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Watching the grass--and their company--grow.

Diversifying within the agricultural sector not only saved the half-century-old Legault family farm in Timmins, but it capitalized on an untouched market for Andre and Connie Legault.

Andre worked with his father as a boy and after he graduated in 1985 from Le College d'Alfred, a regional French agricultural college campus of the University of Guelph near Ottawa. Twice a year, they trucked 300 head of cattle between the 160-acre Timmins farm, where the crops were grown, and a 1,400-acre, ranch-style farm in Val Gagne near Matheson, where the herd was pastured during the summer.

In the mid-90s the couple grew tired of the volatility and unpredictability of beef prices.

"It was very frustrating," Andre says, "and I was running out of patience with the cattle."

So the Val Gagne farm was sold, and Andre and Connie bought the Timmins family farm when his father retired. They agreed upon an arrangement where his parents could reside on the homestead.

During the years with the cattle, increasing dissatisfaction led Andre to research sod growing.

"I had seen it before when I'd gone to college ... it always stuck in my mind a bit," he says.

Also, there weren't any other sod growers in Timmins. Apparently it had been tried, but unsuccessfully. Consequently, any sod that was sold in the small Northern town was shipped in from Sudbury.

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While researching the market, Andre took some courses through the University of Guelph, attended turf symposiums, talked with people in the business and educated himself over a four-year period. He also joined a Nursery Sod Grower's Association, which helped him maintain contacts with other sod farmers.

In 1996, the Legault's borrowed some equipment for seeding and they planted five acres.

Initially, it was a learning experience and some mistakes were made. However, they knew it was the start of a future venture when they saw how well the grass grew.

"We might have harvested two acres out of the five, because we didn't do it properly, but it was a good learning experience," Andre says.

Connie adds that "it grew very well-it was just difficult to harvest."

The following year they obtained the proper equipment, grew about 20 acres of 100 per cent Kentucky Blue Grass and began selling it to local nurseries and contractors.

During those early years of getting established, the Legault's learned important strategies in the sod-growing business, one being the value of their work, and the time and energy required to grow quality turf.

Andre explains in the sod industry, it takes three years before you get a crop, so fields are always in rotation.

"We realized the nurseries were making all the profit on the sod," he says. "We got smarter, put up this office and started doing retail."

At that point, Connie, who had worked in the computer field, decided to focus her energies on the family business.

Since that time, they haven't looked back. By cutting out the middleman and setting up a retail outlet at the farm, the Legault's began to see the value in operating a sod farming business.

They continue to supply the nurseries at a reduced price, but their own retail shop made more sense and more profit.

"People really like it when it is fresh and they see it cut right out of the field," Andre says. "The skid comes right off the tractor. It is cut the same day you put it down."

The Legault's work their fields on a three-plot rotation. When one field is harvested, a second field is worked, while the third field matures for the next year. So the crop that is planted this year will be harvested in three years.

This year, the plan is to plant 50 acres to meet the growing demand from a booming housing and industrial market in Timmins. As well, the Legault's service surrounding areas like Kapuskasing, Hearst, and Kirk-land Lake, to name a few.

They also own another 145-acre farm down the road. This provides the space to plant hay and other grains for the horses Connie boards, as well as space for a potential expansion.

Several students work on a seasonal basis and their own children help out with the farm. The Legault's Sod Farm received the Timmins Chamber of Commerce Nova Award for Business of the Year, 1-5 employees.

By ADELLE LARMOUR

Northern Ontario Business
COPYRIGHT 2006 Laurentian Business Publishing, Inc.
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Title Annotation:Andre Legault
Author:Larmour, Adelle
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Jun 1, 2006
Words:729
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