The greatest thing about farming is working with family

Lorna Callbeck

Jeff Mathieson is a fourth-generation farmer who runs the day to day operations of their grain farm near Watson, SK. During the busy times, like seeding and harvest, Jeff’s dad comes out of retirement to run the sprayer and drive the combine but they also hire some part-time employees to make sure everything gets done on time. They grow crops like barley, oats, canola, flax and pulse crops like peas and lentils.

Farming is much different than when Jeff’s parents and grandparents started out.

Jeff’s grandfather was considered a pretty large farmer back in the 1950s when he was farming 800 acres, which is just over 3 square kilometers of land. Today, many consider a large farm in Saskatchewan to be over 10,000 acres, which is just over 40 square kilometers. Jeff says at 2,600 acres, their farm is not massive, but it’s still a big change. “I try to imagine what my grandfather would think of the size of our equipment and the technology we’re using today and how we do things,” Jeff says. “I bet it would be amazing for him.”

Jeff goes onto explain that farms don’t get bigger just because farmers want to get bigger. It’s a matter of economies of scale and efficiency in order to maintain a family farm. “In Western Canada, based on the price the consumer is willing to pay for food and what my family is growing, farming isn’t economically sustainable on only 800 acres. We can’t purchase equipment, pay the mortgage on our land, or manage the costs of a grain farm that small these days; it is just not financially viable.”

He’s at that age where he’s having a lot of fun playing farmer” says Jeff of son Andrew

“To me there are two really great things about being a farmer.” Jeff says. “The first thing is that we grow food for people. Basically, we take all kinds of energy, add support from the equipment we purchase and the methods we use to grow the crop, and we turn that into a saleable product. To me, that’s pretty cool. There aren’t very many opportunities in the world to take the energy from the sun and the gifts of Mother Nature and help feed people. And we create a sustainable and renewable resource that we sell into the economy.”

“Our house and yard is in the middle of one of our fields and we grow a crop about 100 yards away from where we live. Everything that we do to produce the food that we sell to consumers is done outside our home. Where we live is the biggest testimony to the safety of the food that we produce because we are living right where the food is grown.”

The other great thing about being a farmer is the daily connection to family. “In central Saskatchewan, we have one planting season, one growing season and one harvest season,” Jeff explains. “While we put in many 15 to 18 hour days during those busy times of the year, I can spend more time with my family in the off-season and take part in activities like taking my 3-year-old son Andrew to the science centre or spending time at the lake with him and my wife Shawna.”

“Farming is my choice. I have a university degree and experience in other professions. I could be doing anything anywhere else and maybe earning a higher salary. In my mind, working for someone else wouldn’t give me or my family the same opportunities.” Jeff goes on to explain that the significance of having family on the farm is the ability to build something that can live on beyond oneself and be transferred to the next generation.

To keep their farm sustainable for future generations, one of Jeff and Shawna’s main goals is to leave the land better each year than it was the previous year. “Everything we do, every crop we plant or the fertilizer or pesticides we apply, we ask ourselves, is this going to make it better? If the answer is yes, it’s absolutely something we’re going to do. If it will hurt the quality of the soil or the environment around us, then we find a different way. As farmers, our job is to take care of the land so it will be there for the next generation.”

“Our house and yard is in the middle of one of our fields and we grow a crop about 100 yards away from where we live. Everything that we do to produce the food that we sell to consumers is done outside our home. Where we live is the biggest testimony to the safety of the food that we produce because we are living right where the food is grown. The Mathieson family farm follows and supports the rules set out for safe food production by commodity organizations and regulatory bodies to make sure that food produced is a safe product right from field to table.”

Meet ‘Agriculture Today’ blogger and farmer Angela Jones

Angela Jones and her husband Michael operate their farm in North East Saskatchewan. They grow cereal, oilseed, pulse crops and raise bison with the help of Michael’s cousin.

They currently have one other employee and their boys who are 11 and 14, put in shifts when they can. Michael oversees all parts of the operation and handles the marketing, while Angela handles the finances. During seeding and at harvest time though, everyone pitches in! Whether it’s operating equipment, washing windows, fuelling up machinery, running for parts or any other job that needs to be done, everyone participates. Truly, a family business.

Angela began blogging in 2014 after trying to explain farming practices to a young university student. “It was at that moment when I realized farmers were fighting an uphill battle to help consumers understand the challenges facing food production. When blogging it is sometimes difficult to find a narrative that appeals to both consumers and people involved in food production. My goal is to connect with consumers and to be transparent about the parts of agriculture that I have experience with, while hopefully learning from and supporting people in other areas of agriculture.”

RealDirt: How has farming changed since you started farming?

