Manitoba hog producers refuse to throw in the towel

NIVERVILLE, Man. – The Falkfamily credits a combination of faithand debt for keeping them in the hogproduction business.They are now able to calmly reflecton their survival through the longestdownturn in modern hog productionhistory, but the mood was much differenttwo years ago when thereseemed little chance of surviving asfarmers.“I think he was depressed,” Chantellesaid as she talked about Jason’sstruggles during the dark days of thedownturn.“You second-guessed yourself overand over about all your decisions,and you spent lots of time trying tofigure out, if I work harder, can I makethis better?”Jason nodded as he recalled thosedays.“I’ve been taught that if you giveyour best, you will succeed,” he said.“If you give 110 percent, you willsucceed. And 110 percent could notsave the farm. And that was a lesson Ihad to learn.”Like many hog farming families,the Falks faced huge financial strainsduring the downturn.Their financial situation was worsenedby new debt they had taken onto expand just before margins fell,while their personal situation wasmade more demanding by the arrivalof new children.“Two years ago we were in themiddle of having babies, and thedownturn, and it was day to day,”Jason said.“You had to plan for the long term,but you didn’t know how you’d haveany strength two days from now. Youhad to go day by day.”They had to renegotiate a hog productioncontract, but still the red inkseemed endless.They considered getting out of thebusiness, but the Falks weren’t willingto declare bankruptcy and walkaway from their debts.Due to their religious commitment,they were unwilling to leave theircreditors exposed.“We decided that we could notleave our creditors hanging,” Jasonsaid.“In all this, God must be honoured,and if we lose the farm, that’s onething, but if we lose our credibilityand respect and our witness, that’s awhole different story.”Chantelle said there was little valuein hog barns during the downturn, soselling them wouldn’t have raisedenough money to pay off the debt.The farm, which they operate withJason’s brothers, father and uncle,limped through the crisis until profitabilityreturned.Chantelle has now returned to livingthe life she always wanted.She had two conflicting goals whenshe was young: be a veterinarian andbe the mother of a large family on afarm.She decided she couldn’t spend allthe years needed to become a vet soshe enrolled in a shorter course atnearby Providence College.“I went to college and found you,”she said to her husband with alaugh.Jason was different in those days.He planned on a life in the city insome area of business, but decided to“give the farm a chance” after graduating.He found the hog industry wasbecoming more complex and sophisticated,which provided fodder for hiscollege business training. As a result,he decided to stay with the farm.Chantelle, who started dating Jasonin college, was happy he decided tostick with farming, but after they weremarried she laid down one rule for himwhen he returned home after a day ofworking in the barn: “You’re not touchingme until you have a shower.”They both laugh at the memory, butJason becomes visibly embarrassedwhen Chantelle notes he also used tohave long hair and facial hair.“So he wears grubby clothes andsmells like a barn when he comeshome,” she said. “That’s our thing.It’s not a big deal. It’s who we are. It’swhat we do.”Chantelle has her hands full raisingthe family’s five children: Payton, 7,Adlai, 5, Rheanna, 4, Aliyah, 3, andArileigh, 18 months.However, she said she’s doing whatshe had hoped to do when she choseher path in life.Jason took a double major in collegein business and biblical studies,and at the time he wondered if thatwas a good combination.“I kind of wondered, did I do theright thing, did I choose the right pathand get the right education,” he said.But over the past few years, his businesstraining gave him the practicalskills to keep the hog operationafloat, while he credits his biblicaltraining and faith for keeping himgoing when there seemed little rationalreason to believe the family farmwould survive.“It’s really starting to look like that(double major) was a good choice,”Jason said.

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