Every farm has a story and no two are alike. Its origins, how it operates and who has a hand in its success are unique. This is the story of Mike and Wanda Stretch and Chain Lakes Farms, located in central Alberta.
Where do the Stretches farm?
The farm is located 13 kilometres east of the town of Ponoka, Alta.
Who do they farm with?
Chain Lakes Farms is a family-operated farm. Mike takes care of the farm, while Wanda focuses on the books and bills, yard work and providing meals to the field during harvest. Their son, Sheldon, 26, grew up on the farm and has been farming with them since his high school years. Sheldon’s girlfriend, Cheyenne Lund, 24, has worked with the Stretches for the past few years. She does all of the baling and helps out where it’s needed on the farm.
Tom Cook worked with the Stretch family farm for two years, but has returned to his home country of Australia. Mike and Wanda’s daughter, Kendyl, worked on the farm before heading to the University of Alberta. She is finishing up her sixth and final year specializing in dietetics.
How long have Mike and Wanda been farming?
Mike grew up on a farm helping out his parents. He has been farming full time for 33 years now. Wanda does the office work for the farm and has been working part time at the Ponoka Community Health Centre for the last 26 years.
After leaving the family farm to work for his own construction company with his brother in Ontario, Mike returned to Alberta to farm full time with his dad, Arnold Stretch, for 20 years.
Wanda joined the farm in 1988, marrying Mike in 1993. Growing up, Wanda enjoyed many wonderful days on her grandparents’ farm in Ontario.
What crops do the Stretch family grow?
On the farm, 400 acres each of canola and wheat (hard red and CPS) are grown as well as custom work on 3,000 acres of oats, barley, wheat and canola.
What farming season do they enjoy the most?
The Stretches enjoy the spring when they can start planting crops. The fresh, new start is energizing and it’s exciting to watch the crops first pop through the dirt, they say.
What’s the farm implement they can’t live without?
The air seeder — without it there would be no crop to put in the ground.
What is an example of a great decision for the farm operation?
Twenty-three years ago, the Stretches started custom farming, which, they say, was a good decision. The custom work allows them to increase their cash flow so they are able to upgrade equipment and stay current with new machinery and technology.
There was a missed opportunity to buy land behind the farm. It was not a good time to buy — and now land prices are too high. Also, the Stretches had to sell their cow/calf cattle at a considerable loss in the midst of the BSE years.
What do they anticipate as their biggest challenges in the next five to ten years?
Many challenges exist for farmers, such as managing input costs versus profits, finding qualified workers for the manpower required to run a farm and overcoming the effects of unpredictable weather. Climate change also affects their crops and choice of crops.
To keep up with the ever-changing environmental challenges and chemical regulations are other big challenges, say the Stretches, because regulations are becoming more stringent and companies are eliminating chemicals that have been around for a long time. They also face the challenge of overcoming the general public’s opinions of certain farming practices and educating the public on the safe farming methods used today.
Biggest opportunity in the next five to ten years?
GPS section control on drills and sprayers make farming more efficient and offer less waste as the technology progresses.
What does the Stretch family do to relax?
The Stretches try to get away as a family around the new year, with Whitefish, Mont., a frequent destination. When possible, Mike likes to head south to Mexico for some golf during the winter months. Wanda enjoys riding her dressage horse and travelling with Kendyl when they get the chance. Sheldon likes to go hunting, camping and travelling with Cheyenne.