Angela: The changes in farming are too numerous to list! Technology in every area of agriculture adapts and adjusts so rapidly that it is a full time job to keep on top if it all. I think this is why I love farming so much, it never lets you get bored and there is no monotony (well, unless you are picking stones – that’s pretty monotonous). My kids constantly bug me and Michael about the amount of time we spend ‘playing games’ on our phones when in reality I am reading up on the newest studies and advances in crop breeding or pesticides and he is keeping up on the latest marketing news or equipment technology.

RealDirt: When you’re not farming and blogging, how do you like to spend your time?

Angela: My husband and I do a lot of volunteering. He sits on the local minor sports board and works with a local group of farmers on an annual crop fundraising project called Farmers and Friends, I help out with the local 4H Grain Club, and we both recently sat on a Cameco Hockey Day Committee that raised over $100,000 for our local recreation centre. We keep busy in the winter with our youngest son’s hockey team. Our oldest son enjoys outdoor activities, so we try to find time to camp or fish when we can.

RealDirt: What has been the most challenging part of farming?

Angela: I have been asked this question before and my answer was the financial uncertainty that comes with farming. There is no doubt that it is tough to put your heart & soul and all your time into something without a guaranteed pay cheque – we cannot set the prices of the product we sell and Mother Nature or government regulation can make things tough. BUT recently I have reflected on this answer and decided that the increase in misinformation about agriculture through social media is by far the hardest part. Time after time I see blog posts & web pages promoting false information about food production in order to sell consumers something, film producers exaggerating claims about agriculture in order to make a documentary more dramatic, or activists sharing untrue messages in order to push an agenda. The question on how to get the truth to consumers often keeps me up at night.  

RealDirt: What is one message you’d like to get across to the general public about what you do? 

Angela: I think the most important message to convey to people not involved in agriculture is just how much we care about what we do. The profession of farming is one based on pride and a deep sense of responsibility and we do not take management decisions lightly, whether that is using hormones, antibiotics, fertilizer or pesticides. So I guess the message I really want to get across is that farmers care. We care about our animals, we care about the soil, we care about the product we sell, we care about our customers, and we care about the environment. We care about those things a lot.  

 

You can connect with Angela on her blog, Instagram, Twitter (@AGtodayblog) or Facebook.

Is Roundup Poisoning Us?

By Jean Clavelle, Farm & Food Care Saskatchewan

Glyphosate is a herbicide — a type of pest control product used to kill plants. It is the active ingredient in the now infamous chemical Roundup, and is one of the most used agricultural chemicals worldwide.

Google glyphosate, originally released as the product Roundup, and you’re faced with results like ‘horrific’ “new evidence about the damage Roundup causes” and “Roundup chemicals are lethal.” One quick search and I can understand why society might have concerns about the pervasive use of glyphosate in agriculture. Reading these statements does lead us to question: is Roundup poisoning us?

Let’s examine the science.

A small amount (think: pop can) is mixed into a tank of water on the back of a special machine called a sprayer. Farmers use these machines to spray the mixture onto the weeds over a large area (that one pop can treats an area nearly the size of a football field) where it is absorbed by the plant. Once inside the plant, glyphosate binds to an enzyme (EPSP synthase), preventing it from building essential amino acids that a plant needs to live and grow. With this enzyme disabled, plants die. Now, the really interesting thing is that EPSP synthase is found only in plants and bacteria; humans and animals do not use this process.

Remember that Google search which told us glyphosate is one of the most toxic chemicals around? Not so. The general standard for acute (short term) toxicity is a value called an LD50. This refers to the median lethal dose, the amount of a chemical needed to cause death in 50% of the animals it is tested on. An LD50 is one way to measure the relative short-term poisoning potential of a compound. The lower the number the more toxic it is. For example, the LD50 of sodium bicarbonate (baking soda, a common ingredient in baking) is 4220 mg/kg; table salt 3000 mg/kg; caffeine (as in our precious morning coffee) is 192 mg/kg; and nicotine (cigarettes) is 50 mg/kg.

So where does glyphosate fit? Glyphosate has an LD50 of 5600 mg/kg. Yes. It is less toxic than baking soda, table salt, and coffee.

Our entire world is comprised of chemicals. Water, salt, and vinegar are chemicals, and even our bodies can be considered walking, talking chemical bags.

You’ve probably heard the old adage of toxicologists “the dose makes the poison”. Even those regular household compounds like salt, vinegar or yes, even water can be toxic if ingested in high enough doses. When glyphosate is used as it is intended, just like salt, vinegar, and water, it has minimal toxicity to humans and animals because the amount used is small.

But how do we know we are not consuming high levels of pesticides? Health Canada scientists review the data from over 250 separate studies before they approve a pesticide for sale or use in Canada. As part of this extensive review before a chemical is approved for sale, they identify the amount of a pesticide that a person could be exposed to without any adverse health effects. These levels are then compared to the maximum amount of residue that might be found on crops after use of the pesticide (a value known as the Maximum Residue Limit or MRL) in order to ensure that consumers are never exposed to an amount that could pose a risk to health. Indeed, MRLs are typically 100-1000 times below levels that are still considered safe.

