* “Farming is all about Defying the Odds” was written by my husband, Farmer John (aka @CanManFarm). Since he had a farm accident and is off his feet for the next 8-10 weeks, he’ll be contributing a lot more to the farming section on this blog. *
At a distance, farming seems like an easy job to do and to make money with. You just plant, grow, and cultivate, and then harvest the money afterward, right? Or you just feed, take care of and sell a few head of livestock and make loads of money, right? Actually, farming is all about defying the odds.
Many people will say that farmers are very conservative. Actually, we’re some of the biggest gamblers going. We always believe that next year will be the good year. In some ways, you can say I’m an addict to farming.
When I grow a crop, I’m getting the ground ready for planting. It’s all about getting crops in at the right time and in the window of opportunity. Sometimes the weather doesn’t give you very much time to plant. You can’t have it too wet or too dry. You need to have the weather cooperate with you.
Farmers do all kinds of things to help make that window of opportunity bigger. We use no-till or conservation tillage to create a higher organic matter in our soils, which allows us to go in a field when it’s wetter than traditionally done in the past.
New types of equipment allow us to be more flexible in the time as well. When I was a kid, I used to plant with an 8 ft seed drill and the ground had to be like powder – very soft and loose. Now, I plant with a no-till drill and can plant five times the acres in a day with far less disturbance of the soil.
It doesn’t mean the job is easier, but it means you have to pay more attention to what you’re doing. If you do it wrong, it costs you a lot of money!
Farmers have gotten bigger to be able to cover more acres in a shorter time window. The first tractors I used had a steel seat and today I have a tractor that has an air-ride seat. It allows me to work a longer day in much more comfort so that I can do it again tomorrow. When I was done working (with the steel seat), there were days that I could barely walk after working a long day.
You can see that farming is all about defying the odds. We have forces beyond our control to contend with like the weather, markets, illness or disease in crops or animals, governments (red tape or trade), and so on.
Farmers have very little impact on the markets. Prices go up and down not because of what the farmers do, but because of speculation in national or global markets.
Image via Pinterest here.
Markets are always demanding higher quality, especially when it comes to products for human consumption. If weather doesn’t cooperate and you can’t get a good harvest, the money you would have made for products for human consumption now fall to the level of animal feed – and that may even be at poor animal feed, and may not even cover the cost for growing it. This happens more than people realize. Generally, if you can get three good years for every five, you are doing wonders.
People often complain about the rain or snow, and hot temperatures and cold temperatures, but farmers need them all. We would just like them metered out in a more desirable way. For example, I like rainy weekends so I can have time off in the Summertime with my family, but at the same time, I like nice warm, dry days when I cut and harvest hay.
Having a cold Winter is very beneficial to me because it kills off bugs and insects that may affect my crops in future years. For example, -20 for a week gets rid of a lot of negative pest problems.
Also, one of the worst things for livestock/cattle is having big swings in temperature. For example, if we go from +5 Celsius to -20, and back again within a few days and repeating, it creates a lot of stress on the cattle and there is potential for respiratory problems. I would much rather just -10 and for it to stay that temperature for the entire Winter. There would be a lot less potential for respiratory issues for cattle if that were the case.
If I don’t get enough rain, I will not get a good crop. If I get too much rain, I won’t get a good crop. Everything needs to be ideally in the “Goldilocks zone”. Not too hot, not too cold…just right.
If I plant grain when it’s too wet, I get a lot of hair-pinning or failure to have the slot close. This means the seed to soil contact is not a desirable environment. You want the soil to fold in around the seed and be close to the seed to create an ideal environment for the seed to sprout and to produce fully. Likewise, if it’s too wet, there is potential for mold and disease, etc.
No two years are the same. Every year has a different combination of weather. Growing a crop one year (a new variety) is not always comparable to what you grew last year. There are so many things to take into consideration.
If I’m growing two types of barley, I need to grow them side by side to see what the real difference between them is. Some years, one variety might outdo the other.
It’s all about the money. Not.
I’m currently running a farm that has taken many generations to grow to where we are now. We’re running a multi-million dollar operation, but we are making a very small living out of it. If I were just doing this for the money, I’d make much more money working as a teacher, construction worker, etc. The only time I will see a big pay day is when I “sell out”. The only reason I have that pay day is because the value of this operation has been handed down from previous generations.
Farming is very rarely a business that one starts in their own generations. Most family farms have taken many generations to get to where they are now. Unless you are small scale or product specific, such as in the horticultural business, starting up a farm has huge upfront costs with a long payback period. That’s if everything goes right and you defy the odds.
People often ask, “Why do you farm?” I refer them to a quote I once heard. “If you can do a job you love, you’ll never have to work a day in your life.” My wife says, “Are you kidding? It’s a lot of HARD work EVERY day.” My response is, “It’s in my blood and I’m drawn to the land and the animals.”
There are so many more areas we can get into when it comes to farming. Readers, what would you like to know?
Feel free to connect with Farmer John here on the blog or on Twitter!
Featured Farm Blogger:
Joni W says
I love the farm. I’m glad i don’t live in the city. I couldn’t do it. Yes, it’s in the blood.
It’s so interesting to get a real-life view of farming… what goes into it, and all of the elements that need to be considered. It is a lot of work and I want to thank you (and all your fellow Canadian farmers) for feeding us! It’s comforting to know that there are such reputable, conscientious farmers raising our meat and growing our produce. That’s why Canadian food is some of the best in the world!
