Grain farmers have varied skills, philosophies

According to the old adage, a farmer is a jack of all trades but a master at none. These days, you see many producers who are masters at a particular aspect of farming, while sometimes being weak in other important areas.


On some operations, the focus is mechanics. Someone on the farming team may be a certified heavy duty mechanic or they may just be self-taught. 


A large, well-equipped shop is the centre of activities. Repairing, maintaining and sometimes even modifying equipment is a top priority.


Others view the farm through a financial lens. It’s all about the debt to equity ratio and the return on investment. They have calculated whether it makes more sense to buy or lease their tractor and combine. They may have a commerce degree. Maybe they’re even an accountant. 


For others, farming is all about agronomics: thousand kernel seed weights for their seeding rates, the proper rotation of herbicide groups, scouting for pests and disease. These folks often have an agriculture degree or diploma.


There’s also a precision agriculture crowd that is excited by the opportunity to vary fertilizer and seeding rates across each field to maximize the economic benefit. To be effective, these farmers need a solid understanding of agronomics to go along with their computer savvy. 


There’s an amazing level of expertise among producers, but there can also be major gaps in knowledge and competence. Some of us are mediocre mechanics. Others struggle with marketing. 


Some producers retain little knowledge of the basic crop nutrients and how they differ in function. 


There’s no right or wrong aptitude and skill set. For areas where you’re weak, advice and help is available. 


However, having a wide range of competencies on the farm management team is a big advantage. 


As well, the vast majority of prairie operations are family farms, which means family dynamics play a big role. Traditionally, the men have handled the majority of the field work with the women responsible for meals, laundry and taking care of the kids.


The idealized farm has a manicured yard and a big garden with much of that responsibility falling on the stay-at-home mom. 


While that still exists, you see all sorts of variations. In many cases, the family lives in a town. The spouse often has an off-farm career. A father and son or a couple brothers may farm together. 


Although it’s changing, field operations are still dominated by the male gender. However, with increasing frequency, females are likely to be the bookkeeper-financial manager or the grain marketing specialist.


Some grain growers are cattle producers first. This can hinder their ability to be on the leading edge of new production techniques. Some farms have a side-line business, be it equipment fabrication or custom trucking. And there are part-time farmers who take holidays from their day job to get field work done. 


Some are expansion-minded and growth-oriented with a succession plan for the next generation. Others have no successors and know they will be the last generation to farm. 


Many have a net worth in the millions. Others are struggling to attain a farm size that’s viable. Throw in philosophies and political leanings and you can see that farmers don’t fit any particular mould.


However, when you meet another farmer, there’s never any shortage of common interests to discuss.

Kevin Hursh is an agricultural journalist, consultant and farmer. He can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]