Family challenged by ag economics covet rural life

HAGUE, Sask. — The dream was to farm full time, but high rents, minimal returns and a farm accident intervened for the Harms family of Hague.

Rodney started farming in 1998, eventually buying three quarters and renting 12, raising about 100 cattle and trucking.

“I knew we couldn’t make it on three quarters so I did custom spraying too,” said Rodney.

They grew wheat, barley, oats, peas and alfalfa, finding healthy markets for hay among the dairies dotting the region.

“It looked like money,” said Irene of their good hay crops.

It was an encounter with a horned cow that was a turning point for her.

Irene was gored and critically injured while tending to a cow in April 2003, losing most of her left leg and enduring a recovery that continues today.

Their 1920s home was modified for her wheelchair and she continued to work on the farm, picking up parts, bringing out meals and helping on the farm when needed.

“Every day is a challenge,” said Irene, a native of Holland.

After the accident, she had trouble with balance on a horse so switched to riding a buggy pulled behind a horse. A devastating fire in their heritage barn ended that enjoyment and led to the sale of the family’s horses.

Farming also challenged the family, with Rodney’s trucking income required to pay for the farm.

“All the costs started creeping up. It seemed to just be harder to make a dollar,” he said.

Added Irene: “It got to the point where (we) got deeper in and had to pull the pin or we would have lost it all.”

Keen to farm, their son and daughter-in-law joined them in 2009, buying and renting some of their own land.

But land rent was high.

“You couldn’t see yourself making a profit,” said Rodney, who sold all but the home quarter in 2015.

Despite the setbacks, Rodney and Irene remain on the farm’s home quarter where they hope to one day raise cattle and chickens for their own needs.

Rodney works full time trucking while Irene pursues her woodworking and wire art talents.

Irene displays her work on a Facebook page at www.facebook.com/IreneHarms/ and plans to create a website.

Trade shows are a less desirable marketing option, she added.

“There’s so much work for such a little bit.”

Irene said Rodney was told to move into the city after the accident, but nobody asked her what she wanted.

“This is my life,” she said.

Both love their country home and litter of dogs and cats and share a strong faith.

Many Sundays, their home hosts 20 or more friends and family, said the parents of three adult children and three grandchildren.

Rodney said the Harms farm provided a modest but comfortable living when his parents, Peter and Eva, farmed here, but today’s agriculture has changed dramatically.

He traces his roots here back to Johan and Maria Harms, who left Ukraine to eventually settle the family farm in 1907.

Rodney took over the farm from his parents, who once operated a dairy.

“I still feel the attachment of many years gone by,” he said, recalling hitching the horses to the stone boat to haul away manure as a boy.

“I guess I’m just a country boy at heart. The more I see of cities, the less I want to do with them.”

The couple said farming isn’t just a living but a way of life.

“I love the openness, nature, closeness with the land. I still have it out here,” said Irene.

She laments the fact that smaller farmers have such a tough row to hoe.

“It’s sad small farmers cannot stay home and live off the farm.”

At this year’s Saskatchewan Century Farm awards ceremony where the couple received an award, they noted the number of farmers present without family to take over their farms.

“The 100 year farmers may be a thing of the past,” said Irene.

Their hope is for their farm to pass to the next generation.

Their daughter, Tanya Van Dijk, lives in a new home with her husband just steps from Rodney and Irene’s yard.

Both commute to jobs, she in nursing and he in mining, and have no plans to farm.

“We love to travel, and animals tie you down,” Van Dijk said.

“The plan is to buy the home quarter so the farm stays in the family, so Mom and Dad grow old here and I can nurse them at home,” she said.

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