Perspective: In Agriculture It Can Be Your Greatest Gift

This week, I’m entering my 30th year writing Under the Agridome.  American Thanksgiving is a nice time of year for me.  Some members of my family are American and since I was young we have celebrated US Thanksgiving.  In southwestern Ontario it is very common for US Thanksgiving to be noticed and appreciated.  There are even churches in southwestern Ontario who put on US Thanksgiving dinners and have many Americans cross the border to take part in the festivities.  Of course it also represents a time when harvest is either almost over or over like this year.   I had a neighbor finishing his corn today and as far as I can see there are no crops left to harvest in this area.

It is also a time when I am forced to look into next year.  I say that because over a period of years seed corn companies have backed up their seed ordering into November, usually before I even thought what I wanted to plant for next year.  Needless to say, this year in Ontario that is an adventure fraught with fraud.  This week on Twitter I posted a picture of a plethora of paperwork that people must go through to order the same seed corn we ordered last year.  The regulations are unworkable, but that doesn’t matter I have to order my seed anyway.  As Prime Minister Trudeau’s would say, it’s 2015.

He is so right and I think I have a little bit of trouble with that.  The neonic regulations are just a very small part of where I find myself in 2015.  I simply refuse to be dishonest about the possible bugs that may or may not be in my field.  I really don’t have a clue and the fact that I have to make things up to make things right just to have seed corn arrive on my farm makes little sense.  I know it’s not about the bees, which makes it worse.  However, when I look in the mirror whose problem is this?  Is this simply just another thing as a farmer I have to deal with?

I tend to think so.  Over a 35-year career farming near Dresden Ontario I have seen a whole bunch of things coming out.  Government regulation is one of those things.  It is a default or a constant in any business environment and when it comes to farming in Ontario we have a long history of that.  It just so happens that in 2015 it seems to be getting more onerous.  That simply means that management has to evolve and change once again.

Needless to say, those 35 years of experience gives me a little bit of perspective.  It also puts me in a place that I have always had a hard time thinking that I would ever reach.  Simply put, I at a point now where there is probably more behind me than ahead.  Agriculture is changing exponentially and it is increasingly difficult for me to keep up.  Lots of it has to do with my age, but it also has much to do with the economics of agriculture and our increased productivity as farmers.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not going away.  In fact, I would argue I’m at the top of my game.  However, I’m 56 years old now and for whatever reason when you reach those heights the landscape not only looks different from my perspective but also looks different from others who look at me.  This was very evident to me a couple years ago when I was greeted by another speaker at a conference I was at with him asking me if it was true I had sold all my farmland.  It doesn’t stop there.  I’m increasingly asked if I would like to rent some of my land.  I walked away from both those moments thinking what the heck was that.  However, it’s simply the world changing around me and people making simple assumptions based on where that old man seems to be.

It is interesting to contemplate.  For instance, some trends in agriculture in 2015 to me are so retro.  For instance, strip tillage seems to be a growing trend in Ontario.  However, in the 1980s, I remember the same thing minus the guidance systems.  I can also remember a time when governments paid us to keep residue on our fields overwinter.  That ballooned into the widespread acceptance of no till production, but now in Ontario tillage is making a big comeback.  I also hear the debate about row widths on soybeans and corn.  However, over my 35 years I’ve tried every row width imaginable and where I am now with row widths is where I want to be.  So when I see people debate this, it rings so hollow.

It is almost like the circle of life.  I’ve been around so long now that I have seen so many things come and go including seeds, biotechnology, pesticides, and government regulations and everything in between.  My great assumption is that everybody knows this but of course this is a fallacy.  When I look around everybody is mostly younger than me even in the agriculture arena and they don’t know this.  It’s something that really can’t be taught, you need to put some years behind you and if you come out on the other side you have perspective you could have never imagined before.

Of course the key as a farmer is to remain successful and relevant and do it in a safe way.  Key also is to have a management plan ahead for your farm and your life space.  The road ahead will not necessarily get easier, but likely more complicated.  For those of you behind me planning is key to getting here.  Just make sure you keep an open mind along the way.  When you get here, you’ll have perspective.  On the farm, that can be the greatest gift you can imagine.