Sustainable Farming – A Video

For most farmers, sustainability is more than just maintaining things as they are – it’s making things better. It’s passing on our land to the next generation in better shape than it was when we started. This is just part of who we are.

Unfortunately, I think few people outside of agriculture understand that. That is why I took time out of our harvest last year to film a video with CropLife Canada; to try and show just how much we care about the impact of what we do on our farm.

Watch the video below and see what you think!

My Experience Attending Table For Twenty

On July 5th, I was invited to attend an event called “Table For Twenty”,  a celebration of twenty years of biotechnology in crops. Too often, we spend our time defending GMOs, pesticides and the like, and not enough time is spent in recognizing the amazing achievements this technology has allowed. Twenty people from all different occupations were invited to the event, with representatives from CropLife Canada (the host of the evening), the government of Saskatchewan, universities, industry professionals, students, and of course, farmers.

My wife and I had the pleasure of attending the event, and as one of the very few full-time farmers at the table, I was asked to say a few words. In the nature of the transparency I try to practice in this blog, I felt it was important to share with you what I spoke about. Here it is in full:

Hi, everyone, my name is Jake Leguee, and I farm about 3 and a half hours southeast of here. I have to admit, I am humbled to be here, and it is an absolute honour to speak to you about my experience in growing biotech crops. Our farm operation is a family one, with my parents, my older sister and my wife all heavily involved. We farm about 12,000 acres of cereals, pulses and oilseeds and yes – some of those are GMOs, and no – I’m not on Monsanto’s payroll.

For a long time, I watched as our industry was continually attacked and derided for many of our production practices. I watched as pesticides were blamed for all sorts of terrible things, like cancer, destruction of the environment, and more health conditions than I can count. I watched as genetic engineering, one of humankind’s greatest achievements, was labeled as “Frankenfood” and was incriminated for a medley of problems every bit as broad and as devastating as pesticides had been.

I watched as an industry that feeds the world, that provides a living for thousands of farmers just like me, was ostracized by what seemed to be a majority of the public. I knew these products were safe; I had used them for much of my life. My father has been farming for 40 years, as his father did before him. We grow genetically modified crops, we use pesticides, we use fertilizers, and I know firsthand the benefits they bring to the table.

So, I had to ask myself, what could I do about it?

I don’t have the ability to talk to every person on the planet one by one, and I certainly don’t have the money to run advertisements during the SuperBowl. But, I could write, and people might be interested in reading the perspective of a farmer. So, for the last 3 years, I have been writing about the life of a farmer, and I am continually amazed at how interested people are in just what it is that farmers do. They seem fascinated by why we grow GM crops, why we use pesticides and fertilizers, and how we make our decisions.

I grow genetically modified crops because they bring value to my farm. They allow me to control a broader variety of weeds with lower application rates. Because of the success of these crops, agriculture companies are able to generate profits from them, and as a result, inject more money into breeding better varieties. This generates a cycle of better and better varieties being developed each and every year, which further increases my ability to grow crops in a broader variety of weather and climate challenges. The phenomenal success of herbicide tolerant canola has been a game-changer for our farm and many others, and the continued investment in soybeans and corn will enable us to have success with these crops, despite their limitations due to our short growing season. This would never have happened without genetic modification.

The exciting part about all this is the reality that we have only scratched the surface of what we can do with genetic engineering. With the emergence of new technologies, such as gene editing, the future is wide open. Drought and frost tolerance, insect and disease resistance, improved photosynthetic efficiency; these are all traits that would make my farm more resilient and less susceptible to weather shocks.

But to be able to take advantage of these exciting new prospects, we need to get the consumer on our side. We need people to understand why we farmers need access to these products. Farming is a challenging and extremely risky business. One bad weather event, one storm, one cold night, can impact the very survival of our family farm. We need access to new technologies that can help mitigate the weather extremes that have had such an impact on our family.

I was born in 1988, a year that many farmers would like to forget. Dad talks about the 80’s a lot, and not too fondly – well, except for my birthday of course! It was a decade of drought, with searing heat waves and limited rainfall. To say it was a challenging time is a severe underestimation of the difficulties farmers faced.

We will see another decade like the 80’s, and the 1930’s too. But this time will be different. With the rise of pesticides and the release of GMOs, we have been able to virtually eliminate tillage. There won’t be another dust bowl. No-till is the saviour of dryland agriculture – but it only works if we have access to pesticides and GM crops.

