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Saskatchewan farm a family affair

At the Real farm, it’s a family affair. Twenty-year-old Jamie and 18-year-old Sheldon can be found preparing equipment for a slashing job in the oilpatch. Sixteen-year-old Cody is the technical guy, fine tuning the GPS system and tractor settings. Tyler, 14, sprays down some of the farm equipment, while 12-year-old Tanner observes in preparation for the day when he’ll take over some of the jobs his four older brothers do.

“The main thing that keeps us in farming is the boys,” says Dell Real, who farms at Fertile, Sask. in the southeast corner of the province.

“It would be a lot easier to sell out and put up our feet, but the boys want to stay in farming and we want to give them that opportunity.”

With 82 quarters of land and a seismic business called Real Slashers, it takes Dell and Jeannine Real, their five boys and up to three full-time employees to keep the expansive farm afloat. Blake Dittmer has been a dedicated hired hand for 20 years.

“The way things have gone with big machinery and higher expenses, we’ve had to get more and more acres to offset the costs,” says Dell.

The side business in the oilpatch is a convenient and lucrative way to keep all five boys and the farm’s employees busy year round.

“That’s why we’ve never quit our seismic business, it’s an effort to fill the gaps for the workers.”

Jeannine takes care of the bookkeeping, and she can often be found on the combine or operating the air seeder as well. She says the main reason for expanding their operation has been to provide options for her sons to carry on the rural tradition.

“If they want to farm, I’d like them to be able to do that. But we have also encouraged them to go to school because I don’t want them to feel like they’re stuck here.”

Jeannine has a rich farming history as her dad, Gerard Poirier, was a self-taught innovator, designing and patenting the first Poirier Opener seed boot. She remembers her dad spending hours in his shop coming up with various inventions. The air seeders at the Real farm are all equipped with the one-of-a-kind seed and fertilizer boots, firmly planting one foot of the operation in the past while embracing the no-till practice of the present that has allowed the operation to grow.

Dell has also followed in his family’s footsteps, taking over the home farm and utilizing the skills that he learned at a young age.

“When I was 10, I’d get dropped off from the bus and I’d head straight out to drive anything and everything.”

William Real started Real Western Farms Ltd. in 1976, retiring in 1990 with 2,000 acres to pass on to his son Dell. In the past 21 years, Dell and Jeannine have grown the operation to 12,000 acres, steadily expanding the farm as land became available for purchase or rent.

The Saskatchewan couple always knew they’d carry on farming and they also knew that any children they had would immediately be part of the operation.

“There were times when I’d be nursing the kids on the combine and dragging them here and there with me.”

The five boys have always been an integral part of the Real farm, running equipment from a young age and playing a vital role in understanding the high-tech equipment.

Dell and Jeannine recall getting a new combine several years ago and letting the boys figure out the settings. While the teenagers proved their aptitude for fine tuning the high-tech monitors, it left their parents in a bind when the boys went to school.

“Here we are, dumb and dumber, trying to figure out these monitors because the boys were at school. We had to wait until they got home to fix it for us,” says Dell. †

About the author

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Christalee Froese writes from Montmartre, Sask.

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