Nov 9, 2017
Saskatchewan Harvest 2017: A 48-year career farmer talks draught, agriculture technology, and facing the inevitable tough times
Harvest 2017 was a tough year for many Saskatchewan farmers.
Doug Jones of Whitby Farms was one of Saskatchewan's first to wrap up harvest 2017. He says it's thanks to a prototype loaner combine -- one of two sent for field testing in Western Canada -- on top of the two he runs every other year. And a family team that works together year round.
The Flaman Agriculture team caught up with Doug while he had a few fleeting moments of free time on his hands. We talked about what effect this years' terrible drought conditions had on his farm, agriculture technology that matters for harvest 2017, and his advice for young farmers facing a tough climate for growth. All before he left for the field to help one of his neighbours finish their harvest.
What does Whitby Farms do?
Whitby Farms manages around 11 acres of land and grows a variety of grain, cereal, and bean crops; raises cattle and trains quarter horses; offers grain hauling services; and much more in the country surrounding the Great Sandhills at Lucky Lake, about 150 kilometres south of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
The family-owned Whitby Farms stays busy all year round. While Doug’s brother does seeding, his nephew sprays, his son-in-law manages cattle, and his daughter trains quarter horses. They have one hired man who's been with them for 10 years. After a decade of service you could say their hired man has become as close as family. In case you’re wondering, Doug refers to himself as “the gopher” of the operation.
We asked, "Who runs the combine at harvest?"
Doug jokingly replied, "That's the easiest job in the world! [With the automations these days,] mowing your lawn is way more complicated."
He likes that today's combines automatically update as conditions change, so you don't have to manually reset when something goes wrong. He thinks of driving a combine as the perfect job for a multitasker.
Harvest 2017 wisdom from a 48-year farming career.
Doug's been farming since 1969. And he says, "I never changed my mind once."
He recalls taking the leap just before the start of one of the worst periods in farming history, the farm crisis of the 1970s and 1980s, when anyone who started farming "went broke". This was due to a combination of bad economy, dried up foreign markets, and high debt resulting in thousands losing their farms.
But Doug was stubborn about his dream to become a farmer and raise cattle. He says it's the only thing he's ever wanted to do.
How did drought conditions in Saskatchewan affect Whitby Farms for Harvest 2017?
The lack of rain and the heat did a number on his crops, along with many other farmers around the prairies. Doug says his crops are located in the lowest rainfall RM in the province of Saskatchewan. And they didn't get a lot of rain last year, which means soil moisture was low this year. He admits they've had better looking crops in previous years.
Their lentils performed the worst and canola would have been a disaster without support from an agrologist.
He says, "When I started out farming, [this years' canola harvest] would have been less than 10 bushels in the acre." They got 20 this year, but they're used to an average of 50.
Despite a lackluster harvest due to the low moisture and extreme heat drought conditions, Doug remains positive. He thinks the new varieties of canola are "amazing" and credits their performance to scientific advancements in the seed.
But there was an upside. Whitby Farms came out with perfect quality lentils and durum over a string of three consecutive years with salvage value. Doug improved the crops’ success by implementing an irrigation system that uses water from nearby Lake Diefenbaker and a preventative spraying process.
He’s not the only one that’s happy with his yield given the dry conditions. CBC News reported that other Saskatchewan farmers were surprised at the quality of Harvest 2017.
The drought conditions affected the Whitby Farms livestock, too. Doug and his son-in-law had to dig one of the farm's springs out twice to get the water moving again. Their quick thinking likely saved the cattle and horses from heat stroke, unlike another unfortunate case that killed 200 cattle.
How do you stick with it during tough times like Saskatchewan Harvest 2017?
Doug declares, "Young farmers aren't used to the tough years!"
Since the farm crisis, Doug has noticed that the cycle has a way of repeating itself. He cautions many farmers face a similar fate without proper planning.
"Work as hard as you can! It's going to stay dry. You'll hardly see a field that hasn't been affected by drought."
He adds, "[We farmers] are at the whim of markets and weather. [Have a plan in place] if your wage is cut in half."
Doug reminds young farmers to hope for the best and prepare for the worst, so you'll always stay ahead. The young farmers who have a lot of faith and prepare for hard times in advance can give themselves stability in tough years.
Doug’s final words of wisdom for Saskatchewan Harvest 2017:
"If you focus on it and stick with it through tough times, you'll make it out alright. You have to bear down. Take risks and buy some land."
Doug Jones is a long-time customer of Flaman Agriculture in Saskatchewan, most recently purchasing a set of new grain bins and monitoring and a longer auger to reach taller grain bins.
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