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 Will and Cindy Lowe and their operation LZ Farms near Kyle, Sask.
Where do you farm?
Our farm name is LZ Farms Inc., and we’re located right around Kyle, Saskatchewan, straight north of Swift Current.
What do you grow?
We have a mixed operation. On the crops side we have about 3 000 acres of peas, lentils, canola, durum wheat and a little bit of barley and oats for feed. And we do about 800 acres of hay as well for the cow-calf side of things.
How long have you been farming?
After working for Cargill Meat Solutions and Northwest Consolidated Beef Producers I started farming full-time in 2011. Cindy works full time as a teacher at the Swift Current Comprehensive High School. My parents, Archie and Lois Lowe, have been farming since 1973. We sit on a century farm — our first relatives bought the land in 1906.
Who do you farm with?
My wife Cindy and my parents. Cindy and I have four kids, Ellie, 15; Hailey, 13; Marshall, 11; and Walker, nine. Ellie is pretty involved during branding season and with farm work. Marshall does some mowing and other jobs. They’re all involved in small ways.
Why did you choose farming?
Actually, I didn’t initially choose farming. When I graduated in 1991, times had been pretty tough for my dad coming through the droughts in the 1980s, so I wasn’t too keen on farming. But after going through university, the city life just wasn’t what I had envisioned, so for me coming back to the farm made sense.
I did an agricultural economics degree at University of Saskatchewan and after I met Cindy we decided we’d like to raise our family close to home. I worked for a bit after school and we bought our first piece of land after our first year of university.
What farming season do you enjoy most?
I would say we enjoy summer the most. For us, with calving, seeding and spraying, spring is a non-stop race, so July is the first opportunity we get to relax a bit and breathe a little. We hay too, but it’s not a breakneck pace to get it done.
What’s the farm implement you can’t live without?
Our feed truck. We bought a feed truck in 2015 with a bale deck for feeding cows, and it’s got a grain box on it for grain or pellets. It gets used throughout the year.
What good decision have you made that turned out well?
I think for us, it was a really good decision to get into cattle. We were strictly a grain operation through most of my upbringing, and for me it was a good decision to diversify our operation. We’ve added more value to our land without having to expand the grain side, and with land prices getting as high as they are around here, it’s a better way of utilizing the land base we currently have.
Have you made a decision on the farm that you regret?
On the opposite side, probably the fact that we didn’t buy land earlier, before it went up 200 per cent. Fifteen years ago, there were opportunities to buy more land, so I guess in hindsight that would have been a good idea. These days, it would be tough to get started as a newcomer or to expand except with the odd quarter here and there.
What do you anticipate your biggest challenge will be over the next five to 10 years?
I think our biggest challenge is connecting with consumers. I think as a small portion of the population, the ag community has trouble connecting with consumers and helping them understand what goes into their food, and that farmers are good stewards of the land and not degrading the environment.
Some of the government policy and red tape has also been a challenge. For example, we have a ton of paperwork for the AgriStability Program. As a diversified operation it’s way more complicated for us than it would be for a straight grain operation. There’s a lot of work that goes into that.
Another challenge is labour. It’s been an issue finding good labour and keeping it throughout the year. We may keep someone for a year or a year and a half, but then they move on. It’s hard to retain employees.
What do you think your biggest opportunity will be over the next five to 10 years?
I think adapting to and utilizing new technologies is a big opportunity — using the data to improve our operation. There is a lot of technology coming at us that may be almost too much to handle at times because it’s information overload, but it’s smart to pick the technologies that are cost-effective and work on your operation. We bought a new drill a few years ago and put variable-rate technology to work for us.
Another opportunity is some of the trade deals and the chance to expand our markets. I think there are good opportunities for agriculture, but we still have to connect with consumers and make sure that we’re doing things right.
What do you like to do for fun or to relax?
We bought a boat last year so we try to spend time on the boat in the summer. The kids are involved in 4-H and sports. We try to get away on a family holiday at least once a year in the wintertime.