The joys, trials and tribulations of farming in southern Saskatchewan.
Farmers are criticized for a lot of the things they do – from the crops they grow, to the way they grow them. Here, you’ll find my take on these subjects; and why the prevailing opinion is often wrong.
Next week, I will be attending the Global Farmer Roundtable in Des Moines, Iowa. I will meet with 14 other farmers, from countries around the world, to discuss the biggest issues facing modern agriculture. I have been asked to represent Canada at this event.
I cannot even begin to describe the honour I feel in being invited to participate in this roundtable. The farmers I will be engaging with are extraordinary individuals, from countries like Argentina, Denmark, India, South Africa, and many more. I will also have the opportunity to attend the World Food Prize Laureate award ceremony, considered by many to be the Nobel Prize for food, agriculture and related research.
The idea of the roundtable is that despite the tremendous differences in our various backgrounds, cultures, climate and so on, farmers generally face many similar challenges across the world. Bringing a group like this together allows us to recognize the common goals we all have for our farms, our families, and for access to technology and trade.
I look forward to sharing what I learn from this incredible event, and I can’t wait to go!
You can learn more about the Global Farmer Roundtable and the Global Farmer Network here.
Rt. Hon. Justin Trudeau, P.C., M.P. Prime Minister of Canada
80 Wellington Street
Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 0A2
Dear Prime Minister,
My name is Jake Leguee, and I am a farmer in Saskatchewan. I am writing this letter to express my grave concerns with your plan for what you refer to as “tax fairness”. While I am not an accountant or a tax expert, I know enough to be apprehensive about the changes you and Mr. Morneau plan to enact.
I take offense to being labelled as a tax cheat. I, along with my parents, my sister and my own young family, along with our two full-time employees (one being a brother in law), all work together in this wonderful business we call farming. We grow food, we work hard to improve our community, and we are excited about the prospect of a fourth generation someday having the opportunity to take over this farm.
Your tax changes will severely challenge our ability to pass on this farm. You will penalize my parents for passing their land on to me. Land that they paid for a long time ago; land that I will never sell. I will never realize the capital gains on that land. Why should my parents be taxed for passing it on? Why should I be taxed for someday passing it on to my own children?
Farming is a tough business. We rely on the weather to provide for us; even if we do absolutely everything right, one bad storm can take it all away. It is very difficult to manage a farm well enough to have the opportunity for the next generation to take over, even without having to worry about taxes. Notice how drastically the number of farms has collapsed over the past century?
Don’t get me wrong; all small businesses have similar challenges. Succession is hard. Passing along a business to your children should be celebrated by government. Small business is the backbone of this great country. They provide jobs, and innovation, and growth for all Canadians. We small business people don’t have pensions, or employment insurance, or health benefits. We must cover all of that on our own. Furthermore, we provide those services to our employees, who also work hard in the community and provide for their children. So much rides on the success of our businesses.
You talk about closing loopholes, and creating tax fairness. What you are missing is that the playing field already is out of whack. Employees have a lot of benefits that we small business people don’t have. And that’s okay. We can live without these benefits for the opportunity to build something. We aren’t just out there to make money – we do what we do to build a legacy. We do it to provide jobs, and look after our employees. We do it to give our children the opportunity to take the next step, and do amazing things we could never even dream of.
As a child, I spent most of the time I wasn’t in school helping out on the farm. It was hard work, but I loved it. It was how I could spend time with my Dad, who worked seemingly every hour of every day. The farm didn’t pay me to save money on taxes, it paid me because I earned it. This taught me the value of hard work, and how to save money and prepare budgets for it. None of this had anything to do with cheating taxes.
My farm provides a living for seven people, not to mention my own little son and our next child that is on the way. But our farm does far more. As we grow, we purchase equipment, tools, parts, inputs, and so many other things our farm needs. Along with the other farms in this area, we provide jobs for hundreds of people, from mechanics to engineers to biologists and sales people. This farm isn’t a tax haven; it, along with every other farm and all the other small businesses around us, are powering Canada’s future.
Don’t take that away.
Mr. Prime Minister, please reconsider your tax fairness proposal. The future of this great country we call Canada depends on it.
Today marks 4 years since I started this blog. I’ve written about GMOs, glyphosate, carbon taxation, and, more than anything else, weather (among many other things). I’ve talked to so many different people with so many different viewpoints; some agree, some disagree, and others think I secretly work for Monsanto.
In the 4 years that have passed since I started this blog, our farm has changed dramatically. We were on the edge of survival when I started this, which is why I wrote more rants about the weather in my first year than I have since. We were coming off a period of extreme moisture conditions that looked like it would never end.