Judy Cowan says
Great post, it was an interesting read. Nice to know a bit more about what goes into farming. Good luck with your recovery and hoping you will be back doing what you love before you know it.
Greetings from San Diego. Great article John! Very informative and insightful.
Thanks for all that you as a farmer.
Bert, TC and I hope you have a safe and healthy recovery.
Boo Watson says
I love your approach. This winter of roller-coaster temperatures has been hard on everyone and everything. But the Spring will be GREAT! RIGHT?
Josefina Vergara says
I quite understand why my niece Christine married a famer. She too came from a family of farmers. My grandparents on my father side were farmers. They grew everything in their farm but I think they had it easier than you because they had the farm in the Philippines and they had only 2 weathers to contend with, rainy and dry seasons. They had 4 daughters and one son, my father. The 4 daughters remained as farmers but my dad wanted a university degree and wanted to live in the city. My grandmother also had an accident. She fell off the ladder while picking coffee beans and that made her paralyzed for life. She died at 76. My grandfather however continued farming and died of old age at 111 years old. My father, however who became a city boy and immigrated to Canada died of heart attack at the age of 79 but when he retired, he got interested again in farming. He grew all kinds of things in his little backyard and I know that I came from a family of farmers because I really enjoy gardening so does my brother and sisters. Getting my hands dirty with soil is one of the most relaxing things on earth. I can’t wait till it gets warmer so I can go back to gardening.
Oh! Tita Jo! I totally forgot about that! I always remembered our family being city people!! Thank you for sharing this with us!
Emily Marie says
Great to hear what goes through a farmers mind on a regular basis. So much others don’t take into consideration. Thanks for all you do and all the best in your recovery!
Lynda Garniss says
Thank you for this information. So interesting. Your article brought me back to the days when my dad worked the land. His days as a farmer were happy days as I remember. Good memories. Looking forward to reading more!
Thank you, Lynda! I think John is working on another post!
Chuck VanderVeen says
Well written, John. Enjoyed your story very much. It’s always good to be reminded of the sacrifices self employed folks like you and me make. Even though I have never farmed – except staking tomatoes when I was a teenager and taking care of our 1/2 acre garden growing up – being self employed in no matter what your occupation takes perseverance, dedication and foresight. I hope you’re well on the way to total healing and that you can get back out on the land you love. And always take time to be safe! Chuck
So true, Chuck! So true!
This Sunday will be one month since John’s accident. He is starting to be mobile with the help of crutches. He still isn’t able to put pressure on his foot, He feels the pain too much still. Slowly but surely, he’ll be on his feet again 🙂
Great post, John! Very insightful to how we farmers truly live, trust, hope & pray–doing it every year in hopes next year will be better. All the best with your recovery!
Thank you for the best wishes, Jill. Every farmer’s story is a little different, but we share the same understanding.
Can’t keep a farm boy down for long. I think his stubbornness may help him get better soon. He’s been off his feet for nearly a month already and boredom has set in. He pulled out all of his staples!!!
Great way for you to spend your recovery time, Farmer John. Here’s to healing and recovery and thanks for educating us non farmers. Looking forward to reading more of your posts in three weeks to come.
Thanks for the well wishes. My wife has got me cornered for the next couple of weeks, so I’ll be putting some more posts out!
Wendy Payne says
Thanks John for this tiny bit of insight into your life as a farmer. I seriously learnt so much already! Wow! I love that you do this job not for the money but because it is who you are and what you love to do! What an amazing way to live life! Looking forward to more blogs! Write on!……
Praying for a 100%healing in that leg so there is no complications to prevent you from doing what you obviously love to do…FARM!!!
Blessings gs to you and Christine and Little One!
Thanks for the well wishes. That’s part of the goal of writing these posts….to help to educate on all sides.
Growing up my grandparents had friends who owned a dairy farm and I remember spending a few weeks with them one summer and although I was having “fun”, I watched how much qord went into that farm. I have never taken farmers or what they do for granted since then. It takes a very special person to do what you do for all of us. I hope that John mends quickly!
Thank you Jessica. While it is a challenge in today’s society that so few have firsthand experiences on farms, and yet the majority of our food comes from farms.
This opened my eyes. I knew farming was difficult and that there’s a lot of luck involved when it comes to weather, but I didn’t realize that 3 in 5 crops is considered good and I didn’t realize how long it takes to get a farm running! I’d love to know more about the history of your farm. I’d love to know why you choose to do the type of farming that you do. I’ve always had an admiration for farmers and their families. It’s certainly more than a job. It’s a lifestyle. It’s a passion. Thank you for doing what you do! Farmers feed cities, after all, right? Can’t wait to read more from you John! You have a talent at writing, just like your wifey 🙂
Thank you, Janine. It’s true, my wife has immense talent. I will try to keep up with her example and tell a little more stories of what I do as a farmer.
Sending all of my love to John and your family – remember this is just a bump in the road and sunny day lay ahead. You are right, from the outside looking in farming seems like an ‘easy’ way to live, but since I have gotten to know you I now know that it is HARD and involves a lot of work. Work that great people like you put your heart and soul into.
Thank you. Meri for being such a great support and friend to my wife and family. It’s true, until you walk a mile in somebody else’s shoes that you don’t understand what situation they’re in.