By Dominic Desautels
I’ve often heard this from people; “You’re so lucky to be able to do this, I wish I were a farmer.” And I’ve often heard this from retired folks; “If I could start over, I would have become a farmer.” Well, farming, just like any other job, comes with its fair share of glory and hardships. Some of the very hard working and devoted farmers might get recognized by their community and earn themselves an “Excellence in Farming” award from the local Chamber of Commerce. While others might get acclaim from their lending institution(s) for being “Avant-Garde” or “leaders” in their field and earn themselves a write-up in the quarterly or monthly newsletters. But behind all of that fanfare and glory, goes the story of men and women who spend their time caring for their livestock and growing crops. Sounds simple enough. In fact, if you look up the definition of a farmer, you will find that it sums up to:
In a nutshell, that’s basically what we farmers do.
But what is often overseen, are the many different trades required to keep a farm running smoothly. You can’t always call someone to fix or maintain your equipment, that can get quite costly, quite fast! And often times, you need to roll up your sleeves and fix problems on a weekend or weeknight, when some contractors or mechanics aren’t always available. So, a basic knowledge of mechanics, electricity, electronics, plumbing and heating, carpentry, chemistry and so on, really goes a long way. Plus you get the satisfaction and confidence of being a significant do-it-yourselfer. Throw in some human resources in there for good measure, if you have employees. If they decide not to show up when it’s a busy time harvesting or cleaning out a barn, you’re going to need some relaxation and breathing exercises to keep your focus on the task at hand. Then there are the animals to look after. Routine and consistency are the main pillars of animal production. Daily chores performed by the same person at the same time, the same way, every day, will keep your animals calm and healthy. As crazy as this sounds, ask any farmer about consistency with daily chores and they will tell you how important this simple detail can be to having a successful flock or herd.
In today’s world, it is getting harder for younger generations to get into farming. The price of and demand for good cropland is at an all-time high, especially for very productive land in prime areas. Whether you are buying the land for growing cash crops or using it to feed your livestock, your investment can be one that might take generations to repay. The same applies to buying a quota in the supply and demand areas of the dairy, egg, meat chicken and turkey industries. All of these productions in Ontario require an investment in “quota” to become a producer, and they are very significant investments. The right side of it; whatever you produce is guaranteed to be sold and marketed by their respective boards of production, all within your allowed share and paid a fair market price. Quotas usually gain value in time, so any quota holders could then retire and sell their share of the market and cash-in on a pretty sweet retirement nest egg. But now there is a lot of uncertainty revolving around the most recent NAFTA 2.0 agreement with the U.S. and Mexico. It might not be so valuable anymore now that the import percentage for many of these products increases. It remains to be seen how Canadian consumers will support Canadian produced food. The local food movement will tell how Canadians chose to eat, and they will need to hone their label reading skills.
If you are the “avant-garde” or “bold” marketer type, you could always work to produce a niche or specialty market thing, and try your farming skills from there. I have seen many young Organic vegetable growers, beekeepers, maple syrup producers that have made good with this. That is a great way to start. Sometimes it just requires some research and being at the right place at the right time, taking advantage of new markets and trends. There are still opportunities out there if you wish to seize them.
In some cases, some new farmers start this way. But the bulk of farm property sales stem from family succession transfers or to neighbouring established farmers. You will find the occasional young couple who venture out and purchase a farm, a dream and embark on a lengthy quest of payments provided by the income of two full-time off-farm jobs plus whatever they make from the farm itself. That has been done and is still the dream of many.
So, in a nutshell, that’s my picture of what the farming lifestyle can be. I don’t mean to be pessimistic here, just realistic. Ask any farmer of the work and risk involved in feeding the planet, and when you’re finished listening, thank them for providing good quality food to feed your family.
“It ain’t no 9-5 kinda job”, farming takes guts to get the glory, and every farmer has his own story to tell. As for me, there has been, and will probably be more twists and turns in my farming career, but I still wouldn’t have it any other way. Farming is in my blood, and it has made me who I am today. Just driving along the countryside, looking at what my farmer neighbours are up to, gives me a sense that we are an essential part of the future of our planet. Much rests in our hands. I grew up on the farm, and I am ready to take it to wherever I think might be the next best place. I have always been fortunate to work alongside my family and plan to keep doing so with my children if they wish to follow suit. I have made so many good friends through farming and have many good neighbours that I can count on and work with.
In the everyday hustle and bustle, we are all in this together. So, support your local farmers as best you can. They are working hard and risking a lot to bring you quality food.
And if I had to do it all over again, I would still become a farmer!
“And that’s all I gots to say ’bout that” – Forrest Gump.
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