Is The First Generation Farmer a Thing of the Past?

Over the past couple of days, I have been reading and seeing a bunch of different articles in relation to keeping young farmers on the farm and attracting first generation farmers.

My question? Why is it any different than any other entrepreneurial business. I’m sure that there are tens of thousands of people across Canada that have big ideas that once they are finished with their education, their goal is to start up their own earth moving company, oil company, trucking company, or what ever it may be. The thing about it is these are all high capital ventures. You can’t just walk into the bank and say “hey, I have no money and no backing but I need a couple million to start my business”.

Why is Agriculture any different? It’s almost like because it’s Agriculture, there is a sense of entitlement. You hear a bunch of one liners like:

“Why isn’t the government helping out?”

“FCC won’t give me the money”

“The only way you can do it is if daddy gives it to you”

The sad truth is, unless you have deep pockets, going at it on your own from scratch isn’t going to happen. You don’t hear these statements in other big business. You would get laughed at. Now don’t get me wrong. There are cases where people pay their dues and work hard into their 30’s to save up enough money to start their own farm, but to cry wolf because you want to farm but can’t because there is no one to give you the money is not right.

Farming is risky business as it is and banks want to make sure you are financially stable enough to do it. It’s like high stakes poker. You take all your money (and the banks money) and put a crop in the ground. You hope that pests don’t eat the seed, rain comes at the right time, grasshoppers don’t devour the crop, hail stays away, fall is open to get it harvested, bugs don’t infest your bins and the commodity markets don’t collapse. This on top of all the startup capital it takes to buy tractors, combines, drills, trucks and land.

For those young farmers that grew up on the family farm and want to stay farming, I feel the biggest mistake that they can make is thinking that they are going to make a go of it on their own. Stay where you are. Work hard and show the family that this what you want to do. Learn from the previous generation and work together by sharing ideas collectively. Grow the business together and take calculated risks. These are risks that if you were on your own, you wouldn’t be able to take. Have a plan. While dad may not want to talk much about what succession, it will eventually need to be dealt with. If you put in your time, the end result will probably be one that keeps all generations happy. Remember, in this scenario it’s not me,me,me. It’s we,we,we. You are in it together.

There is no easy way for us young farmers to keep in the game.  We shouldn’t be shutting new farmers out but we also should not be setting them up to fail either.  Take advantage of the opportunities presented to you and lean on the knowledge of others around. Most importantly, remember that being a farmer is a privilege, not a right.

10 thoughts on “Is The First Generation Farmer a Thing of the Past?

  1. Well said Kevin.

    Some young farmers do get taken advantage of by their family by working hard and getting nothing, but far more seem to EXPECT to get the whole farm handed to them for doing very little.

    It’s a fine line, but I’d rather err on the side of earning rather than expecting.

    Just remember to live life and enjoy time with your family along the way!

    John

  2. Nicely put, farming is very much a family run business, but that’s just it, its a business. Just because your not in a suit and tie every day doesn’t mean your not an intelligent business person. I do agree that many young farmers do expect the farm to be given to them and not earned. It is these farms that I fear will not survive over the next 5 to 10 years as many of the older generations retire.

  3. I don’t think there are too many farmers that purposely took advantage of their families. The whole family had to work on the farm to make ends meet. When my father first started like many others
    there was nothing, you relied on credit from the ag inputs dealer, the equipment dealer, the hardware store even the grocery store he couldn’t afford to pay a hired hand let alone his own family. But he did provide food on the table, a roof over their heads, clothes on their back, an education. I don’t think they worked for nothing.
    Fathers would like nothing more than to sell the farm to the next generation, but they went from 1 quarter to 1 section or 2 sections and more. At today’s prices how can you expect the next generation to take over that at fair market value. Incidently, one can show the next generation the hard way by earning it – which means the land may still be in the family but it has been paid for twice.
    Now add some none-farming family or non-interested family into the mix and your situation becomes more difficult.
    It is not that the next generation can’t become successful, and some of them will. It all depends on where you want to walk the line of “risk” because at today’s prices the level of risk is phenomenal.
    We grew up learning how to be frugal, maybe that doesn’t define a successful farm business anymore.

