Pleased to have his family take over the farm, Howard Farquharson continues to enjoy the “miracle when you plant that seed”
MADDEN, Alta. — If a man loves his job, he will never work a day in his life.
That is the philosophy of Howard Farquharson, who at age 97 is still active on the family farm near the communities of Dog Pound and Madden northwest of Calgary.
“This isn’t work. It’s my enjoyment,” he said during a break from fall cultivating.
Farquharson was born in 1918 and has farmed all his life.
He worked as a teenager for threshing crews, used horses to drag harrows and lived through the hardships of the Great Depression, when oats sold for 50 cents a bushel and sales of eggs, cream and butter kept the family going.
These days he sits in an air conditioned tractor cab and reads the Calgary Herald on an iPad.
He attributed his longevity to a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast everyday, no tobacco, very little alcohol and a strong work ethic.
He recalled working a mile long field with horses and his father stopping periodically to roll a cigarette with Bull Durham tobacco. Hard work and heavy smoking probably ended his father’s life too soon, he said.
Staying on the land gives him a sense of purpose, and his children, Don and Karen, and assorted grandchildren are willing to let him continue. He has a place at the Bethany Care Centre in Cochrane and a home on the farm.
“Sitting there all winter is the hardest work I have ever done, so if I can get out here, I feel good,” he said.
Farquharson recently renewed his driver’s licence and although he needs a cane and hearing aid, he does his share on the farm.
“He needs to be out in the tractor and have people to talk to. It’s what keeps him going,” said grandson Stacey.
He puts in 12 hour shifts during the busy seasons, and his granddaughters-in-law have to insist he stop for meals.
His grandparents came from South Dakota, and his father farmed in the region. He rented land until 1955 when he and his wife, Vola, who has since died, bought their farm in 1955.
He paid $5,000 for his first quarter section, which included a dilapidated house built in 1910. A quarter of land in this area now sells for about $1 million.
It was a mixed farm with the usual assortment of chickens, milk cows, pigs, beef cows and grain.
The farm has expanded to a large mix of deeded and leased land that grows canola, oats and barley and raises a herd of 65 Red Angus-Simmental and Charcoals cross beef cows.
Farquharson was among the first in the area to try Charolais bulls. The herd grew to 200 but has been cut back because 65 head fits best with the amount of pasture that is available.
“The reason we are staying with this is a lot of this was his genetics that led us up to this point,” son Don said.
“Some of these cows are probably descendents of the cows he had here 30 to 40 years ago.”
An outside offer was made to buy the farm in 1973, but Farquharson offered it to Don instead.
“I had no intention of farming. I was content with what I was doing,” Don said.
“Looking back, it was a good call.”
He was working at a fertilizer plant in Calgary, where he was earning $29 an hour, but it was shift work and there was little chance of advancement.
He agreed to buy the farm but studied agriculture at Olds College for two years before taking over.
Farquharson and his wife moved to Calgary when Don took over. He earned his realtor’s licence, even though he only had a Grade 8 education, and sold property for 10 years. However, the lure of the land was too much and by 2000 a new house was built on the farm so he could help as often as he liked.
Farming has changed in this region with its short growing season and risk of hail every summer. The land is rich black soil and crops are high yielding.
Crops yielded around 35 bushels per acre in the early days, but new inputs and technology have in-creased yields to the point where the Farquharsons now get 40 to 50 bushels per acre of canola, barley comes in at 120 bu. and oats average 150 to 200 bu.
Many families struggle to convince young people to come back to the farm, but the Farquharsons are different with four generations on the land.
Don, who lost his wife Marlene to cancer seven years ago, is actively farming. His sister, Karen, and her husband, Lou, farm nearby and help. The next generation comprises Don’s children and their young families, which include: daughter Jessica and her husband, Troy Gano, with their two children, Jasper and Huxley; Stacey and his partner, Sasha Wren, and their three children, Ella, Katana and Shae; and Cody and his wife, Niki, and their two children, Mia and Ali.
Cody and Stacey live nearby and work as firefighters for the city of Airdrie. They work 24 hour shifts for seven to eight days a month. Vacation time is booked to cover seeding, haying or harvest.
“This is something to do on our days off,” Stacey said jokingly.
“I like it because we are at home. If I had to work in downtown Calgary, I wouldn’t be able to see my family. This way I am here.”
Keeping the farm and family together was part of Farquharson’s motivation for passing on the farm.
“I’ve got no worries about who is going to farm the farm anymore. Lots don’t have an heir,” he said.
“I am pretty happy with the way things are going. We have stuck together when a lot didn’t.”
He is also happy to pass the torch to the next generation of farmers with help from him.
“You couldn’t do what I did and start up with nothing today.”
He is also grateful Don agreed to return to the farm rather than forcing him to sell.
“I’d sell my soul before I would sell the farm.”
He is also busy making plans for next year and is still fascinated with the miracle of soil and its ability to grow food.
“There is something about the soil when you are working it. It is a miracle when you plant that seed.”
He also plans to be there to plant that seed another year.