programming and to establish an Agriculture Entrepreneur in Residence program that will create opportunities for students to gain practical, realworld experience while generating lasting effects for existing agriculture operations and businesses. Van Raay – who is an avid cyclist and traveller when he’s not busy with his latest project crop farming in Saskatchewan – hopes the gift will nurture a new generation of agricultural workers who have solid business acumen as well as strong science skills.

What were some of the thoughts you had as you made this gift?

“As you get older and you have built up some equity, you start thinking ‘Where do I get the biggest bang for my money?’ I understand others have jumped on board (see related story on p. 20). That got me excited and thinking maybe I was on the right track. Being in agriculture or being a farmer is maybe not the sexiest thing to have around in college. But with this gift, I am saying we need in the future very good farmers who know how to market their crops and who know how to work the futures market. They need to know about all the things that a businessman in town needs to know – plus they have to know about how to put the seeds in the ground. I thought there was a real need – not just for farmers but for people who work on the business side. There is a shortage of people who have a real passion for agriculture and who want to go that route. We need to raise more kids thinking agriculture is something good.”

What advice would you give to a recent graduate starting out?

“I would tell them first of all, you never want to choose a career that you don’t like doing. If you like what you’re doing, you’ll most likely be good at it, and you should do it. What’s the worst-case scenario? If you go broke, so be it. If you choose something that someone forced you to do, or are doing something strictly for the money, you’ll never be good at it. Often, you’re better off to take a lower starting wage and work your way up so people can see what you’re worth.”

Was it a risk for you to move into Saskatchewan and shift from cattle to crops?

“This is my fifth crop I’m taking off this fall – we’ve got lentils, canola, peas and wheat. I’ve been having reasonably good crops since I’ve been here. If I didn’t have this I’d probably be bored to death. I am just on a little different pace than most people.”

What would you tell a college student who wants to get into this business about risk?

“If you have no tolerance for risk, then you probably shouldn’t be farming at all. Whether your operation is small or big, some people have a bigger tolerance for risk than others. It’s part of the package – it’s what some people live for. And it never came to my mind to do anything else.”

If you were to visit Lethbridge College in 10 years, what would you hope to see happening here when it comes to agriculture and agri-business?

“Hopefully this money can be used to help us have well-educated farmers and more people getting excited about agriculture.”

Wider Horizons
Lisa Kozleski
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