A gift of appreciation
In recognition of being named the 2019 winner of the Outstanding Dairy Women Service Award, Deb Knapton received a gift of appreciation from the Lanark Federation of Agriculture at its April meeting held on April 11 with the gift being presented by LFA president Lillian Drummond. As part of her work as a MSR for Zone 8 with the OFA, Knapton provides volunteer support to the LFA and three other federations in the area. Pinder-Moss photo

by Dianne Pinder-Moss
AgriNews Contributor

An outstanding woman
Deb Knapton was presented with the Outstanding Dairy Women Service Award at the Ontario Holstein Branch annual meeting in Peterborough on Feb. 27. Seen with Deb (centre) and her husband Merlin following the presentation are, from left, former award recipients Sandy O’Hara, Barb Fraser, Ruth Vogel, Karen Velthuis and Nancy Beerwort.
Pinder-Moss photo

LANARK COUNTY – While Deb Knapton may not have grown up on a dairy farm and horses were her first love before cows, she certainly has left her mark on the dairy industry and the agricultural community overall.

So much in fact that the Mississippi Mills resident has been named the 2019 winner of the Outstanding Dairy Women Service Award.

Presented by the Ontario Holstein Branch – the provincial link of the Holstein Association of Canada – the award honours Ontario women who have devoted their lives “in an effort to serve, promote and enhance” the dairy industry.

Knapton was nominated for the award by Brian Hamilton of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) who described her in this way: A knowledgeable, dedicated, organized individual who is passionate about the dairy industry “and always a positive leader in the field.”

As evidence of Knapton’s passion and dedication for the dairy industry and agriculture in general, Hamilton made reference in his nomination letter to her work in the daily operation of the farm that she and her husband Merlin purchased outside Almonte in 1989 – they bought quota and started to milk in 2004 – as well as her efforts off the farm.

Mention was made of Knapton’s interest in breeding and genetics, “which can be seen in their amazing herd classification.” The current classification for the herd of approximately 20 cows, according to the nomination, is 6ME, 3EX, 14VG, 5GP and 2N/C with an average score in the herd of 87.1 points.

“They are first generation farmers and the interest, dedication and perseverance are evident with what has been accomplished in such a short amount of time in the herd is truly remarkable,” Hamilton, the eastern and northern region manager for OFA field staff, highlighted.

As to how she gained an interest in agriculture, Knapton told the AgriNews that she grew up in a rural area and became involved with horses at a young age. At the age of 17, she was hired to work on a dairy farm for a summer and that’s where she discovered, “I absolutely loved working with cows.”

After attending agricultural college and marrying her husband Merlin who she met through Junior Farmers, the couple always had hopes of milking cows one day after they bought their farm in Mississippi Mills.

After briefly shipping cream and then raising heifers and pigs for several years, those aspirations were realized in 2004. At present, they milk between 20 and 22 cows, with usually an additional 15 to 20 heifers and calves part of the livestock. Not surprisingly, the farm is also home to two registered Quarter Horses.

“I don’t seem to have much time to ride anymore but I try to get out a few times when the weather is nice,” she shared. 

Off the farm, among Knapton’s contributions to the dairy industry highlighted in Hamilton’s nomination letter, locally, she is in her second year as chair of the Lanark Dairy Producers Committee after serving for 10 years as its secretary. Likewise, she has been very active in the county’s 4-H program, previously being a leader for 19 years, acting as the county co-ordinator for four years and being the chaperone to regional and national dairy shows. Knapview Farms still lends calves for 4-H dairy members.

“The 4-H program is an incredible program and I hope to perhaps lead again when I’m not as busy with other commitments,” she stated.

 Those other commitments include being a director and past secretary/treasurer on the Eastern Ontario/Western Quebec Championship Holstein show committee and recently being elected as a Gay Lea delegate. She is also a member of the organizing committee of the 2021 national Holstein convention, which is being hosted in Ottawa.

