WASKADA, Man. – Doug Wright isn’t the only prairie farmer who spends his winters at the curling rink or who escapes the arctic ambiance for a tropical climate.
But he’s one of the few who can say he does both, and who makes money doing it.
Wright is a curling ice technician – a skill that has lnaded him a steady winter job working for a club on Vancouver Island as well as trips to Australia and New Zealand to prepare ice for competitions.
It has even played matchmaker in his life. While working for a club in Rosetown, Sask., a few winters ago, Wright looked up a friend he’d met through the International Agricultural Exchange Association.
Diane Woodsworth is now his wife and business partner, helping to manage the farm as well as their curling supply business.
Wright said he stumbled into ice making. He was looking for a winter job to supplement the income from the two sections of land he and Woodworth farm in southwestern Manitoba.
The ice maker at the local rink was retiring and asked him if he wanted the job.
Wright had never made ice before, but like many graduates of a rural upbringing, he knew all about curling.
“I a small town if you don’t play hockey, you curl. I curled.”
After some coaching from his predecessor, two ice making courses and feedback from players, Wright developed the knack.
Volunteering for competitions has given him both experience and a reputation, which have helped him attract more ice-making business.
Although Wright loves making ice as much as anyone enjoys a hobby, the couple has also come to depend on it to diversify their farm income. Having an off-farm cash flow has meant they have more flexibility in timing the sles of their crops, which has increased their ability to sit out low price spells.
“We couldn’t afford to farm if he didn’t have off-season income,” said Woodworth. “In gross profits, the farm makes more money, but when you start talking net, curling does.”
And last year, when the job on Vancouver Island surfaced in late summer, it called for some tough decisions.
To take the job, Wright had to leave for the curling rink before harvest even started. He hesitated.
“But I couldn’t turn down a good paying job at something I enjoy to wait for the weather to break.”
Diane got a crash course in managing grain bin space as she and hired help brought in the crop.
“We’re trying to organize the farm now so it fits around the ice making,” Wright said. That includes growing a limited range of crops that don’t take a lot of ongoing marketing management.
“I’ve even thought in the future, I might drop some farmland,” he said.
But that doesn’t mean they intend to give up farming. Both say they enjoy the opportunities and financial stability the curling ice business has generated, but they are still farmers at heart.
“By springtime, I’m looking forward to the farm,” Wright said.