When the rubber hits the road

Making decisions and paying the bills is turning Toban Dyck into a real farmer

Two days ago it was way too early. But that morning, driving by my field of soybeans, I wasn’t sure. In fact, it’s hard to be sure of anything related to the fate of my 110 acres. I drove to the approach, walked in a few feet, there didn’t seem to be much for weed pressure. I had cultivated this field before seeding. But there was rain in the forecast. There was lots to consider, and I wanted/needed to make the decision on my own.

Parked on a tiny approach in the middle of a large section of relatively bald prairie, sitting in my truck with the air conditioning blowing directly on my face, about to make my first critical decision, I was nervous. Or at least I would have been had I not asked a local agronomist to meet me there that morning.

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We chatted for a bit. He knew our farm, this field, and he knew the guy who drove by in a dirty, white truck. I gave him the land’s legal address, but he was familiar with the property and over the phone just wanted to confirm it was “the Shannon Creek land, right?”

The weed pressure was minimal. He confirmed as much. But there were some weeds starting to poke through, and some he thought it would be good to kill before they got much bigger. He left the decision to spray that day up to me, saying that given weed size and crop stage whether I do it now or in a few days wouldn’t make a huge difference.

I sprayed that day. Because, you know, farmers don’t like to mess with rain predictions greater than 50 per cent. And I consider myself a farmer in this context. The fact that I have over five weather apps on my phone speaks to that.

The experience hashing such decisions out with an agronomist was pleasant and reassuring. I am not alone. There are experts in the community who stay up to date on chemicals, weeds, and other relevant agricultural information. They are paid to help us, the farmers, and seem to enjoy doing so. I became less scared about farming that day. I became less scared about the many things I don’t yet know.

The transition from saying you’re something to actually being it is difficult for most people. I’m among them. I find myself still, to this day, giving this pat response to people who ask anything about me taking over the family farm: “Well, succession planning is tricky. I’m still in the throes of that. I’m just starting out.”

It’s still a true statement, but only kind of. We’re further along than this already, and I need to recognize that. I’ve been here for three years, and that counts for more than I let on.

My first year as a farmer with land of his own is still a fuzzy experience. I’m making decisions I don’t fully understand. I’m acting. There are huge deficits in my knowledge of agriculture, and I have to go on as though I know enough to make things work. They will. I have to be sure of it. And this confession is as much of a tell-all from me as it is a comment on what it’s like to jump into a new vocation in your 30s.

No matter what the discipline; no matter what the subject matter, this blind spot along any learning curve is intimidating, important, and worth pushing through.

It’s where I am right now, and I’m learning to deal with it.

The bills are starting to come. I mention this not to suggest I’m hard done by, ‘cause by no possible stretch of the imagination could that be true. My bills are small. My costs are low. The figures are tiny. No, I’m mentioning bills because receiving them is tangible proof that there are people and businesses out there who consider me a farmer.

I feel an uncanny sense of responsibility, as though I’ve become an adult again in my 30s. This may seem excessively introspective, but recall your first farm input bill, look me in the eye and tell me you didn’t feel the same way.

I’m sure this blind spot won’t last long. I’m already starting to shed the city boy turned farmer perspective. I cling to it from time to time, as it has defined me for the past three years. It’ll give way to the perspective of a full-on farmer and country boy.

As for right now, in the doldrums between the first and second round-up applications, it’s time to check my two beehives and mow the ditches.

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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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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