Knapton’s name is well known in the agricultural community overall as she has been a director on the North Lanark Agricultural Society and involved in the Eastern Ontario Quarter Horse Association and American Quarter Horse Association.

Her involvement over the years with these various organizations and committees has come, she says, because she believes strongly in what they do, “because they are an important part of the farm community, and because they always need people to help lighten the workload.” 

“I hate to see good opportunities or events disappear because there is no one to do the work to make them happen,” she stated.

Recently, one of those opportunities has entailed being part of the advisory committee for the new Agri Business Program that will be starting at the Perth campus of Algonquin College in September. 

“This is a great asset to the ag community in Eastern Ontario,” she said, noting that there has been a gap locally in post-secondary opportunities of this type since the closing of Kemptville College. In addition, there are many employment opportunities for ag graduates and this will provide local farms and ag businesses a great resource to draw on for skilled employees.

 As if she isn’t busy enough, Knapton has been employed by the OFA since January 2015 as the Member Service Representative (MSR) for Zone 8 – comprising the counties/regions of Lanark, Renfrew, Arnprior and Ottawa. Through this work, which she calls “the best job ever,” she provides assistance to dairy and other farmers who are OFA members within her territory on any agricultural related issues or questions they may have. As well, she provides volunteer support to the four local federations.

“Deb is highly respected as it is known that she will work hard and often above and beyond the call of duty to get things done,” Hamilton stated in his nomination of Knapton.

He also mentioned in his nomination letter that Knapton was “well regarded” by the farmers in her area, and that was certainly reflected in the letters of support for her nomination.

“Deb has earned widespread respect in the community with her involvement in many organizations,” Daryl Ziebarth wrote. “Her experience and knowledge of agricultural issues has allowed her to be a strong advocate for the dairy industry both locally and on social media. Not one to look for the spotlight, Deb leads by example and unselfishly gives up her time without looking for praise or accolades.”

His comments were echoed by Bert Thom who called Knapton “an outstanding choice” for the award and Amanda Hammond O’Connell who spoke of how she is “a woman that others look up to, and want to emulate.”

“Every year when I hear about this award, she is the woman that pops into my head, she is a woman that loves our industry in every way,” Hammond O’Connell noted in her letter.

A past award recipient and member of the selection committee, Ruth Vogel believes that Knapton “exemplifies the true meaning” of the award.

“I’m so impressed and admire what [she and her family] have accomplished in such a short amount of time with their herd,” she states. “Many farmers never have the chance to receive an excellent in their herd and the Knaptons have received several.  Mind you, Deb is not from a farming background so this shows her passion for the industry and Holstein breed.”

When asked by the AgriNews what motivates her to work so tirelessly to promote the dairy industry, Knapton responded that there are a variety of reasons. As an example, she notes that “we have an incredible Holstein cow in Canada that is admired all over the world.”

“I am proud to be involved in activities and organizations that promote our cows, our industry and our breeders,” she stated.

Similarly, the award recipient thinks dairy products are an important part of a healthy, balanced diet, “so I believe strongly in our industry as a supplier of nutritious, safe food.”

“And they taste great,” she added. 

Another factor contributing to Knapton being so passionate about the dairy industry and agriculture overall relates to the future of farming.

“Youth are our future – we need to support them and the organizations that help them develop into tomorrow’s farm leaders,” she maintains.

Likewise, Knapton enjoys the work that she does.

“The people that I have worked with on all these organizations are wonderful,” she stated. “They are not only fellow volunteers but they are also good neighbours and great friends.”

Knapton is the first person from Lanark County to receive the Outstanding Dairy Women Service Award. With the selection committee being comprised of some previous award winners, people within the dairy industry “that I absolutely admire and respect,” she considers it “a great honour” to be recognized by them in this way. 

“Women play a huge role in the ag community and I love that it’s an award to acknowledge their contributions,” she stated. “I’m also excited to now become part of the selection committee going forward.”