A third generation farmer, Neil’s grandfather immigrated to Canada from Belgium in the early 1900’s and settled on the current farm in 1910. In high school, Neil began working with bees and eventually grew his operation to 200 hives. In 1970, he sold his bees when he and his father invested in a new free stall barn with milking parlour. Although his roots quickly grew deep in the dairy industry, he recognized early on that diversification would allow his family farm to flourish. Neil, and his son Jeff’s grain enterprise have since expanded to over 4,000 acres.
Throughout his career, Neil has served in a variety of capacities including various directorships and presidential roles for local, provincial and national agricultural organizations. Some of these include: the Manitoba Rural Adaptation Council, Manitoba Veterinary Services Board, Manitoba Holstein Association, Dairy Farmers of Manitoba, Dairy Farmers of Canada, Manitoba Canola Growers and Keystone Agricultural Producers.
Nationally, as a board member of the Dairy Farmers of Canada he played an integral role in developing the first Canadian Code of Practice of the Care and Handling of Dairy Cattle. As a founding member of the Western Milk Pool, Neil was instrumental in negotiating the initial agreement of this interprovincial milk income sharing plan that supports consistent milk supply, processor access to milk and a stable income for dairy farmers.
Also, while chair of Dairy Farmers of Manitoba, Neil facilitated the creation of a golf tournament with the goal to raise money for pediatric research and dairy science education. This tournament proudly continues to support these goals.
Locally, Neil has served on the Oak Bank Credit Union as director and chair for 25 years as well as many years with the Cooks Creek Conservation District where he has made significant impact through his involvement. Neil has worked tirelessly to improve drainage and reduce crop losses for many of the area’s producers. This, along with many farm visits to area dairy farmers and his keen interest in improving water and soil conditions in Springfield, prove Neil’s “hands-on” approach to his many agricultural contributions.
The Van Ryssel family, which includes Neil’s wife, Rosalie and children Kori, Jeff and Brent, were proud recipients of the Red River Exhibition Farm Family of the Year award in 2005.