20TH ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL

The Road to APAS


Terry Hildebrant, founding APAS President, reflects on the journey to unify Saskatchewan's farmers and ranchers


Written by Delaney Seiferling

Photos by Michael Bell

20TH ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL

The Road to APAS


Terry Hildebrant, founding APAS President, reflects on the journey to unify Saskatchewan's farmers and ranchers


Written by Delaney Seiferling

Photos by Michael Bell

20TH ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL

The Road to APAS

Terry Hildebrant, founding APAS President, reflects on the journey to unify Saskatchewan's farmers and ranchers


Written by Delaney Seiferling

Photos by Michael Bell

“There are big differences between production across Canada but when you get to know each other you realize we are all primary producers growing food. Once you zero in on the common ground you can work together to benefit the entire industry.”

As the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan (APAS) marks its 20th anniversary, one of its founding members is proud of how far the organization has come – and the role he played in it.

“It was one of the highlights of my life,” says Terry Hildebrandt, the organization’s first president.

Terry, who farmed for forty years in the Langenburg area (and is still active on the farm), was one of the farmers who started to recognize the need for such an organization in the province in the late 1980s.

At the time, the grains and oilseeds sector was hurting and there was no representation for Saskatchewan farmers at a national level, Terry says.

This is why, in 1999, he decided to get a group of his neighbours together to discuss the idea of creating a general farm policy organization in the province.

“I invited about seven neighbours to a coffee party at my house,” he says. “Some were in beef and grain, some in dairy, but we all agreed on one thing – we needed to form a strong general farm organization."

As it turned out, they weren’t the only ones thinking this.

Not long before, a resolution had been passed at a Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities (SARM) Midterm Convention to form such an organization. After Terry learned of this, he encouraged his RM (RM of Langenburg) to send out a letter to all RMs to push for the resolution to be pursued.

That’s how he first came to know Ivan Ottenbreit, a farmer from Grayson, SK who reached out to Terry after receiving the letter. It was Evans Thordarson, Ivan told Terry, that had penned the SARM resolution.

Evans was a very unique man, Terry says.

A farmer and the Reeve of the RM of Elfros, SK at the time, Evans had also studied at the Sorbonne University in Paris, had a degree in law, had travelled extensively and had experience lobbying the federal government with other farm organizations that existed at the time.

“It was really his knowledge and intelligence that got things going for us at APAS,” Terry says. “He was the brains behind it.”

Founding APAS Vice-President Evans Thordarson. Evans passed away in 2004.

After making these connections, Terry worked with Evans, Ivan and others to organize a group of interested parties, including representatives from the RMs of Elfros, Grayson, Kelvington, Lakeview, Langenburg, McLeod, and Spy Hill.

These “Original Seven,” as they came to be known, gathered at a meeting Langenburg, where they decided to invite all the province’s RMs to a meeting in Regina to discuss the need for a policy organization.

The meeting took place during a SARM convention in Regina. Going into the meeting they thought they would have a decent amount of support, but they were surprised by the turnout, Terry remembers.

“We had it packed to the rafters with people wanting to support this.”

At this meeting, with over half of all RMs present, a formal motion was passed to create the organization that would become APAS. An interim board was put together, and they decided on a starting membership rate of ten cents an acre.

“Before we knew what had happened, we had $400,000 and we were on our way,” says Terry.

Later that year, the organization was incorporated as a non-profit and held its founding convention, where Terry was elected President, and Ivan and Evans were elected Vice-Presidents.

The early days were tough, Terry says, as the founding members spent a lot of time on the road, trying to drum up support for, and awareness of the organization.

He remembers attending upwards of 20 ratepayers’ meetings the first winter, all across the province.

“I think I put on about 40 pounds that year, with all the roast beef dinners at the meetings. I haven’t been able to lose that yet,” he laughs.

But their hard work didn’t take long to pay off. The organization gained traction and members.

It wasn’t long afterwards that they experienced their first big success, when they were able to spearhead changes to the way federal support dollars were allocated across provinces. At the time it was based on the Fredericton Formula, a policy that saw federal funding go to the provinces with the biggest agriculture sales instead of the ones that most needed support.

“We became members of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture and convinced agriculture leaders from Quebec and Ontario – the big leaders at the time – that federal dollars should go to the sectors that were hurting,” Terry says.

