Jeff Prosko jokes that he’s been farming since he could drive a tractor.
When he was 16, his father made him responsible for the crop on one quarter section. In the 11 years since, Prosko has worked off the farm and attended the University of Saskatchewan. After earning his diploma in agriculture in 2005, Prosko returned to the Rose Valley area to farm.
“I think I was meant to be a farmer. I know that sounds corny, but I could never picture myself doing anything else,” says Prosko.
Though Prosko and his father, Rick, have separate farms, they share equipment and staff. Since 2002, their combined acreage has grown from about 3,500 acres to 11,000 acres. About 3,400 of these acres are owned or rented by Jeff Prosko. Though working with his father has many advantages, Prosko finds their combined acreage can be a hindrance when he’s trying to get more land.
“The perception is that what’s Dad’s is mine, or something like that. I think that happens to a lot of sons and fathers. My dad’s an active farmer and he’s got two other kids. I don’t expect to be given the farm or anything like that. I hope to build my own.”
Expansion is Prosko’s biggest challenge right now. “The competition for farmland is fierce. You’ve got investors and foreign ownership and people who quite honestly aren’t ready to sell or step down.”
Keeping retired farmers involved sometimes makes them more comfortable with land deals. Prosko finds that retired farmers make good seasonal workers, too.
The Prosko family also employs retired teachers and friends to help with seeding and harvest, along with one full-time employee year-round. Finding the right people has become more important.
“Where we farm, the weather can be so challenging that you might get a window of 10 days to seed 10,000 acres. It seems impossible, but you have to do it,” Prosko says.
Prosko says the crew they have now is fantastic. Over time, he and his employees have become friends. “It’s more than just a working relationship. You work with each other, you get to know each other, you build a rapport, and then they’re even more comfortable because they know what you’re really about,” says Prosko.
Prosko tries to show employees they’re appreciated by throwing staff Christmas parties and keeping the work environment positive. He and his dad have also streamlined their farm operations. They plant canola and a cereal crop each year, partly to keep seeding rates simple. They also use the same types of farm equipment, which makes it easier to train employees and fix problems.
The idea to run the same combines and tractors came from talking to other farmers. “I’ve got some good friends who are large farmers and have been for a couple of generations now. Through interactions with them, and asking questions about how they run their business, basically you start to pick up on some of these things.”
Much of Prosko’s networking is done through organizations. He’s involved with the Saskatchewan Young Ag-Entrepreneurs, the Canadian Young Farmers Forum, the Kelvington-Wadena constituency, Saskatchewan’s Youth Ag Advisory Committee, and the Western Canadian Wheat Growers. By talking to other farmers he’s gained different perspectives on issues, bounced ideas off other people, and found solutions to problems.
Farming is more than a business to Prosko. He eventually wants to raise a family on the farm, and this June he will marry his fiancé, Ebony Kozak, who works as a massage therapist. Though Kozak’s not a farm girl, she supports Prosko’s passion for farming. Their first date was on a tractor.
Ultimately, Prosko knows he’s picked the right line of work.
“I like it all. There’s nothing more special than when you plant a crop and you see it coming out of the ground. I remember the first few years I got to run air drill, and I drove by (the fields I’d seeded) after a month and saw green rows. I thought that was the most amazing thing. It’s the simplest thing, but it’s so amazing that you get to do that.” †