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.

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.

“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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