Charolais breeders and 2020 Manitoba Outstanding Young Farmers Andre and Katie Steppler run a much different operation than they did in 2007.
That’s when they took over the cattle portion of Steppler Farms near Miami.
In terms of sheer numbers, the Steppler herd has grown. In 2007, the couple took on less than 100 purebred head, a number they have since grown to 550, while adding a commercial division.
The farm raises more, calves more and markets more. Their yearly bull and female sales are heavily promoted by the farm, while the couple has worked hard to build a brand online and through their work in the show ring.
“We changed the dynamics of how we sell cattle through that sale situation,” Andre Steppler said. “We also changed the way we fed cattle. We went to a silage-based ration, which allowed us to have efficiencies of lower acres to feed more cows, so those were the fundamental changes in the production that allowed us to grow and carry forward.”
The Charolais herd itself is but one prong of the family farm, which has expanded from the mixed operation run by Steppler’s parents, Pat and Dan, to an incorporated farm made up of Steppler Charolais, Steppler Grain (managed by Andre’s brother, Adam) and Steppler Honey (run by Steppler’s other brother and president of Steppler Farms, Ian).
Their approach has helped launch Andre and Katie Steppler into the limelight. This year, the pair earned the Manitoba Outstanding Young Farmer award, given to farmers between 18 and 39 years old who show excellence. The annual award is chosen based on farm progress, environmental stewardship, production history, farm management, and contributions to community, province and nation.
“For our farm, they all kind of tie into each other,” Andre Steppler said. “But the main focus of any farm, of course, is production and profitability and forward direction, progress.”
Sustainability practices, for example, are tied in Steppler’s mind to helping his farm achieve lasting profitability.
Steppler used the example of water source preservation. Preserving those local water bodies also preserves wildlife habitat, he argued, while also maintaining water quality for his herd.
Telling their story
Few who follow the Stepplers, however, will be surprised that the couple also won big points for their agricultural advocacy.
“Ultimately, I think the competition was very close this year,” Angela Fox of the Outstanding Young Farmer program said, “and I think the work (the Stepplers) are doing nationally and provincially played a big role in the deciding factor for them this year.”
Andre Steppler is a familiar face around the agricultural circles of social media. His videos, usually filmed in the field or the cab of his truck as he highlights some aspect of his purebred Charolais operation, have gained Steppler a following on both Facebook and Twitter. Likewise, the Steppler family has been highlighted in several media articles, as well as a video profile by the “Great Tastes of Manitoba” last year.
We’ll get lots of producers saying, how do you find time to do all that stuff?” he said. “And the No. 1 answer to that is, if we don’t do that right now and we don’t help educate the public and we don’t advocate for what we’re doing and show that we’re proud of what we’re doing, the industry might not be there for our children to take over the next generation — or their steps in agriculture are going to be harder and harder because they’re going to have to do even more advocacy.”
Within the Charolais industry, Steppler helped lead the advertising and promotion committee of the Canadian Charolais Association, along with prior roles as vice-president of the organization and director with the Manitoba Charolais Association.
The couple has also gained a reputation in the show ring. Their cattle commonly feature in the winner’s circle at events ranging from 4-H and Brandon’s Ag Ex to national shows. In 2017, Steppler Farms took home the national title for reserve champion junior female, a show that Andre Steppler helped bring to Manitoba as part of the 2017 national show committee. The farm had already won a national title in 2014 for reserve grand champion female.
More and more, Andre Steppler has also been called to fill the judge’s seat ranging from local competitions to Edmonton’s FarmFair International. He was asked to judge the Supreme category at Regina’s Agribition in 2018 and had made several trips to Toronto’s Royal Agricultural Winter Fair. This coming year, Steppler has been asked to be a judge for the 2020 world competition.
The farm’s marketing actually started in the judge’s box, he said.
He became acquainted with judging during his stint at Lakeland College, where he credits his mentors for helping him learn to convey his priorities on cattle genetics, as well as the networking that would one day help build his brand.
“I was able to use that and forward myself in the industry and it gave me that label as a bit of a leader,” he said. “Every judge needs to have integrity behind them, as well as an extensive industry knowledge, otherwise you’re not going to be asked back again.”
The industry is also becoming accustomed to seeing Steppler at the podium during industry conferences. Most recently, Steppler was called to address the Manitoba Agriculture Research and Innovation Committee in Winnipeg, a meeting designed to develop research priorities in agriculture.
Passing the torch
The farm’s support of the next generation and community involvement have also raised interest. The Steppler children have also started to show cattle, and the family both participates in and helps lead their local 4-H Beef program. In 2017, Steppler Farms also donated a raffle heifer calf that ultimately raised $18,000 for the Canadian Youth Charolais Association conference, slated for Manitoba the following year.
At the time, the cattle show’s organizer, Shannon Carvey, remarked that the gesture was, “unbelievable the way these guys donate their money and time towards supporting the youth.”
Earlier this month, the Stepplers and their local 4-H Beef club brought several calves to a seniors’ home in Notre Dame des Lordes, something Steppler says was targeted towards the many residents who grew up in agriculture, but are now largely removed from it.
“Once we got our kids older and they started to grow up and all of a sudden they were taking part in the sports program; they were taking part in 4-H, and we can just now see as parents how valuable that is,” Steppler said. “It teaches them so much respect, so much responsibility and we want them to be leaders in those areas as well, so when we put our kids into these different organizations that are very locally run, it is so important to make sure that those can function.”
The Stepplers will now be headed to the national Outstanding Young Farmer competition in Saskatoon in December.