Thanks to the MRLs established by Health Canada, based on science, we can be confident that if small amounts of glyphosate are ingested through exposure in our food system, we know they won’t be at toxic enough levels to cause damage, even if they are consumed every day over a life time.

I should probably also mention that it is not just Health Canada that has assessed the science around glyphosate. Most other major regulatory organizations around the world, including the European Food Safety Authority, the World Health Organization, and the U.S.’s Environmental Protection Agency, have also reviewed data on glyphosate (available here).

Glyphosate is easily and relatively quickly broken down in the environment. It does not bioaccumulate, meaning it does not build up in the bodies of fish and wildlife (read an example of mercury bioaccumulation here). And finally, it is excreted by our bodies if ingested. Their overwhelming consensus? When glyphosate is used according to label directions, it poses minimal risk to people, wildlife, and the environment.

We need to evaluate claims on the basis of overall weight of scientific evidence behind it. The stronger the weight of evidence, the more confidence we can have in the scientific findings. Glyphosate has been investigated by many scientists from around the world, in hundreds and hundreds of studies (again, available here) all of which have determined that, when it is used as it is intended, it is safe for people, for animals, and our environment.

Being a science geek, I follow facts. And the evidence tells me glyphosate is not the problem a cursory Google search might suggest. If you would like to know how glyphosate is used, the label (which is a legal document authorized by the Pest Control Products Act) can be found here. And if you still have questions, we want to hear them.

For more information/resources:

https://www.bestfoodfacts.org/glyphosate/

https://www.bestfoodfacts.org/glyphosate-in-food/

http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_MEMO-16-2012_en.html

http://europepmc.org/abstract/MED/1287975/reload=0;jsessionid=osa7mo59kVxNtcafSkkP.18

http://weedcontrolfreaks.com/2014/06/salt-vinegar-and-glyphosate/

http://www.who.int/foodsafety/jmprsummary2016.pdf

 

Touring Ontario’s Hills of the Headwaters region

collage one Landman farmGuest blog by Carol Harrison, Registered Dietitian

Pigs. They are as cute as a button then smack, that Eau De Pig Cologne hits you. It’s a linger on your nostril hair smell that should do anything but conjure up fond childhood memories.

Here I was on a sunny day in May at Landman Gardens and Bakery in Grand Valley just one hour north of Toronto with a media tour in the Hills of the Headwaters region and I had completely forgotten until this stinky pig poop moment that an older cousin of mine once had a pig farm in this very region, Orangeville to be exact.

While others marched on towards the chicken coop tweeting away, I stood still, my mind miles and years away smelling the hay we played in, remembering how cool it was to see vegetables still on the plants, gorging from a table crowded blue and white Corningware casserole dishes while listening to the Irish brogue of my aunts and uncles tell stories.

chicken coop shot - headwatersOne smell and it all came back. And as corny as this sounds, the tourism campaign slogan, The Headwaters, where Ontario gets real, rang true. This was for me where I got real rural experiences as a kid and I had completely forgotten I had any connection to this part of the province.

If you have an on-farm market or agri-tourism business you likely offer people similar unexpected joyful experiences. It’s offering experiences that connect people to where and how their food is produced that drove 25 year old Rebecca Landman to start Landman Gardens and Bakery. She also wanted to be close to home to support her mom during cancer treatments. Continue reading

A Day in the Life – a Saskatchewan grain farmer at harvest

By Jean Clavelle Farm & Food Care Saskatchewan

DayintheLife

I spoke to Rob Stone today from his grain truck in central Saskatchewan where it’s harvest time. See what he has to say about their family farm and being a grain farmer in Canada.

Tell me about your farm.

I’m part of a family grain farm in Davidson, Saskatchewan. I’ve been actively involved since graduating from the College of Agriculture at the University of Saskatchewan in 1999. The first order of business when I came back was to expand the farm, and we’ve been able to triple our acreage base over the last 15 years to reach the 7,000-8,000 acres we farm now. Continue reading

Recalling one barn fire story during Fire Prevention Week

By Patricia Grotenhuis, 6th generation farmer

The heifer barn before the fire.

The heifer barn before the fire.

Waking to pounding at the door at 1:45 a.m. one June morning, we struggled to open our eyes. Nothing could have prepared us for the sight of flames shooting out of our barn. As my husband raced outside yelling a thank you to the girls who were at the door, I rushed for the phone to call for help. We already knew the barn could not be saved, but were immediately aware that the other buildings were in danger if the flames spread.
We had no idea if all of the heifers were outside on pasture. With our setup, they have the freedom to move back and forth between the barn and pasture as they please. We had to make sure the ones who were on pasture did not return to the barn, though. Continue reading

Faces of Farming – July

By Kelly Daynard

Deslippe familyFarming is one of the few careers that often spans generations of family members all sharing an unwavering commitment to the land and their livestock. Rochelle Deslippe of Amherstburg, in Essex County, is one such example.

