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Bloyce Thompson finds vision through farming, photography and politics

Alice Guthrie for Progressive Dairy Published on 31 July 2020
Thompson promoted his cattle with creatively staged photography.

Bloyce Thompson of Frenchfort, Prince Edward Island, is a dairy farmer with a difference.

A third-generation dairy farmer, he has been in the dairy business for 25 years, following graduation from Dalhousie Agricultural College.

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Thompson’s herd consists of 90 milking cows and up-and-coming youngstock, and has the designation of a Master Breeder herd. He uses a tiestall barn with a special needs and maternity section, and pastures his cattle during the summer.

He works 450 acres, growing barley, corn silage and grass.

Thompson’s decisions in his business have gained him honours in the dairy field. He was named Premier Breeder at the 2011 Royal Agricultural Winter Fair (RAWF). A cow he co-bred, Eastside Lewisdale Gold Missy, was judged Supreme Champion at both the RAWF and at World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wisconsin, and later sold for $1.2 million in 2009. Thompson has judged cattle in a number of countries (Japan, Brazil, Portugal, U.S., Peru) and every province in Canada, and the genetics he has developed have been in demand as embryos worldwide. He is a past member of the genetic evaluation board for the Canadian Dairy Network and has been a board member of the Dairy Farmers of PEI.

Farmers are well-known to be creative and innovative, and this creativity can manifest in many ways. Some add value to their products and market them from their farms. Others find new and better ways to accomplish daily tasks. Thompson’s creativity has a unique twist – for about 20 years, he has staged interesting photography sessions to promote his top-class Holstein herd.

2019 Christmas card

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He has vision, which is obvious in the scenes he creates for his photographers, and they ranged from whimsical to serious. Immaculately groomed cattle travel to various well-planned venues for professional photo shoots – producing shots which charm and delight his fans – and promote the dairy industry in a positive light. One photo went viral – a shot of one of his Holsteins, Olivia, hock deep in water at a beach with a cliff and lighthouse in the background.

Vision is important for any businessman, and farmers are no exception. They need to see where they are headed and be able to make plans for arriving at that destination. Decisions are made daily – what crops to plant in a particular field, what sire should be used on which cow, and on and on and on. Some decisions are easy, others very hard, depending on what ramifications can arise from those decisions.

Vision is also important in other endeavours. Take politics, for example. Thompson has always been somewhat interested in politics and says, “Farmers can make excellent politicians … [they are] always making decisions … same with politicians.”

In fall of 2018, Thompson led a rally of farmers to protest the NAFTA trade deal, specifically the Trudeau government’s concession to opening the Canadian dairy market to U.S. competition. Approached by the PC caucus to run in the 2019 provincial election, Thompson started thinking about it and agreed, feeling that he was in need of a new challenge. Although predictions were that the PCs would finish last, the results were surprising, with the PCs forming a minority government with the Green Party forming the opposition. The biggest coup of the election was Thompson, on his first start out of the gate toppling the Liberal incumbent and premier.

Thompson now serves his province as a member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) of Prince Edward Island, with portfolios as minister of agriculture and land and as minister of justice and public safety and attorney general. He says there is a similarity to his jobs in that, “Every day you open the barn/office door, you never know what you’re going to find.”

Thompson is no longer in charge of finances or decisions on the dairy, as his business shares were put into a blind trust when he became minister. His wife, Terri, handles those day-to-day issues. He says they are fortunate to also have excellent staff to run that business, stating, “Our farm manager, Mitch Johnston, and herdsman, Paul Stewart, run it like they own it, which makes my political career work without worrying about the farm.” Thompson now volunteers his time as he can, usually spending a couple of hours each morning in the barn.

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The COVID-19 outbreak has affected his business, along with other industries. The dairy has had to dump milk and has cut back production by 10%. He says farmers have a story to tell – empty shelves in the stores have made the public realize farmers are essential. “One silver lining from COVID is that public trust in farmers has swung back,” he states, adding that people want to know where their food comes from. To other producers, he affirms it is a good thing that we have supply management. Processing is important, and we have that here.

COVID has affected his work as MLA as well: “The way we do things – the new normal is making us look at how we deliver the same services through a COVID lens,” he states.

Bloyce Thompson famiy

When Thompson can’t be found in either barn or office, he might be found RV camping with his family, Terri and their children: Taylor, 15; Alyson, 12; and Jenell, 10. It is an activity the family enjoys together. He is also involved in his community in coaching baseball, Old Home Week and serving his church as an elder.

His talent for artistic direction shone in his 2019 Christmas card, which featured a Holstein calf, bedecked with a red ribbon and photographed in front of the local courthouse. This was very popular locally and is a fitting symbol for his combined roles as ministers of agriculture and justice.  end mark

PHOTO 1: Thompson promoted his cattle with creatively staged photography. This photo of his cow, Olivia, ended up going viral.

PHOTO 2: Combining his new roles as ministers of agriculture and justice on Prince Edward Island, Thompson’s 2019 Christmas card showed a Holstein calf in front of the local courthouse.

PHOTO 3: Dairyman Bloyce Thompson was able to step away from his farm to pursue a career in politics with the help of his family, left to right, front row, Alyson, Bloyce, Jenell; back row, Taylor, Terri and his mother, Rena. Photos provided by Terri Thompson.

Alice Guthrie is a freelance writer from Hagersville, Ontario.

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