“At the time it was the grains and oilseeds sector we said, but next time it could be beef or hogs. How could they argue with that?”

It was an easy sell, Terry says. And with the CFA leaders on board, the group lobbied for, and saw changes made at a federal level.

It was a success and an easily measured win, Terry says, resulting in Saskatchewan receiving $42 million more (or about $140,000 per RM) than it would have under the Fredericton Formula the year the announcement was made.

“We got membership fees back after that single policy change to cover membership for RMs for a lot of years.”

The early days were tough, Terry says, as the founding members spent a lot of time on the road, trying to drum up support for, and awareness of the organization.

Though no longer farming full time, Terry still helps out the renters of his land (Remus Farms) during harvest.

An organization like APAS is still needed – perhaps more now than ever. “We will always need a unified voice,” Terry says.

But beyond the financial success, the Fredericton Formula was proof that an organization like APAS was sorely needed, Terry says.

“It was just proof in the pudding that once you have a voice at the table you can make a major difference. There are big differences between production across Canada but when you get to know each other you realize we are all primary producers growing food. Once you zero in on the common ground you can work together to benefit the entire industry.”

During Terry’s tenure in the following years he saw many other victories for the organization, but one he is most proud of is uniting the once heavily divided agriculture industry.

“We were all splintered before and APAS pulled it together,” he says.

“One of the major benefits of our organization was that we acted as a general umbrella organization that unified groups on issues."

For example, APAS brought several of Saskatchewan’s livestock groups to the table when bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) became a major issue a couple years later, in order to have a unified voice to advocate for livestock producers.

Today, the agricultural landscape looks much different than it did 20 years ago, Terry says, with the ever-increasing size of farms and the difficulty bringing new, young blood to the table. Because of this he appreciates the efforts of the current APAS Board to encourage young farmers to stay involved, through initiatives such as their Youth Leadership and Mentorship Program.

This is especially important as farmers are still plagued today by low prices for commodities and high costs of inputs, as well as a suite of new challenges.

Which means that an organization like APAS is still needed – perhaps more now than ever.

“We will always need a unified voice,” Terry says.

Because of this he continues to advise young farmers to get involved. In fact, after Terry left the organization, a young man in his 20s took over as the APAS Representative for the RM of Langenburg, upon Terry’s suggestion, and was pleasantly surprised by his experience.

“He has just been overwhelmed with what is done there and he can’t say enough about how effective the organization is,” Terry says.

Terry Hildebrandt takes a break from harvest to reminisce about the beginnings of APAS.

Terry Hildebrandt takes a break from harvest to reminisce about the beginnings of APAS.

Of course, the organization is capable of such things today because of the contributions Terry and his cohorts made two decades ago, not to mention those of the spouses they left at home.

“The husbands and wives were the ones who had to pick up extra responsibilities while we were on the road,” Terry says, adding they spent a lot of time away from home in those early years.

“My youngest son was 13 when we started and just leaving home when I finished,” he says.

“I’m not looking for pity or grace – a lot of us did that, and Todd [Lewis] and the other executives are still doing it today.”

Terry says that was part of the mentality; helping fellow farmers was just part of the job.

“It took a lot of commitment by lot of people, working on behalf of others,” he says.

But there was takeaway for him personally too, he says.

One of the biggest was learning and understanding the agriculture industry from a national perspective.

“The world of agriculture is much different in PEI than it is in Saskatchewan,” he says.

He also learned the intricacies of politics and the complex world of lobbying, negotiating and policy making.

“Before my time at APAS I knew none of that,” he says.

Finally, he was able to meet people he wouldn’t have otherwise crossed paths with.

“The biggest gain I found was the people I met and contacts I made. I made a lot of really good friends that I still am in contact with today.”

And as he reflects on the fact that APAS is still making a difference in the lives of Saskatchewan farmers every day, he is happy with his contribution (with true Saskatchewan humility).

“We did some good and I guess you could say I had a bit of a hand in that,” he laughs. “I’m pretty proud that the organization is celebrating 20 years.”

“We did some good and I guess you could say I had a bit of a hand in that,” Terry laughs. “I’m pretty proud that the organization is celebrating 20 years.”

Learn more about APAS