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Full-time farming becoming more viable

There are no reliable statistics on this, at least nothing timely, but anecdotal observations would suggest that a sizable contingent of young people have transitioned to full-time farming in the last couple of years. This is particularly true in the grain sector.

Maybe you’ve noticed the same thing. Perhaps it was your agronomist, your lender or your farm equipment mechanic. They always had some involvement in the farm, but farming is now their full-time endeavour. Their off-farm job has been filled by someone else.

The ongoing not-so-funny joke used to be that people needed a job to support their farming habit.

In the last half-dozen years, farm returns have been no joke. Nationally, with all sectors combined, net farm income has never been higher.

Suddenly, income from that job in the resource sector or that career as an agriculture professional no longer looms as large when compared to returns on the family farm. People who for many years had only farmed part-time, perhaps helping the family with seeding and harvest, have taken the plunge to become full-time farmers.

In Western Canada, the resource sector has slowed and many jobs have disappeared. For some, that has made the full-time farming decision a natural progression.

For many others, their job has remained intact, and they were earning good money, but the lure of farming was too powerful to resist. They always enjoyed the lifestyle and the thought of being an entrepreneur, and now the potential monetary rewards made the leap look viable.

Furthermore, the farm looks like it has the profitability to support more than one family as intergenerational transfer is worked out.

While an off-farm job or business means another cash flow, the cost of not enough farm labour can be high. What’s the price tag associated with not getting seed in the ground in a timely manner? What’s the cost of getting behind with herbicide or fungicide applications during the growing season?

Like many industries, agriculture has its ups and downs. It won’t always be buoyant. Weather isn’t always great, commodity prices go up and down.  And harvest can be the most critical time of all. A single large combine in a high-yielding, high-value crop might harvest $100,000 worth of grain in a day. Pretty difficult to stay in an office doing your off-farm job when you could be running a combine or grain truck.

From an AgriSuccess article by Kevin Hursh