Meet your farming neighbours: Len and Diana Desharnais

The Desharnais family farms in the Peace River area of northern Alberta

Every farm has its own story. No two farms (or farmers) are exactly alike. Everyone starts off farming in their own way and every farm has its own combination of family and hired staff who make decisions and keep things running. Yet, even after considering all of the details, farmers are more alike than they are different.

This is the story of Len and Diana Desharnais and their family farm, Ladd Farms.

Where do you farm?

Len and Diana Desharnais farm 1,800 acres in the Peace River area of northern Alberta. They are central to Guy, High Prairie and Valleyview.

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What do you grow?

Len says at Ladd farms, wheat, barley, canola, flax, forages and peas are grown.

How long have you been farming?

Len grew up on a farm in the area, and in 1992 his parents helped him buy the current farm.

Who do you farm with?

After buying the farm in 1992, three years later Len and Diana were married. Together they continued farming with his parents until they retired in 2002. Len and Diana now farm with their son, Dylan, 17, and daughter, Anna, 21, who is also currently attending university.

“Friends and relatives come to help sometimes, Dylan helps after school and Anna helps when she has time from university,” says Len.

Anna plans to go into research in the field of molecular genetics and Dylan loves the farm and would like to farm on a smaller scale and restore old vehicles, adds Diana.

Why did you choose farming?

Len and Diana both love the lifestyle, the freedom and the ability to be out in nature that farming offers.

Getting ready for harvest at Ladd Farms.
photo: Len Desharnais

What farming season do you enjoy most?

“It’s fun getting started in the spring,” says Len. “When the ground starts thawing, you have all of this optimism and you are ready to seed. I love all the seasons, but when the ground starts smelling alive again — it’s just thawed out and you have that garden smell — everything is primed to grow. I love that.”

Diana enjoys the spring as well, but adds, “I don’t like the mud season, so later spring. I would prefer it to go from winter to the non-mud season.”

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

Len thinks all the implements are important and have a job. “You can’t live without the seeder — you won’t get things started in the first place, and the sprayer is very important and so is the harvester,” he says.

But what Len finds helps the most around the farm is the farm truck with the trailer. It hauls grain all year long, is there for harvest and brings seed in the spring, and it can be used for other things, such as logging in the winter, he adds.

“I cannot live without river boots, my garden gloves and my Jeep Wrangler — my implements,” says Diana.

With five jeeps on the farm, the Desharnaises always have a few running while the others are in the process of being worked on and restored. Dylan has just rebuilt the engine on a 1968 pickup, which he is looking forward to driving to school as well as taking to car shows.

What good decision have you made that turned out well?

Len jumps right in. “Marrying my wife and bringing her into the farm.”

Both Len and Diana agree everything comes in turn, so for them having a diverse crop rotation has been a good farming decision. “We try to stick to a good three- to four-year rotation,” says Len.

They say this diversity helps give them a marketable crop, rejuvenates the soil and is good for disease prevention.

“We like to be kind to what we do, not to the point where we don’t produce, there is balance. We see the benefits of all the different crops. It’s all a big balancing act and sometimes you hit it and sometimes you don’t.”

Have you made decisions on the farm you regret?

“I kind of regret not buying more land when it was affordable,” says Len.

Diana adds, “Sometimes when we diversify, we look at crops that are a little different. We used to jump into them quite quickly and one time we got burned pretty bad. We learned our lesson — we’ve learned to be more cautious. You learn with experience. I don’t really have any regrets; the farm has given us a pretty good life.”

What do you anticipate your biggest challenge will be over the next five to 10 years?

“Marketing and trying to keep up with technology is challenging,” says Len. Some technologies can be beneficial and others complicate things and get quite expensive, he adds.

“You are at the mercy of others and the globe, try to be prepared and as diverse as possible,” says Diana.

What do you think your biggest opportunity will be over the next five to 10 years?

“Not to be repetitive, I think there could be great opportunities in the market as well. If you have a bit of every crop there could be good opportunity as the markets can turn quickly,” says Len.

Another opportunity will be the succession of the farm to the kids, Len adds.

In the future, Diana says her dreams include building a tiny home and “moving somewhere warmer and having adventures before we are too old.”

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

“In the summertime we like to go quading in the river valley and hit the trails and the beaches along the river that change every season,” says Len. “Have a picnic and wiener roast out there and enjoy nature and relax. We also like going on trips with our fellow Grainews members.”

Diana also appreciates the simple things in life. “Sometimes it is just as simple as watching TV, reading a book or hanging out with friends when we can. Enjoying the simpler things — you don’t have to go places or do things to relax … you just have to do less,” she says.

Both Len and Diana also enjoy the birds that pass through their farm during the different seasons. Their farm is part of the migratory route for cranes, geese and other birds that fly above in the springtime. Bald eagles can also be found near the farm. The Desharnaises love nature and the simpler things in life.

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