But it did.
Since then, it has been too dry, too wet, too cold, too hot, and more variations of that than you can imagine. We have seen fall frosts that came too early, hail damage, torrential rains, extreme heat, and even a summer of forest fire smoke. We have dealt with equipment problems of every kind, from monitors that won’t communicate to combine headers that just don’t work.
We have tried cover crops, invested in weather stations, tried straight-cutting canola, and targeted yields that even 5 years ago I wouldn’t have dreamed possible. We have brought in new people, and had to let go of others.
Our farm has changed so much over the past 4 years; I’m not even sure I could’ve imagined we would be where we are today. It really did feel like we were one bad storm away from the end of our farm. The night is darkest just before the dawn; when one storm changes everything, sometime it’s hard to imagine how you’ll get through. But you do.
Agriculture has been attacked from every angle, with constant pressure on genetic engineering, and the disappointing popularity of non-GMO products. Glyphosate (Roundup) has been labelled a probable carcinogen with questionable methodology, and came very close to being banned in Europe. Seed treatments are currently under attack, with regulations on the way.
Farmers have been criticized for nutrient runoff into lakes and streams, for using more pesticides than ever (which is incorrect), and for generally being uncaring of the environment around them. A tax on our emissions is likely on its way, with still-unknown implications.
Despite all this, I have never been more optimistic for our industry. I believe we are making a difference, that our message is getting through. I believe most people do genuinely believe farmers try to do what’s right for the environment. There are more farmer bloggers out there every day, telling their story. Social media, especially Facebook and Twitter, have provided farmers with a voice. People are listening.
We need to keep telling our story, because it’s a great one. It’s a story of families, of generational farms. It’s a story of people, doing what they love, and looking after the land their grandparents farmed. It’s a story of food, of providing nutrition to the world. It’s a story of doing more with less, of producing more food for a hungry world, while preserving more of our world than any time in modern history.
Everything changes. And then, everything changes again. People are questioning what we are doing because they care; they want to know where their food is coming from. They want to know its story. This should not be taken for granted.
I have learned so much since starting this blog, and not just about agriculture. Nearly a year and a half ago, when my son was born, I realized what my parents have known for a long time – that we truly are growing a legacy. I realized that this farm isn’t just about our generation; it’s about the next one.
I’ve met some truly fascinating people in my time writing this blog. I can honestly say that I’ve learned something from almost all of them, and from some, I’ve learned a lot. Writing this blog has been an incredible experience, and I don’t intend to leave it behind anytime soon. Thank you to everyone who has read and supported A Year in the Life of a Farmer for these amazing four years.
You may not have heard much about this, as it has had minimal news coverage, but the PMRA is planning on phasing out imidicloprid, a neonicotinoid insecticide we use for combating early-season insect pests. There are a number of similar products out there,
and together, they help us protect our crops from a variety of difficult to control insects. Why are they phasing out this one?
“Robust environmental monitoring from several areas of intense agricultural activity in Ontario and Quebec further support these findings as imidacloprid is detected frequently in surface water at levels well above concentrations that may result in toxic effects to insects.”
The reality is that their data-set is far from “robust”. They did not use data from Western Canada, stating this:
“Although robust monitoring data are not available for all regions in Canada…it is anticipated that elevated levels may be found in many agricultural areas where there is a high volume of use.”
The statistics in putting this data set together are staggeringly weak and highly presumptuous. We have a different climate, different crops, and a different ecological environment. This is the precautionary principle at its finest – prevent any possible harm without considering the risks of not allowing the product to be used. Without neonics, we will be forced into using less effective, potentially more toxic insecticides that are prone to pest resistance.
If neonics truly were causing serious harm, I would be alright with phasing them out; but the data set the PMRA is using is very weak, and the methodology used is a poor reflection of sound science. If you want to read their report, you can find it here.
The Grain Growers of Canada have produced an excellent letter to send to the PMRA, asking “farmers to express their comments to PMRA as part of the official consultation and amplify our industry’s collective request to see data from the 2017 crop included in the review.”
The deadline to submit is midnight tonight. We need to work together to try and make the PMRA realize how important science-based policy is to us – and how important it is that we have access to all the tools we need for integrated pest management.
This is the letter that I sent this morning. The Grain Growers of Canada wrote most of it; I only added the second last paragraph. I commend the organization for the work they have done to put this together.
March 23, 2017
Pest Management Regulatory Agency
2720 Riverside Drive
Address Locator: 6606D2
I am writing to you today, as a Canadian grain farmer, to express my concern with your agency’s proposed re-evaluation decision of imidacloprid. This product has been in use in Canada for over 20 years and I personally rely on it on my farm as a safe and effective method of managing pests.
