Farming dreams on hold for now

ROULEAU, Sask. — For those who aspire to farm, there is the dream and then there is reality.

Mike and Jenn Kleckner are somewhere between the two.

Mike, who grew up on a farm near Gravelbourg, Sask., has long wanted to farm but also knows the barriers to entry.

The family, including daughter Brooklynn, 3, and son Brody, 18 months, live on a quarter section near Rouleau and for now that has to do.

Most of the land available in the area is in large parcels worth millions of dollars.

Mike said when he sits down to calculate how they could get into the industry as primary producers, he can’t get past the first step.

“It just doesn’t pencil out,” he said.

For now, the young couple is focusing on their company, MJK Ag Services Inc. They offer custom spraying, swathing and hauling, plus products such as GPS systems and tile drainage equipment.

The business is a natural extension of Mike’s first foray after high school. His dad died when he was in Grade 12 and the family farm of 1,200 acres was sold. He spent four seasons custom combining in the United States. He also worked several jobs, mostly associated with agriculture.

Jenn grew up on a cattle ranch in Vanderhoof, B.C., and became an esthetician.

“Some friends talked me into moving out here nearly eight years ago,” she said.

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Mike’s mom was one of her clients and that’s how the two met. They married in 2009.

After living on an acreage near Craven, they purchased their quarter section and Mike went to work for larger farmers in the area for several years before expanding his business.

The spraying operation has been going the longest: 2015 will be the third year for swathing.

The combination of spraying, swathing and hauling grain keeps him and their employee, Jenn’s brother Kevin Simrose, busy most of the year.

They try to stay close to home but have to go where and when the work is. Mike says they are pretty much on call 24-7 during spraying and swathing, depending on the weather.

“When it rains it pours,” he said. “You either have nothing or three jobs to juggle.”

More and more farmers are turning to custom operators, he said.

“We’re in a good area because the acres are big,” Mike said of the Regina plains. “But then again, 60 to 100 miles away, there are smaller farmers who don’t have all the equipment.”

For now, Simrose is the only full-time employee. Finding good farm labour is difficult for any operation and Mike said that does factor into future plans.

Jenn has been pressed into duty as well because they weren’t able to find anyone else.

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“I drove a swather this fall,” she said, noting that her mother watched the children.

The couple’s goal is for Jenn to stay home with the children but she runs a lot of errands and chauffeurs the men to different fields.

They are looking at other possibilities for their business that would still keep them close to the farm. One is to add a seed cleaner or a mobile unit and the other is to build a shop.

Mike said many of the larger seed cleaners or pedigreed growers worry about contamination, leaving others with fewer options. The latter option would depend on having better roads to their farm.

Any expansion of the business or their own farm depends on finding the right banker, they say.

“We started with nothing,” Mike said.

“We’re not running the newest stuff. Sometimes it’s not just the numbers, it’s somebody wanting to take a chance on you.”

That dream of farming their own land is still very much alive.

“It’s in my blood, too,” said Jenn.

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  • Neil

    This is a great story. I can really relate to it. My wife and I worked and part time farmed for 23 years before I went full time farming in 2007. I was very lucky with the timing of grain prices but even then it was a huge financial gamble. It could just as easily gone the other way on us and I would be back full time working again now. My wife still works as we now try to help the next generation, our son, farm with us. Its just the nature of the business that much capital is needed to start farming. Hard work, lots of planning, continuous number analyzing all helps but some luck is needed as well.

  • Sandra

    Nice story! Family farms are a dying beard. My Dad sold a third generation farm between Rosetown & Biggar SK, about 4 years ago now! It was sad to see that family history go!

  • Dayton

    Sounds like you guys are generation one. It is difficult to jump to the same stage as generation 3 or 4. However think of it as setting the stage for the next like those before us have. I built roads for 8 years before we started with bare bones as generation one in ’84. My wife worked full time and although the first 10 years were a struggle we waited our turn bought land (not the best) and things started to fall into place. The next 10 seemed much better and the last 10 have been great. Our sons can walk into an established operation if they choose with little stress.

  • goodlookingYetIntelligent

    They have a great start if their goal is to grow into a multi generational farm with a sizeable land base. Start with generating healthy cash flow through custom work using nice machinery. Then start renting some land. Land ownership doesn’t need to be an early goal. Eventually build some equity, and buy a piece of land when the financial ratios permit it.

  • ed

    Land prices are going to break hard so don’t get in a hurry to invest or expand. Land prices may not drop fully drop 66% like they did on average all across the west and take 20 long years to return to those values in the 80’s this time??? Land values adjusted for inflation in real purchasing power have not returned to those lofty levels but they have been getting closer. The artificial land price run up was more pronounced and faster this cycle, so they probably will drop as fast as the last cycle over the next 3-5 years, and it has actually started already. At about year 5-8 after the crash would be a good time to reinvest. Like blackjack, doing nothing when the deck has gone negative with most the Aces, Kings, Queen, Jacks and tens gone and only Jokers left all around, is your best option. Keep your bets low and wait for a more favorable deck switch. With the remaining Aces up his sleeve, the dealer will be slow to switch the deck, the pit boss doesn’t care and the house will be racking in the last hopeless optimism dollars out there no matter how hard you worked, at what ever job, to get it. Be patient grasshopper.

  • Mel Alexander

    If Saskatchewan would allow banks to mortgage the lease land then I think land would be easier to come by. We are the third generation and probably the last on our ranch and things are still tough. Banks look at worst case and go by that. They are not taking risks on anything these days, even when there is equity. They don’t want to be land owners or have to repossess because that costs them money. Banks are a business too and that is very apparent these days. When we sell out, the only ones able to purchase from us will be large companies, foreigners, NCC, or a colony. In two of those cases the land will never be available for use again and that is something I never want to see happen. Labour is also a problem. I told my husband we should “adopt” a young family and they can work with us for the next years to earn equity towards this ranch and carry it on when we retire. If our own kids don’t want it, somebody elses might. I would rather help out a new generation then let it go.

  • Dwight St. John

    Remember that in the seventies and early eighties big Canadian banks wouldn’t lend on unimproved acreage. Then they started lending on anything. That game and those rules can/will be changed by them in a nano-second, leaving entrepreneurs out in the cold. We couldn’t give away our family homesteads in the sixties. Now in the middle of nowhere they’re worth big bucks. That will not last.