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 Justin Allport and his family farm in west-central Saskatchewan.
Where do you farm?
“North of Kyle, Saskatchewan.”
Justin farms nearly 9,000 acres in the Rural Municipality of Lacadena — a combination of owned and rented land. The operation is based out of his parents’ yard a few miles from his own house, where he lives with his wife Nicole and their two young children, Amara and Emmett. Nicole is a plant manager at Simpson Seeds in Swift Current, a branch of her family’s Moose Jaw-based family business.
Who do you farm with?
“I farm with my father, my sister, and a hired man.”
Like many Saskatchewan farmers, the Allport family has owned its farm for generations. Justin’s parents have been transitioning into retirement, but his dad still helps with spraying, harvest, seeding and trucking. Justin’s sister lives overseas but has returned the past four years to drive one of the two combines for the harvest season.
The foreign farm worker Justin hired for year-round work stayed for 3-1/2 years, then left for another opportunity in Eastern Canada. With this year’s dry conditions, Justin was able to complete harvest with his father, sister and a few friends that could schedule combine or grain cart shifts around their regular jobs.
What crops do you grow?
“We mainly produce durum, lentils, oilseeds, some wheat, and occasionally some barley.”
In the past, Justin and his father had also grown peas (desi and kabuli chick peas, yellow peas), various lentils (large greens, Spanish browns, reds, bulugas), winter wheat, anise and dill. With recent barley going malt grade, Justin has been hoping to supply his cousin’s Saskatchewan-based brewery — Nokomis Craft Ales — with product grown on generational family land.
How long have you been farming?
“Full-time, eight years. Part-time, most of my life.”
When the workload became too much for Justin’s parents to continue on their own, he returned to help full time. Through succession planning, his father has been learning to step back and enjoy retirement, while entrusting Justin to make the major farm decisions.
What’s your favourite farming season?
“Probably harvest. To see the results of your hard work.”
What’s the farm implement you can’t live without?
“The sprayer or my cell phone.”
Justin enjoys the challenge of marketing and seems to be on his phone 24/7. He is also busy trading advice with other farmers his age and is active on some farming social media groups.
You could have done anything. Why did you decide to farm?
“After high school I took some time off, and then went to the University of Saskatchewan and took my degree in soil science, worked in the oilfield consulting for a year and a half then came back farming full time.”
Agriculture was always a major part of Justin’s life. Oilfield work was good to earn money and gain responsibility, but farming was something he always saw good opportunity in. When Justin’s dad phoned for him to come home and help, he did just that and has been farming full time ever since.
Tell me about a good decision you’ve made on the farm.
“To maintain a rotation that is both profitable and sustainable.”
With a background in soils, Justin makes sure his decisions are both economical and good for the soil, which has helped to produce higher yields.
Is there a decision you regret making on the farm?
“I have made a few, but the main goal is to just learn from it and move on.”
What opportunities do you see ahead?
“I see tremendous opportunity for growers in my age category to expand if we are able to.”
Family farms have been steadily growing and adding employees. With that comes the responsibly and knowledge of managing and supervising employees, doing payroll and bookkeeping, alongside the other duties of marketing, purchasing, planning, repairs and operating equipment. Justin also sees growth in the sector of agricultural business support roles, such as freelance human resources and payroll services.
What challenges do you see ahead?
The unpredictability of weather over the past few years, from record rainfalls to drought, makes crop planning and maintaining a sustainable rotation all the more difficult. Farming is a high-stakes financial game that depends a lot on conditions outside the farmer’s control. Weather is one of the major stressors.
What do you like to do for fun?
“I enjoy spending time with my wife and kids and various outside recreational activities like the Spartan Race, fishing, and camping.”
Justin and his family have a permanent camping spot at the Saskatchewan Landing Provincial Park — a perfect spot to get away, while still being close to both Nicole and Justin’s work if something needs to be done.