It isn’t easy to put into words what drives some of us to choose such a challenging lifestyle. Farming is, well, difficult. Weather and grain prices, the two things that essentially drive our farm income, are mostly outside our control. I can’t make it rain tomorrow, any more than I can make the sun come out, or a frost to stay away. Things happen in almost every growing season that challenge my ability to reconcile just how much of an effect luck has on my livelihood.
Unfortunately, luck does have quite the impact on the success or failure of any farm. This isn’t a business that’s particularly fair. Some farmers were born into tracts of land where it regularly rains. Some farmers weren’t. Some farmers were born in an area where the soil is highly productive, while others were born into areas that can’t support much more than grassland. Furthermore, sometimes the rain patterns simply change, making an area that was “sure-crop country” into a region where crop failures are suddenly a plausible possibility.
No matter how good at his or her job a farmer is, if they farm in a tough area, they will endure struggles, more so than a farmer in a different area might. You can extrapolate this reality across the world – even the farmer enduring the greatest challenges in Canada will have an easier go than a typical farmer in Nigeria.
The thing about luck, though, is that all of us have a similar lottery at birth. We could be born into wealth or poverty, Sweden or the Congo, genetics that grant us long, healthy lives or genetics predisposed to cancer or dementia. Being born in Canada, no matter what your level of income, already puts you in the top 10% of the world’s wealth. So, farming isn’t unique in this sense, it’s just more apparent in your everyday life.
Nevertheless, it can be painful dealing with continuous drought or flooding. It becomes difficult to keep hope alive. Sometimes, after too many years of terrible weather, some farmers have no choice but to let the farm go and move on. There are few things in life more devastating than losing a business that your grandparents started (even though it’s okay. No one should ever be ashamed of moving on from farming, for whatever reason). It’s not surprising that the statistics on mental health in agriculture are dismal:
- 75% of farmers have mid to high stress levels
- 58% of farmers met the criteria for anxiety classification
- 35% of farmers met the classification for depression (find mental health resources at domore.ag)
So, why the hell would anyone want to farm for a living?!
One of the wonderful things about being a farmer is being a part of growing food. It’s astonishing sometimes to run through some of the statistics: a single bushel of wheat produces enough flour to bake 90 loaves of bread. Every hour at harvest that we’re combining wheat, we are harvesting nearly 400,000 loaves of bread. That same hour of harvest that we’re combining canola, we’re taking off 1,800 Litres of cooking oil. I could go on all day, but I think you get the picture. Being an integral part of feeding a hungry world is a very gratifying life.
Most farms have a dream of a legacy. Of leaving things better than they found them. That drives us to look after our land, even if much of it is rented. In farming, we stand on the shoulders of our grandparents to create a future for our children. Few farmers take that lightly. It’s a tremendous – and amazing – responsibility. Owning farmland, whether it’s a few acres or thousands, carries a sense of deep satisfaction, a sense of responsibility, a sense of meaning.
As Jordan Peterson has said,
“Perhaps happiness is always to be found in the journey uphill, and not in the fleeting sense of satisfaction awaiting at the next peak. Much of happiness is hope.” Farming is a life of carrying a heavy load uphill. Hope for the next year, the next crop. It is a very meaningful life.
I farm not just to create a future for my family, but because I love it. I’m passionate about it. It’s a rollercoaster no theme park can duplicate; the ups and downs of any season, the challenges, the hardships, the joy of seeing a great crop come off the field, is exhilarating in a way few things can match.
Our 2022 crop is a perfect example of this. In the spring, it truly seemed as though we weren’t going to get the crop in the ground. It was so wet, for so long, that we just could not get in the field to seed for weeks. In this part of the world, where the growing season usually ends in early to mid-September, you just don’t have time to wait for things to be perfect. Once you hit the first of June, if you can get seeds in the ground, you do it. Period. As the days ticked by on the calendar, my stress grew, until the weather finally cleared, giving us the opportunity to finally get our crop seeded.
Throughout the year, we watched as storms rolled overhead, waiting for what seemed like an inevitable hailstorm. One day, a hailstorm did indeed arrive, rolling right through a big swath of the farm. Somehow, it only managed to strike one field, when it looked like it was going to hit thousands upon thousands of our acres.
When harvest came, we knew the crop was good, but it was even better than we thought. After all the work we put into it, with so many hours in the sprayer trying to eke out every last bushel we could get, it was incredibly gratifying to see it all come off. It was a long, tough year. But we made it.
Every Day is Different
In farming, you just never know what might come about tomorrow. Sometimes, it’s weather. Sometimes, it’s geopolitics. Other times, it’s one of your landowners deciding to sell. It’s different, every single day. You get to do something different every single day. Today, I could be a trucker, while tomorrow I can be a CFO, and the next day a mechanic (even if a bad one!).
Farmers are inspiring people. I’ve met a tremendous number of inspiring farmers in my life. My Dad is one of them. We weather a lot. And we keep going (but we do all have limits).
I don’t think anyone captured the essence, the soul, of farming better than Theodore Roosevelt in his 1910 speech, The Man in the Area. Take a read.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
We get a lot of thank you’s in farming. I appreciate them. I truly do. It’s incredibly special to be a part of an industry that holds such deep meaning for so many people – it’s your food that we’re growing. But you don’t need to thank me. And you’ll never have to. I will always be a part of this amazing industry we call agriculture, because I love it, all of it. And that’s enough for me.
As someone from a fourth-generation farm family in Radville, I get what you are saying. Your passion and commitment to your farm are inspiring!