July 16, 2009

There are a lot of discouraged farmers out there. So I’m always duly impressed when I meet young people that are excited and passionate about farming. I’m doubly impressed when they’re farming in an area that others are leaving.

Recently, Robert and I visited Martin and Bettina Leuenberger from Flatrock, B.C. (North Peace country). I’d heard bits and pieces of Martin’s rise as a grain farmer over the last years and was curious.

Shaylene Leuenberger poses with her dad, Martin, before a growing row of grain bins in Flatrock, B.C. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

Shaylene Leuenberger poses with her dad, Martin, before a growing row of grain bins in Flatrock, B.C. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

What gives this 30 year old the courage to grow his farm in a time when many were discouraged and quitting, and in an area that is not exactly known for being the best grain country?

“It (Flatrock) has its advantages – in a good area I could never have gotten into farming,” Martin says. Every farmer that quits is an opportunity to rent land at reasonable prices.

I’d known Martin as a child. We were friends with his parents who are also Swiss immigrants. His Dad held a good job in Fort St. John, but farmed on the side. Martin always dreamed of being a big grain farmer. As a young teen he started helping his Dad on the fields – his Dad would tell him over the phone where he should go cultivating.

He still works with his Dad who is retired now, and together they operate 8000 acres, growing cereal crops, canola and fescue.

“I think the big thing now is if the opportunity comes to expand I’ll jump on it right away,” Martin says. His wife, Bettina, smiles and adds, “If he wouldn’t grain farm he would get another high risk business.”

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I think of Beni Gasser in Schleitheim, Switzerland. So many older farmers are discouraged, fed up with the many regulations they have to follow to get their subsidies. Many see no future for the farm. But Beni, at 25, is excited to take on the challenge.

Beni Gasser together with his new wife, Rebecca, sees a positive future for farming in Switzerland. (Photo courtesy of Jacqueline Stamm)

Beni Gasser together with his new wife, Rebecca, sees a positive future for farming in Switzerland. (Photo courtesy of Jacqueline Stamm)

He too is working with his Dad, taking over the family farm. His Dad, Peter, was a full time farmer, running a mixed farm with dairy cows. While many of their neighbours are winding down their business, either due to size or lack of a successor, the Gassers are expanding.

What makes these two young farmers, and others like them, different? Both of them are positive people, willing to take risk. They see opportunities where others see problems. They know it’s not a free ride, but they love their profession and believe in it.

We need farmers to feed the world so it won’t just be huge corporate farms. Most of them will continue to be family farms, run by people like Martin and Beni.

My hat’s off to you young farmers!

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