I believe public perceptions are starting to change; I believe we are getting the message out. But we must continue to advocate for agriculture and tell our story. Because our story is a great one. It is a story of families, of generational farms, of environmental stewardship. My goal, and I suspect the goal of most farms, is to someday leave this land in better shape than it was in when I started farming it. To allow my children to farm in an even better world than we do today. Biotechnology is the key to achieving this goal.

Thank you.

I want to extend a huge thank you to CropLife Canada, and all of its staff, for doing an outstanding job of promoting a positive conversation about agriculture; from the work they put into producing the video I was apart of (see it here), to hosting the Table For Twenty events, and everything else they have done.

One more thing I want to add to this: to all of you who have read, shared and talked about my blog (good and bad!), thank you. My goal in doing this is to try and create a conversation about agriculture; not arguments, not insults and finger-pointing; a constructive discussion that broadens all of our views on such a controversial subject. I have had an amazing ride in this project, and I am excited about what the future holds.

Thank you!

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A Year In The Life Of A Farmer

For many years, I wondered how agriculture could get its message out to the public about what exactly it is that we do. Why do we spray pesticides? Why do we grow GMOs? Why are farms so large, and what does that mean to food safety and rural communities? It seemed that there was no simple way to get these answers out to the consumer, and I pondered this as I went through university and after; until an idea came to me, a little more than a year ago. Why not just… tell them? And what better way is there to do that than to post it online?

So, I started a blog, here on WordPress, to explain just what it is a farmer goes through in a year, and all the excitements, the frustrations, and the disappointments therein. Of course, this wasn’t the only reason I started this blog. I also wrote it as a form of therapy. Writing my frustrations down was a way of venting for me in an industry that can be very punishing. Mother Nature doesn’t care how hard you work, she doesn’t care how much you love what you do, and she certainly doesn’t care what kind of weather you want. Weather, and climate, just… is. It acts the way it does simply because it does. It’s a chaotic system so complicated that despite hundreds of years of study, nobody really has much luck trying to predict it.

The realities of weather, combined with the difficulties in running equipment that can break down at any time, and working in an industry so heavily scrutinized by a critical public that sometimes seems to believe we should go back to farming like my grandparents did, can be exhausting, not to mention incredibly stressful. This blog has been a release for me to contend with the stress, and it has actually been quite effective.

I guess those are the reasons I started this blog. And as I look back through the year that was, I realize that I accomplished that goal. Starting on April 18, 2013, I wrote my very first post about a winter that wouldn’t end and a spring that wouldn’t come. I poured out my frustrations and concerns about the dangers of weather like that preventing us from seeding, and what that would do to our farm.

As the spring progressed, things began to improve (after the snow at the end of April, of course), and seeding actually went well until rains delayed us. It’s funny, looking through those blogs, how up and down last season was. I wrote a lot of posts in May, going from asking for wind and heat, to wanting for rain, to begging for the rain to stop! Fortunately, it did stop (just in time) and the crop went in. We dodged hail, plow winds, tornadoes and frost, finally getting the crop to harvest, when we learned it was the largest crop we had ever grown.

The excitement over the massive crop was dampened by collapsing grain markets and plagued railway and elevator systems, causing what looked like a financial windfall to be reduced to a moderate profit. Then, thoughts turned to the 2014 growing season, and we purchased and booked fertilizer, seed and chemical for the new year. Finally, we have come to April once again, where once again we are delayed by a late spring!

What is so interesting and exciting about farming is exemplified so perfectly in the 2013 growing season: weather that swings from one end of the pendulum to the other of wet to dry; the rush of trying to get the crop in and to harvest it; and the craziness of world financial markets that can cause you to swing from profit to loss in a matter of days. Farming is perhaps best described as a rollercoaster, with the ups and downs so extreme sometimes you wonder if you made the right decision getting on it in the first place! It is all one big adrenaline rush, with winter as the reprieve. Sometimes Mother Nature can knock you on your back, but you just have to get up and keep going.

In my time writing this blog, I have learned a lot. I learned about other bloggers, some doing much like what I’m doing, writing about the day-to-day life of a farmer. Others focus more on advocating for agriculture, getting our positive message out there. For a long time, I wrote this blog quietly, keeping it mostly to myself and using it as a therapy session. In reading all the other blogs out there, I came to understand that writing a blog about a year in the life of a farmer should be more than just the basic day-to-day life, and that it doesn’t hurt to explain my own views and opinions on broader ag-related issues, such as GMOs and pesticides.

