The days are getting shorter but farmers’ work is getting longer.
Combines are out in the fields harvesting grains farmers have spent the summer raising for maximum yield; and this year’s harvest appears to be a good one. Despite heavy rains earlier in the season, the weather appears to have so far worked in favour of agriculturalists.
There are many family farms in Ponoka County and Ponoka News was able to spend some time with Harry and Jackie Huysman who have been thick in grains during harvest. With almost 5,000 acres of canola, wheat and faba beans to cover, there is no room for error.
Harry has three helpers running three combines while he operates the grain tractor. The days are long but he loves the work. “Farming is awesome. Harvest is always the best time.”
There is no stopping for Huysman as he travels from one combine to the next gathering grains and then sending them into a grain hopper. His day starts early in the morning before the his crew gets up to grease the equipment and do equipment checks.
Farming is different than it was when he started out.
Everything has become more expensive. A combine can cost as much as two houses and an annual lease is not cheap either. At the same time, commodity prices have become higher. “The last two or three years is definitely the most money I have made.”
Huysman wanted to be a farmer ever since he was five years old and he feels it is important to care for the land. “You get to play with toys all your life.”
Caring for the environment and being a farmer go hand in hand for him. There are long-term benefits for the land.
“You try to be the best environmentalist that you can,” he said. “I’m not going to say we’re perfect.”
He hopes 100 years from now there will be another farmer cultivating his land. Rotating crops and taking the time to ensure the land repairs itself can cost more but ensures longer life for his farmland.
Despite being a family farm, Huysman treats it as any other business. “Farming is a way of life… But it’s also a business.”
“That’s with anything in life. If you get to do what you love then you will succeed,” Huysman added.
Despite his two children not being interested in farming, Huysman supports their decision because he feels they should enter a profession they enjoy. “You have to do what you love in life. If you don’t then it’s a long life.”
As far as this year’s harvest goes, he believes this is the best he has seen in many years. But with a good crop comes higher inputs so Huysman tries to ensure he is able to get a return on his investment.
What frustrates him the most though is when the weather has plans different from his. “That’s the part that I don’t like.”
“That’s the part of farming that gets old as you get older,” he joked.
Huysman sometimes finds himself reminiscing of his father’s days as a farmer. He believes the old guard operated differently because of the equipment at the time. Combines were not covered and once the sunset came they would have to quit for the day.
The older generation is to be commended as his father used to work with a horse and buggy and now equipment has GPS, air conditioning and even a place for a mini fridge.
“That generation I think lived a pretty cool life,” said Huysman.
With an operation of this size equipment is an important aspect to consider. Huysman has been using John Deere equipment for some time and believes the company stands by its product.
“What I find with John Deere, if they make a mistake, they fix it,” he explained.
With a crew, harvest usually takes the Huysmans approximately 22 to 25 days and then he will harvest Bryce Liddle’s property.
Liddle has been helping the Huysman’s for some years now and enjoys the work.
Working the combine
Liddle spends most of the year working for Harry while also farming 320 acres of his own land. Despite working 12 to 15 hours a day during harvest, Liddle enjoys the lifestyle. “I’ve just always loved farming.”
He used to be the service manager at the John Deere dealership but wanted to get back to a farm lifestyle and cultivate his land. Working for the Huysmans allows him to continue farming.
At this time of year he feels running the combine is easier than running the grain truck. The creative comforts of the newer combines allow him to focus on harvesting the grain and also there is time to contemplate.
“You do a bit of thinking,” joked Liddle.
He feels as equipment and input costs get higher smaller farms will need to adjust how they operate, which is why he works with the Huysmans. “Small farms are slowly dying off.”
“If you’re not a couple thousand acres it’s hard to compete,” Liddle added.
Besides the cost of farm equipment there is fuel, maintenance, fertilizer, pesticides and seeds; and there has to be enough return to pay for everything and feed the family. He suggests farmers need to understand what product is selling for and when to sell it.
“You’ve gotta know your market. You’ve gotta know the value of things,” said Liddle.