I support and rely on Canada’s internationally respected regulatory system where registration and re-evaluation decisions are risk-based and grounded on sound science. As such, I am concerned that the decision to phase-out imidacloprid was not based on a credible and thorough risk assessment given the limited data sets considered by the PMRA in its proposed decision. These data sets do not reflect the potential risk across the varied Canadian agricultural landscape.
Canadian farmers use imidacloprid and other neonicotinoid seed treatments prudently as part of an integrated pest management approach. As food producers, our access to varied chemistries, tools and methods to control pest outbreaks is becoming more limited. This variety is crucial to having adaptability on our farms to limit pest resistance and risks to profits, the environment, and consumers.
On my farm, we work hard to utilize an integrated pest management approach, and we are extremely careful about potential off-target impacts from our crop protection products. We need these products to profitably produce food in an environmentally sustainable manner. Phasing out neonicotinoid products, such as imidicloprid, will remove our best protection against in-season insects. If we do not have access to these products, we may be forced to use older, less effective chemistries that, in some cases, are considerably more toxic (and therefore dangerous) to use; this puts me, my family, and my employees at risk. Moreover, these alternative products are prone to pest resistance, which will further stress the long-term sustainability of my farm.
Considering all the factors that directly impact me, as a farmer, I respectfully request that the PMRA adjust its timelines for the final decision on imidacloprid to allow relevant data to be generated and analyzed from the 2017 growing season. This will allow the PMRA to make the best possible science-based decision for farmers and all Canadians.
Again, click here to go the Grain Growers website to download their letter. Don’t wait – it must be submitted before midnight tonight!
A farmer and his tractor. Picturing a farmer without one is like picturing a person without a smartphone – you can’t survive without it! Nearly every farmer in the last century (at least in North America) has had one, whether it was a 12 horsepower steam-powered engine of the past or a 620 horsepower diesel-powered monster of today. There is no item more ubiquitous on farms in this part of the world than the venerable tractor.
Tractors, however, are not what they once were. Certainly, the most obvious changes include physical size and operator comfort, but there are other changes, too – changes that are threatening the reliability of our crucial workhorses. As our world becomes ever more fixed on the subject of climate change, the emissions of even our tractors has become a major consideration for policy makers – and that is causing some very real problems for farmers.
Diesel engines, the power behind our tractors for many decades, are now under intense scrutiny. It all started back in 1996, with the first federal standards for non-road diesel engines coming into effect. Tier 1 standards were developed by the Environmental Protection Agency and the California ARB, to be phased in between 1996 and 2000. These regulations were initially pretty mild. More advanced engine design, which was already taking place anyway, was enough to meet these emissions targets, and would be through Tiers 2 and 3 as well.
In 2008, through to 2015, regulations became much stricter with the adoption of Tier 4 standards. Nitrogen oxide (NOx), widely believed to be one of the more severe greenhouse gases, and particulate matter (PM) had to be reduced to 90% below 2008 levels – an ambitious target. The only way to achieve these targets, especially the even more stringent Tier 4 final of today, was to install diesel particulate filters (DPF) to catch and trap NOx and PM before they leave the tailpipe. The other part of the equation is the use of diesel exhaust fluid (DEF), which is injected to cause a more complete burn of the fuel inside the cylinder (read more here and here).
On our farm, we purchased our first Tier 4 tractor in 2012, which was a John Deere high-clearance sprayer. Since then, two of our four-wheel drive tractors, one of our combines, our skidsteer, our sprayer, a semi truck and our pickup trucks are all under Tier 4 regulations.
Last week, we were hauling winter wheat to Kola, Manitoba, a 450 kilometer round trip. We have a few semi trucks on the farm these days, but only one is relatively new – our 2013 Peterbilt. Since it’s the newest (which should mean it’s the most reliable), it’s the best one to make the trip – right?
In fact, it never made a single run. The DEF system failed on it on its way to town one day, which put it into limp mode. What does limp mode mean? Well, it couldn’t even generate enough power to pull an empty trailer to the truck shop in Weyburn, a 40 km drive. Dad’s pickup truck had to tow it most of the way (incidentally, a great advertisement for Dodge trucks). The repair bill? $1,400 just for the parts. All to fix emissions equipment.
