Meet your farming neighbours: Duane and Bonnie Friesen

This is the story of Duane and Bonnie Friesen, 
near Cecil Lake, B.C.

Duane and Bonnie Friesen and their three children, Daniel, Rebekka and Adele.

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 Duane Freisen, who farms with his wife Bonnie and their three children: Adele, 13; Rebekka, 10; and Daniel, 7.

Where do you farm?

We farm in Cecil Lake, in the Peace River area of northeastern British Columbia.

What do you grow?

We have a mixed farm with a cow/calf operation. We grow peas, oats, fescue, timothy and put up silage for the cattle.

With a mixed farm, Duane sees an opportunity to use cover crops as cattle feed. photo: Courtesy Duane Friesen

How long have you been farming?

We’ve been farming in Cecil Lake for 17 years. I began farming with my two brothers when I was 12. We started raising 200 chickens and peddling the eggs. With that money we bought a milk cow. We sold the milk until we had enough money to buy a couple bred heifers. From there I increased my cattle.

Who do you farm with?

I farm with my family and my two “Dads” as helpers — my father and father-in-law, who is retiring in April and planning to help in key times.

Why did you choose farming?

It was born and bred into me. My parents had a greenhouse and garden center and they would have loved for me to do that, but I didn’t like to be around people all the time. They raised me on the farm and that was my thing.

What farming season do you enjoy most?

I would say harvest, with the combining (although it’s not very fun when the crop isn’t good!), but I haven’t had too many failures. We grain crop on a small scale compared to most, so getting it in and off isn’t so much a challenge for us.

I enjoy watching the calves grow, putting up good feed for them.

Harvest is Duane Friesen’s favourite time of year. photo: Courtesy Duane Friesen

What’s the farm implement you can’t live without?

The front wheel assist loader tractor. It just seems to be busy all the time doing something, moving bales or feeding cows or packing silage.

What good decision have you made that turned out well?

We were pretty aggressive in buying land when we came to Cecil Lake. Now it would be a lot harder to purchase land. There’s more competition for it and the prices are higher.

Also, we built up our cattle herd after the BSE crisis. When things turned around and got really good we downsized and sold some cows at a very good price. (We found out having hired help wasn’t for us so downsized to a number we could manage ourselves.)

Have you made a decision on the farm that you regret?

I bought new tires for an old tractor just before the engine went. Now what do you do with it?

Duane Friesen says farming was bred into him. photo: Courtesy Duane Friesen

What do you see as the biggest challenge over the next five to 10 years?

I find balancing work and family time challenging, i.e. making time to go camping. There’s always work, never an end to it. Also the challenge of integrating the kids into the farming operation as they grow older, if that’s a fit for them. Two of our children could be interested.

What do you see as the biggest opportunity over the next five to 10 years?

We went to a workshop on cocktail cover crops —cocktails because it’s a big mix of plant varieties. Improving our soil fertility and health with cover crops could be an exciting opportunity, as we have some poor soils. The challenge is we don’t want to miss a year. But in the long run, are we shooting ourselves in the foot? Being a mixed farm there’s more opportunity to utilize the cover crops as cattle feed.

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What do you like to do for fun or to relax?

We enjoy fishing and camping — but we’re calving in May, spraying in June. July is silage, August is fescue… Camping and fishing is our ideal. We only seem to manage once a year — it’s not often enough!

We enjoy going for a drive together to look at the crops, or going on a picnic. Long range target shooting is my winter hobby.

Anything else?

We think that mixed farming works so well because the systems work well together, but at the same time the work is endless! If you’re not doing something with the crops you’re doing something with the cows! GN

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