Their family farm was started by her grandfather, Earl, in the 1930′s when he began a small hatchery raising turkeys. The farm was eventually taken over by Earl’s two sons, Jerome and Paul. Today, Jerome’s daughter Rochelle and her three children are the third and fourth generations of the family to be raising turkeys and crops on the farm, and Rochelle wouldn’t have it any other way. Continue reading

Napanee dairy farmer in 2014 Faces of Farming calendar

By Kelly Daynard

Dairy farmers Kevin and Adrianna MacLean enjoy interacting with the public and answering their questions about farming.

Dairy farmers Kevin and Adrianna MacLean enjoy interacting with the public and answering their questions about farming.

Napanee – You may not have thought of celebrating Christmas with a herd of dairy cows but that’s just what residents of Napanee did last year when they were invited to a special holiday open house event at Ripplebrook Farm.

Ripplebrook Farm is a third generation family farm operated by Kevin MacLean, his parents Barton and Barbara and his step-son Taylor. The family milk 130 cows and crop 750 acres.

The family always embraces opportunities to showcase the farm and often host tours throughout the year. Last year, they decided to host a “Christmas with the Cows” event for their community. They had no idea how many people might attend and were both surprised and pleased when 200 showed up to watch their evening milking and spend the evening in the barn.

That’s just one example of Kevin’s work as an agricultural advocate – or agvocate. Youth groups, service groups and school trips all enjoy feeding the young calves and “helping” to milk the cows. A friendly member of their herd, nicknamed “Carrie the Curious Cow” is always a special hit with the visitors. Continue reading

When you're a farmer, sick days aren't really an option

Guest blog by Brent Royce, Ontario turkey and sheep farmer

Recently, a local woman ran 108 km in two days to raise money for Ronald McDonald house of London. Great job!   I found myself wondering why someone would put themselves through that much pain and agony.  Suddenly the question turned around to me and I asked why have I pushed myself past that point of pain.

We raise turkeys and sheep along with about 500 acres of crops.  About a year ago, I started having chest and arm pains, which resulted from three bad discs in my neck and several pinched nerves. So why have I made my family suffer by watching me work myself into more and more pain? Why wasn’t I smart enough to stop and walk away from it?  The bottom line was that I have livestock that need cared for and fields that need planted and maintained.  I have committed myself to contributing to the food chain at the primary level as a farmer. Farming is my dream, my passion, and my drive.  Pain and discomfort came second.

Ronald McDonald house gave this runner a home and a place of comfort when she most needed it.  I get that. The fields, the barns, the animals reward me all the time and provide a place to put life in perspective.  I see life created and given. I see death and sickness which I can treat, but most of all at the end of the day I know I have done my best to provide families with good quality affordable food.

To make my family suffer watching me work through my pain is something I didn’t realize I was doing at the time and isn’t fair, but they know the animals must be cared for.
As of now I wait to see a surgeon; trying to fill my days while someone else does my work for me.  The truth is slowly sinking in to us all that, in my early 40’s, I could be limited to what I will be able to do for the rest of my life.

We have been lucky enough to sell the sheep and all their feeding equipment to someone that is passionate about the livestock and has the same commitment to agriculture as we do. The sheep have yet to leave our farm and that will be a real reality check.  We also have had to sell our combine due to the fact I won’t be able to operate it again without creating undue pain.

We have been fortunate enough to do what we love for 20 plus years and hope to be able to carry on by next spring.

A family that I respect very much has put me up to the challenge of blogging about farming as I know it. So this is my first attempt at it and perhaps we will have more to come on the challenges that have happened and will happen on this farm.

The one thing I can guarantee is that long term injuries in a self-employed business bring with them a lot of emotional rides. Thankfully we have great neighbours and friends that are willing to help out to get things done. After all, that is what rural Ontario is about.

Reducing weaning stress, as simple as Two Steps!

Quiet Wean PicNot often do science and research result in real world applications with just a few studies.  Often, practical adaptations are made after years of study at multiple centers involving many scientists and dozens or hundreds of publications that have each built on the tiny steps of the one before it.

Often that is the case, but not always.  Researchers at the University of Saskatchewan were investigating behaviour of beef cows and stumbled across something quite extraordinary that resulted in a new understanding of how to wean calves.  After just a few projects, these researchers were able to offer a method of weaning that dramatically reduces stress for both the cow and calf, and results in healthier bigger calves for the producer.  Better still the idea has taken off across North America! Continue reading