The problem with this stuff is that it is extremely fragile and not suited to our type of work. In the instruction manual for that semi, it says that it will occasionally need to “burn” the particulate matter (PM) out of the exhaust system (otherwise it will clog up). When it decides to do a burn, you must “simply drive for 45 minutes and it will complete its cleaning cycle.” All well and good – except we rarely have to haul that far. At least 80% of our grain goes within a half hour radius from home. So, we’re supposed to just drive to Regina for the fun of it? Great use of our time – and our fuel.
Worse, if we don’t get a burn done on a regular basis, the system will clog up and need to be cleaned out; a process that runs thousands and thousands of dollars. And this is all for one of our four semi trucks. Oh, and our 1995 Peterbilts? Yeah, they run just fine.
And that’s just our trucks. One of our combines, a 2013, has a DPF (that’s the filter in the exhaust). One day, near the end of harvest (thank goodness), it decided it needed a burn. It made that call around mid-afternoon, and by the evening it barely made it home. You see, when those systems run a cleaning cycle, the engine has to run extremely hot to burn the PM out. On a combine that runs in hot, dry, flammable chaff all day, it can’t do a burn while it’s operating. So, it has to sit and idle to do one. Our combine sat and roared away at full throttle for 45 minutes that morning to complete its cleaning cycle. Tell me again, this is good for the environment how?
Our tractors, which run both DPF and DEF (exhaust filters and fluid), became so unreliable that we had to keep new DEF filters on standby. They would literally shut down in the middle of the day because the DEF system failed. I do not understand how a $400,000 tractor should ever have to shut down because the emissions system wasn’t working exactly right.
What’s the Solution?
I’m not going to go into a debate about climate change and whether it’s real or not – that’s a discussion for another time and place. But the fact is that emissions equipment is costing us serious money. Not only does new equipment cost more because of the technology investment engine manufacturers have to make, but it has severely compromised the reliability of the machinery we so greatly rely on.
We have a few options to deal with this situation: one, run old equipment and give up the other technology and improved reliability new machinery brings; two, buy all new machinery and hope the newer DEF and DPF systems are better (doubtful); or three, delete the DEF and DPF systems from our equipment and run without (supposedly illegal – but quite likely the best option).
Regulators need to understand how critical the timing of our operations is. We absolutely cannot afford to be shut down for emissions equipment problems. There must be allowances for DEF and DPF failures so that we can run until the problem can be fixed.
If climate change is such a serious issue that we must limit emissions of farm equipment to this degree, governments should be prepared to step up and help us pay the tremendous repair cost of these systems. And until these exhaust filtration systems are built to withstand the rigours of farm labour, they should not be required on our equipment. Feeding the world – and our families – is a higher priority for me than a few extra pounds of nitrous oxide emissions.
In October, I, along with my sister Sarah, was invited to join in Sask Ag & Food’s “Ag Month” campaign. The idea was for us, as well as others in the agriculture and food industry, to tell our food story. I think this was an interesting concept, and I was honoured to be asked to be apart of it. You can find out more about it here.
Since then, I have thought a lot about this idea, and what it truly means. As farmers, we typically think of our products as a commodity, and we forget sometimes that we are at the front line of producing the food on your table. That may be your loaf of bread (our wheat), your plate of spaghetti noodles (our durum), the cooking oil you use for frying up a chicken breast (our canola), or maybe your lentil soup (I think you can guess this one). It may also, indirectly, be the steak you enjoy (cattle have to eat something!), or the beer you have with your friends.
All of these things come directly from my fields, raised with my soil, my input purchases, my expertise. The problem is that once my crop gets unloaded at the elevator or processor, I don’t get to see what happens to it. The farmer’s share of your dollar spent on food is very small: that loaf of bread you bought? My share of that $2.50 is only $0.09!
Even though my share of the dollar is relatively small and I have little control over what happens to my food after I sell it, I still have tremendous interest in producing good quality, nutritious food. It matters to me that the food I produce is healthy, because I know that my family could end up eating it too.
I had the opportunity to attend the GrowCanada conference in Ottawa this week, where I was able to listen to a variety of speakers address several different topics. One that really stood out for me was the idea that when our grain, pulse and oilseed crops leave our bins, they are healthy and nutritious. All the building blocks are there. Whether it remains that way is totally up to the processing industry, post farm-gate.
Often, farmers get a lot of blame for a lot of the health problems facing the developed world right now. Obesity is a major issue in Canada and much of the developed world. But what influence do we actually have as farmers? When my durum leaves my farm, there is nothing intrinsically unhealthy about it. In fact, there is a plethora of data out there showing that the nutrition profile of our wheat today is very little changed from a century ago – despite what many non-Celiac gluten-free dieters may claim. All the ingredients are there to combine with other foods for a balanced, healthy meal.
