Every farm has its own story. No two farms (or farmers) are exactly alike. Everyone got started in a different way, and every farm has a different combination of family and hired staff who make the decisions and keep things running. But, in general, even after you consider all of the details, farmers are more alike than different.
This is the story of Mark and Bobbie Bratrud and their business, Bratrud Ag Commodities, near Weyburn, Sask.
Where do you farm?
Mark: We farm just west of Weyburn, Sask.
What do you grow?
Bobbie: We grow canola, durum, hard red spring wheat, red lentils, barley and soybeans.
How long have you been farming?
Mark: We both grew up on farms, so we’ve both been involved in some aspect of farming all of our lives. But our first investment in farming would have been 18 years ago. We worked off the farm for the first 11 years. Bobbie is an agronomist who worked for a couple of different companies, and I was in grain merchandising and transportation. I ran a consulting business from 2005 to 2011. We’ve both been farming full-time for the past seven years.
Who do you farm with?
Mark: We farmed with Bobbie’s dad until 2012 but right now we farm with each other and we have one full-time employee.
Why did you choose farming?
Mark: We both grew up farming, so it’s in our DNA, but the doors opened up and we walked through them. It’s something that we liked to do and the opportunity was there.
What farming season do you enjoy most?
Bobbie: We like different seasons. I like the harvest season, but Mark likes the season right after seeding when the crops are coming up.
Mark: I like seeding because we’ve just come out of a dark, cold winter here in the north and planting season is uplifting.
What’s the farm implement you can’t live without?
Bobbie: We need all of them, but the farm implement we use the most every day is the skid steer. It makes lots of hard jobs easy for one person to do — lifting pallets of chemicals or moving heavy stuff around.
Mark: You have to have your sprayer, seeder and combine, but we get the most year-round use out of our skid steer and our ATV side-by-side. The side-by-side gets a lot of hours on it checking fields.
What good decision have you made that turned out well?
Mark: We farmed alongside Bobbie’s dad from about 2000. When he decided to retire, making that leap of faith and saying, “Let’s do it,” quitting our jobs and going to the farm was a good decision. The other thing that I think helped us accomplish that was our relationship with Bobbie’s dad all along. We always treated it very much like a business, using real values and real economics, and investing in the farm, so when we did make that decision to transition the farm and buy him out, everything was very clear, cut-and-dried, and it wasn’t a difficult thing to do.
Bobbie: Everything was always documented and had a value attached.
Mark: When we made the transition, we were already established. It was a pretty big leap of faith and it meant taking on debt, but we were in a good position to do it.
Have you made a decision on the farm that you regret?
Bobbie: Land values have gotten so much higher in the last 10 to 15 years. Hindsight is 20/20, but there were a few opportunities in the past where we could have expanded if we’d been more aggressive, but we let those opportunities pass.
Mark: We did what we could back in the late 2000s, but there were a few things we could have made work and didn’t.
What do you anticipate your biggest challenge will be over the next five to 10 years?
Mark: One big thing that we’ve seen is that there’s been hyperinflation in agriculture over the last 10 years. Land costs are going up exponentially and equipment costs are increasing all the time. We’re kind of getting locked into higher costs with a very volatile commodity market into which we’re trying to sell our final goods. The costs of farming and the risks associated with it are bigger than ever. It’s getting challenging. We do our best, but farming is also a bit cruel in the sense that you can do everything right but you still rely on Mother Nature. There are risk management strategies we can deploy, and we’re not scared of the challenge, but we have to be monitoring it closely and planning for it.
What do you think your biggest opportunity will be over the next five to 10 years?
Bobbie: There are lots of products that are just entering the market, like biologicals and plant growth hormones, without a whole lot of data. There’s skepticism from farmers, but in five to 10 years we’ll have a much better sense of what works for us.
Mark: Along the lines of technology and crop health, plant growth hormones and biologicals will probably take us to another level. We’ve seen so many advancements in growing crops over the last 10 years. Farmers are growing better, healthier and ultimately larger crops, while environmentally not much has changed. We’re learning how to grow more under the same conditions. That’s where the opportunity is: embracing advances in agriculture to grow more so we can feed a growing population.
What do you like to do for fun or to relax?
Bobbie: It’s always a balance, right? We’re pretty busy with our children (who are 16, 14 and 11), so we spend a lot of time doing community events or sitting on different boards, like 4-H. We’re pretty family-oriented.
Mark: The winter is our opportunity to do different things, so we’ve tried to turn that into family time. We like to get away on a hot holiday, but we also enjoy embracing our winter weather.