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 Brian and Carmen Sewell and their family, at Herronton, Alta.
Where do you farm?
Brian and Carmen Sewell farm at Herronton, Alberta, approximately 40 minutes southeast of Calgary.
What crops do you grow?
“We currently grow wheat, barley, canola and peas. This year we’re also trying soybeans and up until recently we also grew yellow mustard.”
How long have you been farming?
Brian and Carmen have been farming for just over 13 years, starting their own operation in 2005 with a few crop share arrangements and farming with Brian’s dad Jim. “In 2017, we transitioned management of both operations to us and started our own company.”
What’s your favourite farming season?
“Definitely harvest. We like to see all the hard work and planning pay off and and it’s very satisfying to get the grain off the field and into the bins.”
What’s the farm implement you can’t live without?
Brian and Carmen can’t live without their cash flow projection Excel spreadsheet.
You could have done anything. Why did you decide to farm?
“I think when you grow up in a farming family you either can’t wait to get off the farm and explore a different career opportunity, or you leave the farm to pursue an education or explore a different career path but can’t wait until the day you can get back.”
For Brian, farming is in his blood. He left the farm to pursue a post secondary education in the trades and had an off-farm job for a while, but always knew he wanted to return to farming full time.
Carmen married into the farming life and has embraced it. Ultimately, both Carmen and Brian appreciate the lifestyle it provides for their family. “We have three young kids and feel very fortunate about how much time we can spend with them and between the two of us don’t have to rely on other childcare. There are windows of time like seeding and harvest that bring long days and high stress when machinery, weather and other factors don’t always cooperate causing delays, but somehow things always get done. The rest of the time we are still busy, but also have the flexibility to take extra long weekends or hit up the rink for a game of shiny, help out at the kids’ school and, even when we are busy, pile into the tractor for a ride or pizza in the field.”
Finding that balance between work and play is important to Brian and Carmen. And they enjoy working together. “We like to work together and make a good team. Not all husbands and wives like their professional and personal lives combined but we love working together and we love that we can involve our kids to contribute to our livelihood as well.”
Tell me about a good decision you’ve made on the farm.
“We decided to transition our farm management to one operation instead of us and our parents each having our own. And at the same time, we created a business plan, set up a company and left the bank that had been working with our family for years because they weren’t doing us any favours. We found a new bank that was willing to give us what we needed. Even in one year this has changed our operations and we have saved money and stress because we have access to all the working capital we require in one place.”
Brian and Carmen have also aligned themselves with a valuable team of people and ask for help when they need it. Their accountants and Carmen’s dad Cam, who works as a business advisor for many large agriculture operations, have played a key role in teaching them about margins, cash flow and how to manage the books. Brian’s parents Jim and Joanne, along with agronomists, grain marketers, grain commission staff and others, also provide advice and guidance based on their years of experience and knowledge.
Is there a decision you regret making on the farm?
“There are lots of things we could probably find to regret, but often those decisions made sense at the time. We try not to make decisions without a plan and keep emotion out of it, but still when you look back you see things you shouldn’t have done or should have done differently. We try not to beat ourselves up with regret but rather learn from the things that don’t turn out as planned.”
What opportunities do you see ahead?
Brian and Carmen feel this is an exciting time for the agriculture industry. “Aside from farmers, there are so many supporters, advocates and fantastic people working in the industry that are all trying to make sure we succeed. I think we have lots of opportunities to continue to find support and share our stories with the world about who is producing food and where it is coming from.”
They also see lots of opportunities to discover where technology can take the industry in regards to new crop developments and how it may positively change farming in the future.
What challenges do you see ahead?
Brian and Carmen feel Mother Nature will always be the biggest challenge for any farmer. “You can plan for a certain yield and even contract grain well in advance to have a good idea of actual cash coming in, but until the grain is seeded, grows properly and gets taken off the field and put in the bin you don’t really know where you are at.”
Another current challenge for them is land mortgages and crop share arrangements on land that is not theirs. “Our margins are tight and we need to be aware of high operating costs, and know how all our operational decisions affect our bottom line. We don’t have new equipment, extra hired help or a budget to invest in growth at this time. We have to work hard and keep our finger on the pulse of the business with little to no room for error if we want to to run a profitable operation.”
What do you like to do for fun?
“We like to ski, spend time at our family cabin boating and hanging out at the beach, and we have three kids who are all busy in dance, hockey, baseball, golf and more so we like to watch and coach. We also like to travel together but that doesn’t happen very often right now.”
Follow Brian and Carmen on Twitter @sewellgrainfarm.