New generation keeps close ties with neighbours

Farm evolution | Kerr family of Strasbourg, Sask., continues to share equipment and support local marketing group

STRASBOURG, Sask. — In an era when farmers can get market data delivered to their smartphones and tablets while sitting in the cabs of their tractors, Darryl Kerr remains loyal to a local marketing group.

The Saskatchewan family’s century farm has been sustained by neighbours helping neighbours, he said.

“A group of us get together and feel each other’s ideas out and see how things work. It’s more a sounding group,” he said.

His son, Justin, 29, also sees merit in face-to-face meetings.

“It’s not as vital as it used to be but it’s a good chance to share what we know,” he said.

That sharing with neighbours extends to equipment, which allows the Kerrs to make equipment like a high clearance sprayer affordable.

“We couldn’t otherwise justify it for 2,400 acres,” said Justin.

The family farm between the Qu’appelle Valley and the Last Mountain Hills includes crops of wheat, barley, canola and lentils.

Justin also has a 100 head commercial cow-calf operation. Both his wife, Kathy, and Darryl’s wife, Rita, add income from off-farm jobs.

It was a neighbour that helped Aaron and Janey Kerr, who founded the farm after moving here from Ontario in 1909, said Bob, Darryl’s father and Aaron’s grandson.

They dismantled their pink house and loaded it and three horses onto the train bound for their new home.

“One horse was left when they got here,” Bob said.

The site where the house once stood is known today as the pink house quarter, say Bob and his wife Bertha.

Aaron sold Bob his first quarter section for a $1 down payment.

Darryl and his wife, Rita, said Bob was equally generous, willingly releasing the management reins.

Bertha said Bob briefly tried his hand at city life in Regina, but a bout of chicken pox had him packing his bags and returning to his first love: the land, the outdoors and their community.

The couple reflected on camping trips with their three children, dances like the one where they got to know each other better and boxed lunches.

Bob recalled seeing four horses on a binder cutting grain and stooking but stressed how his family’s operation adopted modern farming practices. It switched from crops like wheat to improve margins, moved to continuous cropping from summer fallowing, added GPS and other technologies and upgraded equipment, moving to a 35 foot combine from Bob’s 10 foot one.

“We were one of the first to get combines,” Bob said, citing his father Cecil and his uncle’s acquisition of the machine in part due to the shortage of farm labourers during the war years.

“Right now, I like horses as long as they’re in someone else’s field,” said Bob.

Darryl agreed.

“I love driving tractors, I love driving anything, anything but a horse. I didn’t want anything to do with horses,” he said.

He and Rita met while studying mechanics and recreation technology respectively at the Saskatchewan Institute of Applied Science and Technology.

Darryl worked for a decade as a mechanic before taking over and buying the farm from his parents, who moved to Strasbourg.

In addition to Justin, their children include daughters Janet and Jamie.

Grain farming was a steep learning curve for Rita, who came from a dairy operation where daily chores were a constant and income stable.

“We never borrowed money,” she said. “I was not used to debt.”

The family said Darryl and Justin were always destined to farm although not necessarily together.

Rita said the two are so much alike they often butt heads but have matured and learned to work together.

“I didn’t think it would work but they’ve come a long way,” said Rita.

Kathy said they don’t carry grudges. “They blow off steam, then it’s done,” she said.

Justin met Kathy, who was raised on an Alberta farm, through an online dating site.

He worked for dairy farmers and spent long days on a motorbike checking stock on a large Australian cattle station before returning home.

That experience taught him how to make a cattle operation less labour intensive.

“I work with the cow not against it,” said Justin.

Current margins for cattle and setbacks in feed, a bad bull, copper deficiency and tough calving have dampened the couple’s hopes of expanding the herd.

Succession plans are in the works to enable them to take over the farm one day and allow Darryl and Rita more time for travel.

“To have five generations taking a living off the same piece of land is quite a feat,” said Darryl, whose farm was recognized with a Saskatchewan Century Family Farm award.

“My dad was generous in giving us the land and I will do what I have to to make sure the land remains viable,” he said.

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