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.

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Follow Your Dreams

Have you ever had a dream?

I don’t mean a dream as in the one you see in your sleep and soon forget. I mean something that inspired you, or moved you, or gave you a goal to strive for. Perhaps it was to build something, invent something; whether just a childhood Lego creation or a skyscraper. Maybe it was to fly a plane, or to go to space, or to find the cure for Alzheimer’s. 

Did you pursue it? Did you make it a part of your life? Or did you let it fall away, accepting that it was impossible or impractical? Sometimes life hits you harder than you can withstand, and your dream falls away from your consciousness. 

My dream is something I do every day. My dream is growth.

The excitement I feel each and every spring is because once again I have an opportunity to continue my dream. Planting fragile seeds into a harsh, dangerous and unforgiving soil, full of parasites and predators, with little more than hope to work with, is a major risk. Mother Nature doesn’t have to be kind. She can be a bitch. But somehow, I still go out and risk my future every spring on the hope that maybe, just maybe, she will be generous. 

Farming is more than just laying seeds on the ground and hoping that they will grow. Growing the crops is only one part of the dream of growth. I also dream of growing the farm, seeding more acres and having more crops to discover and learn about. Growing the business is the other half of my dream. Creating a secure operation with money to spare to invest in new opportunities and new ventures is what I dream of every day. Sometimes, Mother Nature smites these dreams with a punishing torrent of rain, or hail, or a crushing frost, or a devastating drought. Yet I push on, because this business, this life, is the dream all we farmers endeavour for. Some have no dream of expansion, while others want to farm the world. But as long as we can survive, as long as we can go into the next year and plant another crop, our dreams continue.

Some people may respond with a callous “so what? Farmers have it easy. They are born into their dreams, I have to search for mine!” True enough, maybe. Let me share my experience with you on this.

I graduated high school in June of 2006. At that time, farming was not my intention. In this part of the world, farming was tough- very tough. We had had a rough go for the last few years: 2003 was a drought, 2004 was a devastating early frost, and prices were so low in those years  that despite a good crop in 2005, we still lost money. The world had lots of food, and farmers were largely ignored, if not forgotten. I could not foresee how I could ever make a living farming. So I considered other options, such as engineering, but ended up going into agriculture with the intention of becoming a veterinarian. I don’t know to this day what my father thought of this. I do know he was close to calling it quits after 2005. But then something happened- something fundamentally changed in the world of agriculture, something that had not happened in 30 years.

The world ran out of grain. Between farmers leaving the industry, a couple years of lower production and the advent of using grains for fuel, stocks had suddenly become low. In late 2007, prices exploded for all types of commodities, creating unprecedented returns. Suddenly, agriculture was front page news on business magazines and talked about on major news stations on television. Farmers found themselves in the spotlight. It was in late 2006 to early 2007 that I decided not to become a vet and to farm instead. And that has been my course ever since. It hasn’t been easy. Indeed, if you were to read some of my blog posts from spring you would see that even with high prices, 2010-2011 were tough years for us. But we press on, pushing to become better at what we do, to grow our business and become more sustainable. Life is like a boxing match against an unbeatable opponent; at some point, you will lose the fight. But you can give it one hell of a fight before you go down. Persistence and ambition, the drive to reach your dreams, no matter how impossible they may seem, is the way I have chosen to live my life.

Maybe this is all too hardcore, talking about drive and ambition and dreams. This is a part of who I am, and how I think, and it will always be a part of my blog. I think within all of us is the power to do anything. It is us who limit ourselves. Perhaps I limit myself too, sometimes, putting too much focus on the farm and missing other opportunities. I don’t know what path life has laid out for me. All I know is that if I work hard and think things through carefully, opportunities will come. I feel that farming is a great analogy to anyone struggling to accomplish their dreams, because sometimes things happen that are out of your control. Sometimes, simple bad luck can knock you on your face. But you have to get up and keep going. 

My dream is growth. Growth of my crops, my business, and my relationships with the ones I hold most dear. What is yours? And, are you fighting for it?

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.

Prepped, Primed & Ready to Go

As I compose this blog on the evening of Mother’s Day, more crosses my mind than just the farm, and the seeding operation that is set to commence. My parents gave me life, morals, and standards which I now live by, and are largely the reason I am where I am today. I owe more to them than I could ever hope to repay. Someday, I hope to be able to provide these things to a child (or children) of my own.

The air drills sit in our binyard ready to go to the field. We did a great deal of work to get them ready this year, and we even rented a new tractor to help get us through the spring seeding season. The sprayer sits in the shed, also ready to go, as well as our other major pieces of equipment. We are ready to begin seeding.

Tomorrow, we will load and calibrate the drills and take them to the first field, located around our home yard. This will give us an opportunity to test everything and make sure no major problems are going to pop up. Usually, the first day or two of seeding is slow, as the machinery usually has some issues, and it does take some time for everybody to get into the right mindset. By Wednesday, we should be going full out, with 10,000 acres to plant, hopefully completed by early June.

Right now, I feel a mix of emotions, as my excitement for the growing season juxtaposes my knowledge of how dearly I enjoy getting a good night’s sleep, which will be non-existent for me for the next while. Mostly, though, I am excited to get to the field and get this crop in the ground.

We went for a ride on our quads (ATVs) today to check some fields and roads and see how the water is running. There are big spots of water (as would be expected, since winter ended two weeks ago), but for the most part the fields are quite dry. Yes, I will admit, we will need a rain- but not for awhile. An inch of rain in 2-3 weeks from now would be wonderful, but Mother Nature plays by her own rules. For now, the focus will be on seeding, spraying and fieldwork, trying our damndest to get this crop in the soil in the best way possible. The quality of the job we do in the next few weeks will determine how the 2013 crop year plays out, and may well determine our financial success in the years to come.

When you plant millions of dollars in the ground and ask Mother Nature to help you out, you are taking a risk. A big one. I am well aware of this, and it does add to the pressure to not make mistakes. Errors can be extremely costly when you are spending $50,000 per day. A simple mistake in seeding at an improper depth, spraying the wrong herbicide on the wrong field, or forgetting to close the tank lid on the seed/fertilizer cart can be devastating in some scenarios.

But, I try to put that aside, and do my job to the best of my ability. Unfortunately, sometimes that comes at the expense of safety, as I learned yesterday when I accidentally sprayed myself directly in the eye with seed treatment. Yes, it is a dangerous substance, and I should have been wearing safety glasses; or at least glasses instead of contacts. But no, I had to pull out my contact and wash my eye immediately to prevent possible damage. These products protect the seed against seed and soil borne diseases and insects, but they are mildly dangerous. Care must be taken against mistakes like this, and against all the other hazards that heavy machinery, toxic chemicals, and a general lack of sleep can cause.

Finally, I cannot forget that my wife needs to have a husband around sometimes too. Right now, she is wondering when I will be coming to bed, as I instead type away on a computer alone. Relationships can be difficult to maintain when you are not around very much. But she understands that this is a critical season for us, and I think she understands how important this life is to me- because I think it’s important to her as well. But she will always come first.

Tomorrow, seeding begins. Talk to you soon.