Making this blog more public was a hard thing for me to do as well. I wrote a lot of personal stuff in it, talking about my own emotions and the hardships our farm has faced. I am not an open person when it comes to this, and I was afraid of the ramifications of doing this, and that it might diminish the ability of this blog to be a release for me. It was my wife that convinced me to try and get this blog out there, to get people to read it. How could I get my message out there without telling anyone about it? It was because of her that I made the effort to get my blog posted on AgMoreThanEver, an excellent website full of positivity for Canadian farming. From there, it amazed me how many people were- and are- interested in what farming is all about. I publicly posted all of my new articles after that, and was shocked at the positive reception.

Having said all that, it has been difficult recently to figure out just where to go with this. I set out to write about a year in the life of a farmer, and I did that. I didn’t really have any long-term plans or goals with this blog, I was just writing because I truly love to write. Originally, I wrote for the stress release, which I don’t really seem to need anymore. I guess I found out that if we can get through everything that our farm has over the past 5 years, we can get through just about anything.

For some time, I considered closing out this blog, with this as my final post. It has taken me awhile to figure out how to write this one, especially since I knew it may be my last. In fact, I was beginning to wonder if I really loved writing anymore,  and that I may not need it anymore.

Despite this, I think I need to keep writing about farming. I love what I do, and farming is a fascinating and vibrant business, and learning new things is a daily occurance. Furthermore, I love writing, and I love sharing my story about agriculture with anyone who will listen, even if its only a few people. To write something that touches someone’s life, or teaches them something new, is an experience that is hard to put into words, and this blog allows me to do that. As one of my close friends told me a few months ago, “just keep writing,” and that is what I intend to do.

So, as we enter into yet another growing season, I will be talking about the joys, trials and tribulations of the life of a farmer, just as I have before. Paralleling that will be more thoughts on the broader world of agriculture, and why and how it affects us as farmers in our daily lives. Finally, I will keep explaining why we do the things we do, which sometimes may seem strange or questionable to those outside of agriculture.

Agriculture is a fascinating industry, and farming is an incredible lifestyle. In this blog, you will find the daily thoughts, activities, and stresses of a farmer in Southeast Saskatchewan, Canada, from the little town of Fillmore. I hope you enjoy reading this blog as much as I enjoy writing it. Thanks for reading.

Harvest 118

P.S.: Listed below are links to some of my favorite ag-related blogs that helped me develop my own. Check them out!

AgMoreThanEver.com

RealAgriculture.com

Agriculture Proud

Janice Person – A Colorful Adventure

Prairie Californian

LipStick & Tractors

Daddy’s Tractor

Rural Route 2

 

Why I Write

Why does anybody write? Is it some compulsion to make oneself heard? To leave something behind? We all want the world to remember us when we leave it. A page, a book, even a blog, is something that stays around forever (well, as long as humans are around and we don’t forget how to read, that is). But is that really the entire reason? Are we really so melodramatic that all we care about is for some random person to read our written words years after we are dead and forgotten?

I don’t think that’s true. Or, at least, not the entire truth. My reason for starting this blog probably includes those things, sure. I think anyone who has written anything would be lying not to believe that at some level, there is a conceitedness to putting words to a page that describe your life, or parts of it. But the point here is the main reason I write at all. I don’t have any illusions about how many people may read what I have written in my fledgling blog, A Year in the Life of a Farmer. I don’t have any delusions of grandeur here.

I started this blog because nobody really knows what the life of a farmer is really like. Unless you’ve lived it, and I mean really lived it, you don’t know who the people are that produce your food. Everybody wants to know where their food comes from. Everybody wants to know if it’s GMO, or laden with pesticides, or what its carbon footprint might be. But these are all just numbers and words. If you really want to know how your food is produced, you need to know the person producing it.

I am a farmer. I live out on a farm with my wife and our dog, and our yard sprawls over many acres of trees and grass and, well, slough bottom. Our trees are kind of ugly, with deadfall and cursed caraganas sprawling through the uneven rows that complement the newly-seeded grass that has yet to even cover the ground enough to keep weeds down. Hard to believe I can grow crops but I can’t make our stubborn grass grow. Anyway, whatever our yard is, it is our own, as is the land around it. This is the life we have chosen to live. This is the life we will raise children in. This is the life I am so happy to live everyday.

