Living and farming after loss
With all its rewards and risks, Janel Delage loves farming. It’s why the vice-president of Delage Farms Limited, a 30,000-acre Saskatchewan grain operation, continues farming even after losing her husband. Janel met the love of her life at the University of Saskatchewan College of Agriculture. After both had off-farm ag careers, they returned to his family’s grain operation. They were acquiring land, had a son and were loving the life they’d built, farming side-by-side. Then, in 2019, Marc unexpectedly became ill and passed away. Their planned future vanished. Janel’s grieving and healing is a journey, but she’s feeling stronger now.
I’m very self-sufficient so I’ve had to learn to lean on people and ask for what I need. Unconditional support from my parents allows me to focus on the farm, looking after my son when needed or Dad’s moral support and guidance. My father-in-law is full of wisdom with a steady approach to the business of farming. He can step back and look at things analytically when my emotions get in the way of making good decisions. My mother-in-law puts others’ best interests first, making sure they are fed, housed and feel loved.
My closest friends knew Marc and I, so they know what I’m going through. They’re supportive and look after me. I love them completely, and they love me back.
I have an ag network I call on regularly. We talk candidly about mistakes and share future plans. They support me through farm decisions, but will also say ‘Janel, come on, it's not that bad. Maybe you made a mistake, but what did you learn from it?’
The other special group is our team. Some days I still get sad and even though many of our employees never met Marc, they take pride in their work and put the best interests of the farm first. They have my back in a way that’s pretty special.
Trust has always been foundational to my relationships, but I talk more about it now.
You are constantly adapting in agriculture, but it feels like there’s more now. I carve out time to learn new things but also leave certain details to experts like our immigration specialist or accountant. They help us understand implications of things like tax changes, giving me time to think bigger-picture and make the right decisions around things like marketing, risk-management or labour shortages.
I listen more, sometimes – I freaked out this summer when the crop was drying out. Those who support me said ‘Get off the farm and stop worrying.’ I didn't listen. I should have. Sometimes it’s best to step back, even when it feels like the last thing I should do.
When Marc passed, realtors showed up at the farm asking about selling. It angered me. I had to reassure my team we weren’t selling and they still had jobs. Worse, it felt like realtors underestimated me. It was a ‘Just watch me’ moment. It’s not the only reason I’m farming but it got me worked up. I decided I’m not only going to do this, but I’ll be successful.
Sometimes farming is especially hard, like this year’s roller coaster . Spring rain meant everything looked fantastic. Then it got dry and grim. A bit of rain later helped and when we started combining it wasn't so bad. Then, August 31, we had hail – 100% loss on some fields. Because of our planning, financially we’re fine — we’d bought more insurance when grain prices were high — but the joy is in seeing our bins full. That didn’t happen this year and that’s hard.
Time spent drafting our wills made this awful situation easier. A will is for those around you. I can’t begin to imagine how things would have been without planning for something we never thought would happen.
Every time we face adversity and get through it, we gain strength.
Every time we face adversity and get through it, we gain strength. Life continually evolves. How you feel, who you are one day isn’t the same as the next. It's easy to think things will always be one way. It's not the case – but that’s positive. It’s how I get through every day, by making the most of them.
People sometimes ask why I’m still on the farm. The attachment to this place is so strong. I love farming. It’s beautiful to plant seed, watch it grow and then see and feel the result of decisions made all year when I’m combining.
It’s also such a powerful feeling of awe that this land has been entrusted to me to care for, not just for us, or for our son, but for the future. I'm so fortunate . . . and I still wish Marc was here to share this together.
From an AgriSuccess article from Janel Delage, as told to Myrna Stark Leader.