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Planting seeds for the future

"Education is not only important, it's necessary. That's the reason I give to education." ― Dr. Cor Van Raay

In a small shop in southern Saskatchewan, Dr. Cor Van Raay (LLD ’15) came across a sign that neatly sums up his approach to business: if you find a job you like, you’ll never work a day in your life. 

“Whatever you choose to do should be fun at least 80 per cent of the time,” Van Raay says, reinforcing the mantra above. “The other 20 per cent of the time it will be hard work.” 

It’s that balance between a passion for agribusiness and a strong work ethic that has established Van Raay as one of the area’s leading agricultural innovators and entrepreneurs. Originally from Holland, Van Raay began farming in Iron Springs, Alta., 50 years ago with a half-section of cropland and a small herd of Holstein cattle. Since then, he has built one of the largest and most successful cattle production and feedlot operations in the country. 

“Dig deep and get the work done,” advises Van Raay, who remains very hands-on in the day-to-day operations of Cor Van Raay Farms. “I never set out to be the biggest operation, it just never occurred to me to stop growing. In fact, it still hasn’t; even today I know I can do more.” 

Luckily for southern Alberta, that passion is not confined to borders of his own farmstead. Van Raay’s vision is a future where agriculture and agribusiness, enterprises on which the southern Alberta economy were established, continue to be an attractive career option for young people. To that end, early in 2015, he gave the University of Lethbridge and Lethbridge College $5 million to jointly establish the Cor Van Raay Southern Alberta Agribusiness Program. 

Designed to provide leading-edge training in agribusiness practices, the program will focus on agricultural economics, entrepreneurship, innovation and ensuring students have a solid understanding of business and management. In addition, he has funded a number of scholarships at the University, including the Cor Van Raay AGILITY Scholarship in Agriculture and Agribusiness, and two Faculty of Management scholarships, including one that was created in memory of his late wife, Christine, who passed away in 2006.

“Education is not only important, it’s necessary,” says Van Raay, who had limited opportunities in Holland but did pursue night classes here in Canada. “That’s the reason I give to education. I believe it’s important regardless of what you choose to do in life.”

Accepting his honorary degree at Fall Convocation last year, Van Raay encouraged graduates to pave their own way forward, using their experience, their interests and, most importantly, their education to guide them to a fulfilling career. 

“Fear regrets, not failure,” Van Raay warned. “Do something you’re passionate about and have fun every day.” 

As someone for whom farming is not only a business but a way of life, it’s clear Van Raay is doing just that.

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