We farm with my older sister and my mom and dad. We are a family farm. Sure, there is the complex and sometimes frustrating structure of partnerships and corporations, and yes, you could call us a corporate farm. But that doesn’t change the fact that it is our family who run it.

This is a blog about a farmer. This is a blog about a family farm. But beyond that, this blog is really about the day to day life of farming; the joys and the frustrations, the despair and the hope, and the trials and tribulations that encompass what we do. I am not afraid to tell you we grow GMO crops. In fact, I am proud to say that we do. We use pesticides, where they are needed and at the rate required for the job. We take care of our land, whether owned or rented, and try to grow the crops that will sustain our farm for the long run, environmentally and economically. If you have a problem with this, buy organic. I make no apologies for what we do to feed a growing world.

If you want to get to know the person behind the food you eat, if you want to understand what it takes to produce the wheat in your bread, or the barley in your beer, or the canola in your cooking oil, read this blog. You may find what you were looking for all along; someone growing your food that genuinely cares about the future of this planet, and its people. My name is Jake Leguee, and I am a farmer and an agvocate. Thanks for reading.

The Farm Life is a Wonderful Life

If you have read my previous post (The Marathon Concludes… For Now), you know that seeding has been completed and we are well into in-crop spraying. This is a fascinating and exciting time of the year, in which we get to watch the crops we so carefully tried to plant come to life. Each field has its own personality; a visual depiction of the clay, sand and silt that is visible to the naked eye, and the incredible myriad of the microbiological ecosystems that thrive beyond our sight. Every crop, every field and every plant all provide clues with which to diagnose and analyze the sometimes confusing, but always interesting world of plant and microbiological life, and the relationships contained therein. The incredible diversity of the living things present in our soils becomes visible in every plant we grow.

Perhaps this all sounds a little over the top, maybe even a little on the nerdy side. But I have found in my life thus far that if you do not have something that you are so passionate about that you can go on about it the way that I have been, you are missing something vital to your happiness. It doesn’t have to be something as possibly obscure as plant life. Perhaps it is machinery, engines and things that move; perhaps it is books and stories of great and terrible deeds; maybe it is music and the creation of it; or maybe it is something much greater, like the love of another human being; a wife, a husband, a son, a daughter, a mother, or quite fittingly on this day, a father. Life is a wonderful thing, and if you are bored with it, you insult all that was given to you. Find your passion and let it consume you, whatever it may be. Just always remember that the first love must always be the things that truly matter. On that note, happy Father’s Day to my dad, the best man I have ever known, who taught me the difference between right and wrong, and that every action has a consequence that you must always be prepared for. I will never forget the life lessons he taught me.

Maybe this is all a little to deep for a post about a year in the life of a farmer, but if you believe that then maybe you don’t know farmers as well as you should. We get to walk out our front doors every morning and see the beauty of the world unfold in front of our eyes. We know what true silence sounds like, often on those nights so black you can’t see your hand in front of your face. Or sometimes when the sky is lit up like a brilliant mosaic of colours and light, with every star like a shot of brightness in the darkest night. Perhaps it may be on the night that the flickering arms of the Northern Lights reach across the sky, fingers outstretched as if reaching for something out there in the atmosphere that is just out of its reach, so close and yet so far from its brilliant green fingertips. Like I did the other night, when we were on our daunting and exhausting marathon. I had been up for 20 hours, running on only 3 hours of sleep and knowing that the following night would be just as short. I was loading the liquid fertilizer truck with nitrogen and sulfur in the pitch black of the night. When you load up with liquid fertilizer, it takes time as the pump has to deliver nearly 6,000 gallons of product up onto a trailer; it just is not that fast. As I waited for it to load, I saw the most brilliant Northern Lights show I had seen in years. When you have seen these things, and when you can just sit and watch them, sometimes you have a moment of clarity, a brief handful of seconds in which you see that we are indeed so very, very small.

As farmers, we get to experience incredible views like this frequently, and yet we still so often do not truly appreciate the majesty of what we are seeing. For instance, the sunrises and sunsets in Saskatchewan are truly a beautiful thing to watch, quite likely the most colorful in the world. And yet, most days I do not notice it. Sometimes you have to force yourself to just take a minute and watch; but in our busy lives, this can be difficult to do.

