Pinching pennies pays off for young Manitoba couple eager to buy cows and quota, and raise a family
BLUMENORT, Man. — Matt and Tanya Plett worked hard to make their dream a reality, but it’s a dream some might have considered a nightmare:
No weekends off, financial risk, long work days and a threat hanging over the future.
But the Pletts couldn’t be happier or more fulfilled, because a life as full-time dairy farmers is what they set their hopes on 15 years ago.
“Our kids get to see their dad working every day before school…. If they have a day off, we hang out as a family all day on the farm,” said Tanya, as she sat with her husband Matt and their three children Katarina, 9, Clint, 8, and Emma, 6.
“They love being out there, helping their dad with chores. Our kids see the value of work.”
Matt and Tanya are a rare thing: a young couple that had no money, land or farm but managed to buy their way into the dairy farming business in congested southeastern Manitoba.
They did it through brutal determination, being modest in lifestyle, and Matt’s commitment to following his dream and reversing a loss he suffered when he was only 12 years old.
Matt grew up on his family’s Landmark-area dairy farm, but the farm was sold after his parents divorced.
During high school he moved to Oregon, finishing Grades 11 and 12 there. But he always wanted to return to Landmark and eventually buy back the family farm.
After graduating high school, he moved back to Manitoba and rented a basement suite from his grandparents and attended the University of Manitoba’s agricultural business program. He graduated in 1999 and began working at Landmark Feeds in Landmark.
He met Tanya, who also worked there, and they became more than friends, marrying in 2001. The two worked there until 2007.
During those years Matt not only talked about his dream, but he and Tanya took the slow, steady, incremental steps necessary to make it reality.
They had no capital at first, but living simply and banking all of Tanya’s paycheque allowed them to work toward their farming dream.
They bought a small plot of land and began raising dairy heifers. Then they bought another small chunk of land.
“We did nothing but pay down debt from the time we were married to the time the kids came along,” said Matt.
“We never did the trips to Mexico. We did less sexy things like: ‘Hey, that’s an extra principal payment.’ ”
Finally, in 2007 they bought Matt’s old family farm from the retiring couple who had bought it from his father. It was small and the dairy barn hadn’t been operating for a few years, but they moved onto the yard, renovated the barn and got ready to get back into dairy production.
It wasn’t a perfect time to do all this, because Tanya was eight months pregnant with Clint, but they seized the opportunity.
They bought cows from a retiring dairy farming couple near Neepawa, then bid on quota. They believe they succeeded with these expensive steps because not only had they built up savings, but also because the agricultural lender they had been working with had gotten to know and trust them.
Then with the 50 kilograms of quota and their cows, they began the exhausting life of dairy farmers. They expected it to be demanding as they both knew from growing up on dairy farms, but doing the work themselves with pre-school children who also needed care, made for a taxing life.
“Knowing something and then living it are two different things,” said Matt with a laugh. “I knew weekends would be done, but then we had to live with no weekends any more.”
In retrospect, both Tanya and Matt think those were the perfect years to have their lives totally consumed by the farm.
They now drive their kids to swimming in Steinbach, hockey in Landmark and school and other activities in Blumenort, but during the intense start-up pre-school years, they didn’t need to do that.
A few years ago, they endured another wrenching change, but one they also now know was necessary. Tanya’s father was operating her family’s dairy farm with her two brothers, and the brothers were intending to buy him out as he reached retirement age. Then each brother decided to do something different, leaving the family farm’s future hanging.
The barn was bigger. The farmyard was much bigger. Unlike Matt and Tanya’s Landmark farm, which had no manure-spreading land attached, Tanya’s dad’s farm had two quarter-sections of land directly attached to the farm. It seemed a natural choice for them to sell the Landmark farm and buy Tanya’s dad’s place just outside Blumenort.
But first Matt needed to get over his attachment to his family’s farm, the one he’d bought back after great effort.
“Everything about this farm is better, except this isn’t home for me,” said Matt, describing how he initially felt about the idea of moving farms. But after a year of thinking, he and Tanya decided the rational choice was to take over Tanya’s dad’s farm and sell their farm to another young, starting dairy couple.
After a few months of transition, they settled into their new farm and are happily milking cows and raising kids. It hasn’t been easy to get where they are, but that just makes them appreciate it more.
And both said they’re glad they proved that you can get into dairy farming without a farm, without money and without cows, as long as you’re willing to work to get them.