A local man is among a special group of Canadians who will receive the chance of a lifetime.
About three weeks ago, Bashaw resident Ben Wilson was named as one of 16 finalists in the Cattleman’s Young Leaders (CYL) program.
The initiative of the Canadian Cattleman’s Association (CCA) is open to cattle producers from 18 to 35 and provides $2,000 for travel and an individual specific mentorship opportunity for the finalists. The process began with applications in January, with a list of semi-finalists — 24 this year — invited to participate in round table talks during the Canadian Beef Industry Conference that was held in Calgary Aug. 15.
Wilson was among the eight Alberta finalists, with the rest coming from British Columbia (4), Saskatchewan (3) and Manitoba (1).
He said it still feels a bit strange to be among a group where he is the only one that doesn’t own cattle.
“It’s pretty comical, that among a rather diverse group I standout for that,” Wilson said.
Wilson’s trek to this moment began back when he met his wife, Kelly, whose family have long been in the Angus beef industry.
Wilson is an aerospace engineer who wanted to make a change and got himself into video production. That would lead him to become part of his wife’s family’s charitable operation — the website FarmOn.com — and eventually to start up his own freelance video business.
And just a day before the CYL application deadline, Wilson was approached by a friend he met through industry connections to get in on the program.
“She knew about the passion I had developed and how strong of a supporter I am of agriculture and the cattle/beef industry and wanted me to apply,” he explained.
“I thought it was only for those doing work in the beef industry, but she told me they are trying to encourage people to be involved in other ways.”
Wilson has learned a lot about the beef industry over the years, through his video production work at the Canada Beef demonstration kitchen as well as in working on the projects involving environmental and animal health/welfare issues.
“I’ve become a small foodie and a bit of an expert on cuts and grilling through that work. So much that I tend to impart my expertise to people I see when I’m at Bashaw Meats,” he added with a slight chuckle.
All of the finalists were selected after going through five round table discussions, focused on various topics with specific questions, with the judges choosing the ones it was felt would advance the industry.
Wilson stated it’s about making a difference and he’s excited about the opportunity.
“I’m hoping to learn more about sustainability and how the industry continues to improve as well as more on grazing management,” he said, adding he would like to find a way to use his newest video acquisition — a drone — in this opportunity.
“It’s also a bit ironic, that someone with an aerospace background and a fascination with flight and a pilot’s licence, may now be able to combine all three passions to explore the potential benefits for the industry,” he stated.
While his exact mentor will be decided soon, Wilson will ask about the possibility of being able to work with a British Columbia-based university scientist who is researching the use of drones to scan and assist in managing cattle while out in the pasture.
The program is supported by partners United Farmers of Alberta, Cargill, McDonald’s Canada and MNP plus gold sponsors Farm Credit Canada and New Holland. The travel budget is provided to help the finalists attend industry events and meet with the people they have been matched with.