I hadn’t really intended to write about this subject today. In fact, I have a whole other subject to discuss. However, for today, maybe this will be enough. Funny how the mind goes off on a tangent. If you let it, you might be amazed where it will take you.

Going forward, I will continue to update you on our progress. We have had windy, wet weather for most days since my last post, so spraying has not advanced much. This will be a busy spraying week, in which we intend to spray the rest of our durum, our peas, and likely our soybeans again. We need to accomplish all of this before Farm Progress Show on Thursday (that is the day we are going to go). Hopefully the weather cooperates!

Furthermore, I hope that you will have interest in the posts that will come specifically about each crop. I am enjoying writing this blog, and maybe you will derive something of interest for you from it. Thank you for reading so far! One stage of the crop year is over, and another has begun.

Could’ve Been Worse

The rain event we needed came on Monday. The rain event we needed to avoid came on Thursday.

Yes, the rain that was forecast reared its ugly head early Thursday afternoon. Accumulation expectations varied, but most seemed to be in that 2-3 inch range, with more expected for Monday. Indeed, the outlook was nothing short of grim, with soil that was already saturated incapable of supporting another deluge of rain, thoughts quickly turned to the horrible poundings of rain that slammed us in 2011. Rains that washed out roads, flooded basements, and all but wiped out whatever crops that were in the fields.

The reality was surprisingly positive. Before the rain occurred yesterday, the rains forecast for Monday/Tuesday were backed off to just a chance of showers, which was a big relief. And, now that all is said and done and the rain is finished today, we ended up with a grand total of “only” 1.2 inches of rain. Hardly the amount feared, but still not an insignificant number. Certainly, it was enough to flood out some crops, make the roads wet and sloppy, and will generally make future seeding difficult, but it was not the downpour that was feared. Furthermore, after the rain ended this morning, the sun came out and the wind picked up (a lot), quickly moving water off of many spots in the fields. Things are not as bad as was feared, and it appears that, with the present forecast, we may be back in the fields early in the week. With the calendar flipping to June tomorrow, this is an excellent development, as we may yet be able to finish seeding before the tenth of June.

In a side note, the psychological aspect of farming in this area of the world has been fundamentally altered. For decades, the greatest fear was not getting the rains when they are most needed. Memories of the 1980’s are still fresh in many farmers’ minds, including my father’s. However, we have been in a wet cycle for many years now, in which rain falls in inches rather than tenths of an inch, and farmers now worry about excess moisture rather than missing it. At least, we younger ones do, the ones that didn’t farm in the 80’s. For those that did, drought is an ever-present fear, one that I believe haunts them to their very core. They say that the 80’s were likely worse than the Dirty 30’s; the dust bowl that decimated the prairie landscape, that still leaves scars today in the topsoil piled up in old fencelines. Better farming practices, including conservation tillage made possible by pesticides, were all that held off the horrid dust storms that plagued my grandparents’ homes. My father’s father experienced this firsthand, including the hunger that went with it; they spent many days waiting for the trains to bring food relief. In fact, as my father tells me, my grandfather never even owned shoes, instead saving all the money they could to purchase winter boots. I cannot imagine a time like this; nor do I believe can anyone else in this part of the world.

In reflection of such a terrible time in this province’s history, perhaps our wet cycle isn’t so bad. Cattle aren’t starving to death, we are still getting by, and our homes aren’t caked with dirt. Excess rainfall is frustrating, expensive and difficult, but at least we aren’t choking on dust.

One positive development out of this rain was that I was able to take my wife out to the city for dinner and a movie for her 25th birthday. Since her birthday is in May, it often gets missed out on, which is unfortunate and unfair. She keeps me sane, protecting me from the stress and frustration farming often brings, even if she doesn’t realize it. I am so lucky to have her as my wife.

Being stopped for a couple of days has given us time to evaluate our marketing position as well, which caused us to make new-crop sales of canola and durum to ensure we can make our cash-flow commitments in the fall. Growing the crop is only part of running a business like this. Marketing and finance are vital aspects of the operation that too often get overlooked. This is something I am working on improving, which has led to a massive set of Excel spreadsheets to track every cost and income on this farm. Knowing our cost of production down to the penny has been a huge benefit to us, and we can still do better.

Now that the feared weather event has passed by, we can focus on getting back in the field and finishing seeding. It is time for it to be wrapping up, and I look forward to getting back out there. Maybe Monday will be a go. We will see.