  4. I wonder if this would be brought up if canola was $6 and wheat was $3? Who wants to be a millionaire Farmer is the question!
    Nothing against Kevin but I think he’s a little out of touch with the average farm! I’m sure they never bought a turn key operation and it took alot of hard work to rack up those kinds of numbers! But
    If your gonna compare farming to other capital investments then maybe farming should be like every other business! Take away any and all government money that involves agriculture! Your on your own! Excess moisture….. Better luck next year.

    It seems that now that farms are making record profits they want to be called a business but when they fall on hard times it’s ” the family farm”! I Come from a farm, I help out on my neigbors farm. I would love to farm but i don’t have the wealth to invest in it!

  5. A little history on our operation djh. In 1994 when I graduated from high school, we farmed 1650 acres. Over the last 18 years we have seen $5 canola, $3 wheat and $2.20 barley. We took big risks and they paid off. Not sure how that could have made me out of touch from reality. I agree, get rid of government interference in ag globally. Put us all on the same playing field. When my brother and I decided this is what we were going to do, we treated it as a business thru good and bad. Treating your farm like anything other that a capital investment business is economic suicide.

  6. Well Kevin I applaud you and your families hard work and determination.
    I’m from Manitoba and have seen an average price in land go from 500 an acre for good ground to 2500 dollars for a 500 acre parcel!
    I have friends and family that have farmed for a long time and they won’t even think of investing in land. There’s always big risk involved but what we have today is a recipe for disaster!
    If you were to start your operation today and put all you have up for collateral just for a small chunk of land and equipment do you think it would pay off? Farming was a hard sell 15 years ago. If it’s gonna cost this much to get into farming I really can’t see many people jumping to put a large amount of money in a very uncertain industry! When you get in on the high side it really hurts when the market goes down! I thank you for your comment.

  7. I agree with the idea that some feel they are entitled or deserving of the family farm. We see examples of this all the time, especially on social media where young farmers are sitting in their air conditioned cabs, taking videos and “selfies” while the tractor or sprayer or combine drives itself. We watch videos of them taping themselves singing to the radio or making up their own lyrics to modern day songs…it’s giving farmers a bad image to the rest of the world that doesn’t know a thing about where their food comes from. This is probably my biggest pet peeve of this generations’ grain farmers. If you’re truly proud of where you came from and how you managed to step into the role of running the family farm, you would think one would be more humble. I often wonder what our ancestors would think if they saw the way feeding the world was portrayed.

    However, with that being said, I do feel that the government should support the new, young farmer due to the fact that it is scary how old the majority of the current farmers are. Every year there are less and less family farms surviving because of the cost to begin and maintain farmland and equipment. They are turning into corporations, where land acres are being increased dramatically from year to year and therefore, the quality of grain is suffering. Growers race against the change of the seasons, and most times are taking the crop off before it’s ready, then stuck with drying costs or discounts at the elevator. Who do the elevator managers call up when this happens? The smaller farms, the more realistic sized operations, to deliver their exceptional quality grain to blend out the shit grain they received from the corporation.

    The prairies were built on hard work and family farming operations. This mentality should be sustained, even if it does require the assistance of the government. Farmers and ranchers face obstacles just to get their paycheque that no other industry faces – Mother Nature.

  8. I started my own farm and I’ve built it up to 3000 on my own. While cash flow and borrowing is always a challenge I’ve also ran into some good luck. I’ve found that there are creative ways to grow your business profitably. If you’re stuck on needing a certain peice of equipment or buying your land or paying a certain kind of rent or growing a certain crop growth will be difficult. I developed relationships with landlords custom operators and neighbours. I try and look at their goals and try to find synergies that we can all profit from. I do not farm the way my neighbours farm, I farm the way that works for me. My story isn’t over and I’m in a high risk operation but I’m young and now is the time for creativity risk and hopefully reward.

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