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Toban Dyck: Piecing together the farming puzzle

A picture is starting to emerge of what farming looks like for me

Eight years ago, when Jamie and I moved to the farm, I opened the box and dumped the farming puzzle on the table. There seemed to be an infinite amount of pieces and just as many ways to put it together. And, as you know, this particular puzzle does not come with a reference picture.

There is a lot of juggle on a farm. There is a lot to be mindful of. As I learn to mind the details of our operation, my blind spots have come into focus. I could be a better crop scout. I would like to become sharper at weed management, long-term herbicide programming and crop marketing. I would like to be comfortable and confident enough of a farmer to start making bold(er) agronomic moves that may come face-to-face with tradition.

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I want my work with Manitoba Pulse and Soybean Growers to foment positive change in the agricultural industry. I want my edge for policy and communications to be as sharp and as durable as it can be.

We all have our wish lists. I will never know enough. I hope to always be aware of the things to which I am blind. I hope to always seek to become a better person, a better farmer, a better husband.

The farming puzzle is, however, starting to take shape and I couldn’t be happier about it. The seemingly infinitely large pile of disparate pieces is starting to fit together and a picture is starting to emerge of what farming looks like for Jamie and me. A world I thought I arrived at too late to ever fully understand was starting to come into focus.

I am developing an aptitude for fixing things. I would never have thought this would be the case. I had assumed even the smallest repairs would require a call to a service person. I am starting to grow novel crops that this farm hasn’t seen in a while. That, too, is satisfying.

Farming, like everything, is as much a mental exercise as it is a physical one. I have profound respect for the farmers out there, who, amid the busy spells, are able to maintain perspective and a clear head.

Having grown up in a largely ag-centric and Mennonite community, I have witnessed and continue to witness a concept of value play out that is inextricably tied to physical labour.

I’ve wrestled with this. Working hard is not the same thing as working smart. Since I moved back to the farm in 2012, I’ve witnessed a spectrum of on-farm work habits.

I have watched farmers push through mealtimes and well beyond the thresholds of reason in an attempt to get back on the field. I’ve yet to see this work, however. The sentiment seems to be that during go-times such as harvest and seeding, a farmer forced to deal with a breakdown should not take the time to eat, ponder or pursue the mental clarity that comes with forcing oneself to think about something else for an hour or so.

I’m in this fray of people. I am guilty of employing this stubborn approach to things on the farm. When you’re deep in the mess of trying to fix a seized bearing, walking away for the sake of clarity is difficult to do. And for some, it’s shameful. Not only is it hard to do, personally, but others might see that you’re not on the tools when your combine is broken down.

There is an extraordinary amount of things on a farmer’s mind, at the best of times. This year, however, that number has multiplied. In the middle of the harvest season we think about when we’re going to get our crops off, co-ordinating trucks, bins and sales. Then, in the middle of this, we’re thinking about next year — about tillage, about cashflow, and I’m sure I’m missing a bunch of other things.

Then there’s COVID-19, racially charged riots and an upcoming U.S. election.

I don’t have the answers. If I did, I’d be frightened to share them, but I do believe there is nothing black and white about what the world is facing right now, and if there’s any group out there with the mental fortitude to handle it, it’s farmers.

About the author

Columnist

Toban Dyck is a freelance writer and a new farmer on an old farm. Follow him on Twitter @tobandyck or email [email protected]

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