I Meet the Youngest Farmer: The Transition Is On

    Sometimes I go where I’d never been before.  That’s where I found myself today when I headed out of Guelph on snowy icy roadways on my way to Creemore, Ontario.  I’d been invited to speak at a grower meeting of the local crop supplier.  Creemore is a beautiful community northwest of Toronto and Southwest of Barrie Ontario and very close to Georgian Bay.  For this southwestern Ontario farm boy it was my 1st venture into Creemore and that part of Ontario.

Yes, it is funny, how do I travel to all ends of the earth and not get to central Ontario?  I don’t know myself except for the fact that I have little reason to go north of Toronto, so getting invited to central Ontario to speak to growers about the grains has always been a privilege.  I have been to that area several times over the last few years.  It has a growing, dynamic and young farming population that is changing the culture of the rural economy in that area.

Of course I was navigating very snowy and icy roads to get there.  That has been an anomaly this winter in Ontario. The farmers told me when I got to Creemore; this was not very much snow.  Interestingly enough, I got into several conversations at the grower meeting about wind turbines.  To say the least they are controversial in that area.  There are also a lot of them, with some concessions on the way plastered with propellers.

I give my grains presentation by essentially telling a story.  Yes, I am schooled by the best in the business, DTN’s Darin Newsom and John Sanow on cash price indexes and features spreads.  If you read in detail DTN’s analysis of grains you can educate yourself so well you get a great understanding of the markets.  However, telling that story has to be done in a style where people are accepting and want to listen.  That is always my greatest challenge when I talk about the grains, telling the story in such a compelling fashion that people simply want more.  And every time I finish a presentation, the next one has to be better or I’m simply not doing my job.  I’ll keep trying.

The grower meeting in Creemore was my 10th speaking engagement since January 8th.  I have a couple more this year before I wrap it up in front of the corn planter.  Today, I had something very unique happen to me.  A very young man who told me he was starting his farming career this spring approached me.  He had just listened to my presentations on the grains and we basically ran into each other.  He appeared a bit nervous but then he said something very complimentary about my presentation and I introduced myself.  That’s when he told me he was starting farming.  I told him that there was no substitution for excellence on any level and working hard is always a very good thing.  He told me he was really looking forward to it and that it was a great time to start farming.  He may have been 20 years old.

That conversation made an impression on me because I suppose that at one time I was he and I did not have enough confidence to speak to an older person like he did.  During the grains part of my presentation I always comment on our low interest-rate environment and compare that to the time when I 1st started farming paying over 20% interest rates.  So I hope for my young friend’s sake, that he realizes that these low interest rates may not remain at this level forever.  Thankfully, our friend Ben Bernanke, the US Federal Reserve chairman has promise of these rates will remain till 2014.

I bring up my young friend because in all 10 of my speaking presentations over the last 8 weeks there have been many young people present.  It is striking how many 20 something farmers I am seeing in rural Ontario.  You might have read DTN Executive Vice President’s Urban Lehner’s column last week, about “Boomer farmers” where he asks for ways to encourage young farmers.  Urban also talked about boomer farmers like me who are farming longer because of the use of technology.  So it is a double-edged sword.  Needless to say, we do have some very bright young people stepping out into Canadian agriculture.

The vast majority of them are in Québec, as that province has always led the way for young farmers.  However, there are young farmers scattered at the back of meeting halls all across Canada.  At the same time, as Urban implied, Canadian agriculture is getting even greyer.  It is what it is but those young farmers represent hope. Let’s work to make the coming transition a smooth one.