Wouter VanLeeuwen Sr. is always trying to find a better, more economical way to farm.
That unrelenting drive has led to the Chatham-Kent Chamber of Commerce naming him agriculture’s ‘Innovator of the Year’ for 2020.
It’s all about scientific analysis, VanLeeuwen explains, and then taking the data and improving the your systems.
A native of the Netherlands, VanLeeuwen was born and raised in Holland. He attended agricultural school there and then began farming with his family raising potatoes, onions and sugar beets.
He and his wife and children decided to move to Canada after visiting his sister who had relocated to Lambton County.
He began searching for properties and liked what he saw in the rolling landscape of East Kent.
Now a large-scale player in the hog business, VanLeeuwen had never even seen a pig barn, when he purchased his first hog operation in Chatham-Kent.
In the past two decades, he and his son Wouter Jr., have grown the enterprise to include 13 sites with 11 barns.
Always keen to improve, VanLeeuwen began to delve into ways to create energy for his operation. He hired solar engineer Michael Kozdros and the two came up with a unique electrical system into a new barn in 2018.
The south portion of the barn’s roof is made of panels, and there are two large banks of solar panels located in the farmyard.
Because it’s illegal to send power back into what he calls Ontario’s “antiquated grid,” VanLeeuwen and his engineer had to think outside of the box.
They devised a new unique system, that when electricity production from the panels approaches an export position, the computer gives a signal to the systems invertors and throttles the electricity back.
“I’m prepaying my hydro for the next 25 years,” he jokes.
He doesn't know of any others like it in Canada, he adds..
The VanLeeuwens incorporate other environmentally friendly measures on their farm, which prove to be economical as well, as they attempt to create a self-sufficient closed loop system as much possible.
Part of the Conestoga Meats Packers co-operative, pork from VanLeeuwen Farms makes its way to Mexico, Japan and China.
While VanLeeuwen respects the earth, he’s no tree hugger.
“I’m interested in this, but I’m not a hippy,” he says.
“It has to make economic sense.”
The Chatham-Kent Chamber of Commerce will hold it’s 74th Rural Urban Awards event Nov. 25.
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