[UPDATED Dec. 11,2017]* Every farm has its own story. No two farms (or farmers) are exactly alike. Everyone got started in a different way, and every farm has a different combination of family and hired staff who make the decisions and keep things running. But, in general, even after you consider all of the details, Prairie farmers are more alike than different.
This is the first article in a new feature where we’ll profile farmers from B.C. to Manitoba. We’ll tell you how they started out, and what they see ahead. Maybe you’ll find a story just like yours, or maybe you’ll get an idea for something new to try.
The first volunteer who bravely stepped forward and agreed to take our questions was Robert Ellis, a 35-year-old farmer from west-central Saskatchewan.
These are Robert’s answers to our questions.
Where do you farm?
Our home farm is 13 miles south west of Elrose, Saskatchewan on the border of the rural municipalities of Lacadena and Monet. I farm in the RMs of Snipe Lake, Monet and Lacadena.
What do you grow?
We’re growing red and green lentils, yellow peas, durum, spring wheat, barley and canola. I’ve also tried soybeans.
How long have you been farming?
About seven years.
Who do you farm with?
I farm on my own. My wife Kaylie and I have a new baby, Rixten. Rixten is 17 months old, and he keeps us on our toes.
Because I’m mainly on my own, one of the very important things that makes my farm work is having good dependable employees that know what they’re doing. I lucked out when I found the guys that are working for me now. I have one full-time employee and two seasonal employees.
Why did you choose farming?
I always wanted to farm.
I worked in the oilfield for a while, to see what that was about. But I always really wanted to come back and give farming a try.
At one point, we couldn’t find anybody to rent some of my dad’s land, so I started off farming just his three quarters. My step-dad allowed me to use some of his equipment. Then I started renting more land from both my mother and farther, and ended up buying Dad’s land. Then I started renting land from my stepfather as well. It kind of all snowballed from there. I started renting land from other farmers as well, and now I’m farming 6,500 acres.
What farming season do you enjoy most?
Harvest. It’s hard to beat harvest, when you finally reap the reward from all your hard work.
What’s the farm implement you can’t live without?
These days, I would have to say the sprayer. It just never seems to shut off from the day you start in the spring, and it’s the very last thing you put away before freeze up. We seem to live in it nowadays.
What good decision have you made that turned out well?
The obvious answer is growing lentils, but canola is a new crop for us.
When I started farming, there wasn’t a lot of canola in this area. Over the years we’ve added more and more canola to our rotation, and now we’re up to the point where it’s a third of our crop. It seems, even on a year when you count it down and out, canola still seems to come around and do quite well for us. It’s been a consistent profit maker.
Have you made a decision on the farm that you regret?
I wouldn’t say I regret this decision, but one of the toughest decisions we always fight with is fungicide, and how far to go with it on a wet year — when to stop and wave the white flag.
That was a really hard decision for us in 2016. We continued to spray fungicide and in hindsight, we should have just quit.
This year, it was dry. We got out money back from the fungicide, but that was it this year.
What do you see as the biggest challenge over the next five to 10 years?
It’s obvious for our area. Durum. What sort of cereal crop can we use to replace durum? It’s been good to us for a long, long time. But last year was a wreck, with fusarium. This year was good, but I foresee if the wetness comes back we’re definitely in trouble again.
This is the first year I’d ever grown spring wheat and barley, and it worked out pretty well. Hopefully it can help replace some durum, or we’ll, hopefully, find better ways to go after fusarium.
What do you see as the biggest opportunity over the next five to 10 years?
The easy answer might be soybeans and corn, but I tried soybeans a while back and it just really didn’t work out that well.
We need more diversification. We used to be a just a lentil and durum area. Then we added canola. I think we’ve got to start looking towards spring wheat, flax, maybe other varieties of lentils and stretching out that rotation even further.
What do you like to do for fun or to relax?
We have a permanent campsite at the Saskatchewan Landing Provincial Park. We have a boat down there. We go down there as much as possible in the summer. It’s close, so we don’t have to drive a long ways, so we actually do make it down there.
I also like to volunteer. I’m an RM councillor, I serve on the local rec board and I’m a part of the Elrose Lions Club)
In the winter we typically go on a hot holiday. I play hockey. I snowmobile. We’ll probably have skates on Rixten, this year, but I don’t think he’s quite there yet.
[UPDATE] The article previously incorrectly indicated Robert’s age and the number of people he normally employs. The author regrets the error and apologizes for any confusion this may have caused.
This article was originally published in the Dec. 5, 2017 issue of Grainews.Tagged barley, canola, Grainews, lentils, peas, soybeans, wheat