However, I believe pointing figures and passing blame is not the right approach (unless a food safety issue arises, of course), and we should instead talk about how to eat a more balanced diet. Everything works in moderation. The point, I think, is that the food farmers produce is intrinsically nutritious.
At the busiest times of the year, we all come together as a family to plant, grow and harvest the best quality, highest yielding crop we can. This farm, like so many others out there, is owned and operated by a family, along with some great employees that have families of their own. I will never grow a crop that I wouldn’t feel safe about feeding to my own son.
Farmers care about the food they produce, and they care about the people that eat it. If we farmers feel safe growing GMOs and using pesticides and fertilizers, that means we believe our own children are safe eating it. While I don’t presume to be an expert on all things food, I do believe that millions of farmers, each one growing and using these products, is a strong testament to the safety of our food.
My food story is growing safe, healthy and nutritious food, and having fun while doing it. Farming is a wonderful way of life, and I feel so proud to be a part of it. To everyone who enjoys food, thank you. You make it possible for me and my family to do what we love – growing your food.
Rt. Hon. Justin Trudeau, P.C., M.P. Prime Minister of Canada
80 Wellington Street
Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 0A2
Dear Prime Minister,
My name is Jake Leguee, and I am a farmer in Saskatchewan. I am writing this letter to express my tremendous concern with your plan to impose a carbon tax on my province. I chose to publish this as an open letter so the rest of this nation has an opportunity to understand what a carbon tax could mean to other farmers like myself.
While I recognize you have environmental goals you wish to pursue, understand that the consequences of a carbon tax may be severe for my farm. Mr. Trudeau, you may not have much experience with agriculture, but let me tell you, it is an amazing career. Not only do I get to run my own business, but I get to run one that is also a way of life. I get to farm alongside my father; my mentor, business partner and friend. My sister and I are the next generation of this business, and our whole family comes together at planting and harvest to get the crop in the ground, and to put it in the bin. My son was born a year ago, and I hope someday he may have the opportunity to farm alongside me, just as I do with my father.
Farming is, at times, a difficult business. One bad weather event – one storm, one cold night, one windy day – can devastate us. If we don’t get a crop, our bills still have to be paid. And nature does not care one way or the other.
Not only do we rely on the vagarious disposition of Mother Nature, we are also exposed to the volatility of the markets and – indeed, the point of this letter – politicians.
A carbon tax has the ability to drastically increase my costs, without creating an incentive to reduce my emissions. In fact, I already have such incentives. Our farm’s move to no-till started in the late 1980’s, as many other Prairie farmers did, to reduce risk of soil erosion, increase soil organic matter, and, ultimately, increase yields. No-till (essentially means that tillage is avoided if at all possible) has been a boon for our farm, and it allows the storage of massive quantities of carbon dioxide.
As equipment changes and my farm grows, there will be a continuous need to upgrade to newer machinery. Due to the emissions laws already in place, our newer equipment has lower emissions; but that came at a cost. Emissions equipment on our tractors is faulty, unreliable, and expensive to fix. If my tractor’s emissions system has a plugged filter, it can shut down my seeding operation for hours, even days. When you have only two weeks to get your crop in the ground, this is hardly acceptable.
Adding a carbon tax to my farm’s cost of production will make it less profitable, and ultimately less competitive with my neighbours to the south and across the oceans. I can only take what price is offered to me; I cannot pass along a carbon tax to my customers. I cannot switch to electric tractors, or run all new equipment to have the latest in emissions technologies. Sometimes my field needs to be blackened to clean up sloughs from excess moisture, or to deal with high residue crops. That tillage pass already represents a cost to me, and I don’t need a tax to encourage me to avoid it.
So, let’s exempt farmers, right? Make it revenue-neutral? While that may seem a simple solution, how will you go about that? I still have to purchase fertilizer, crop protection products, fuel, machinery, and so on. If those industries are paying a carbon tax, you can bet they will pass along that cost. What about my grain buyers? If a craft beer manufacturer has to pay a carbon tax, they may have to reduce what they pay for their malt barley. That also costs my family farm.
If a carbon tax drives up my farm’s costs without creating an incentive for me to reduce emissions, why have one at all? It does not achieve the required goal of reducing emissions, and hurts my family in the process. I thought your government was going to help the middle class?
Mr. Trudeau, please reconsider your plans to impose a carbon tax on my province. You speak about working together as Canadians, of uniting us as a country. Your proposed carbon tax will be divisive, ineffective, and detrimental to Canadian agriculture. Your carbon tax will hurt my family’s ability to make a living doing what we love to do – feeding the world.