Young farmers live their dreams

GLENAVON, Sask. — It’s late September, and it’s raining, but Lee and Shannon Sluser are optimistic.

Harvest on their 17,500 acres was about three-quarters done before the rain started, and they are now left with wheat and straight-cut canola left to do.

Quality was good and yields were decent, Lee said during the rain delay.

“We’ll get it off,” said a confident Shannon, referring to the remaining 4,000 acres.

The couple, son Colton, six, and daughter Mya, two, live in southeastern Saskatchewan on a fourth-generation farm they bought from Lee’s parents and have significantly expanded over the past seven years.

They met at the University of Saskatchewan where Lee got an agricultural diploma and Shannon, who grew up on a farm near Caron, Sask., obtained a commerce degree with a major in accounting.

They farm with the help of five full-time and three seasonal employees, growing wheat, durum, canola, peas, lentils and flax.

Lee said they incorporate best practices to improve their soil and yields, and are keen to try new things.

“We intercropped red lentils and yellow mustard on one quarter this year,” he said. “I haven’t calculated it out yet, but I’ve cleaned it and I’m excited to see how it turned out.

“It made doing the lentils easier because they climbed up the mustard.”

Cover crops are on the agenda, as is expanding the land base even more. Lee said the idea is to minimize inputs and risk through cover crops and intercrops.

They also spread Biosol in the fall to improve plant health the following year.

Lee uses online grain marketing as much as possible. He said they grow a lot of general purpose wheat that is usually picked up right at the farm because they use brokers.

“Most of it is going to feedlots and pig barns and such,” he said.

One of the challenges in their area is drainage, and they have installed some tile to move water out of sloughs. They are also involved in a larger-scale drainage project that other landowners are organizing in the region.

Lee is the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan representative for the Rural Municipality of Chester and said he is learning about the importance of having a voice for farmers at the political and policy levels.

“It’s been an eye-opener for me,” he said, noting that several of his university classmates are also APAS reps.

This year, the Slusers were nominated for the province’s Outstanding Young Farmers award. Although they weren’t selected, they said they learned from meeting so many successful people.

“I kind of feel like we’re all going somewhere,” Shannon said of their fellow nominees.

One of Shannon’s great passions is dressage. A lifelong rider, she and Lee built a heated riding arena on their farm where they breed, train and sell Andalusian horses.

Her mother had Andalusians from Mexico and Spain, Shannon said, and she took over the breeding operation. Most of her horses are sold into the United States and some have gone on to win championships in both the U.S. and Canada.

At age 21, Shannon represented Canada at the North American Young Riders Championships and got a taste for high-level competition. She trains daily, practising her dressage test levels and working with her Ontario coach online. She also spends time training in Florida.

“I love setting goals and working to achieve them,” Shannon said.

One of those is to make the Canadian team for the Pan American Games. She needs to attain certain scores to qualify.

The riding arena contains a three-bedroom suite, so the Slusers are able to bring in clinicians and host other riders.

Despite her dedication to the horses, their young children are her focus and the grain farm is the main goal, she said.

“It’s our biggest business,” she said. “We’re both making decisions on both (businesses).”

And it will get easier as the children get older, she said.

Lee and Shannon credit Lee’s parents for letting the younger couple take the reins, as it were, and make changes and decisions that are right for them.

Great employees are key, too. The Slusers provide housing for their workers in farmyards that they acquired in their expansion. The workers in turn treat the farm as if it was their own.

Lee said staying on top of technology and best practices are critical going forward. Handing down a successful operation to their children, should they want to farm, is important to them.

Shannon said they are living their dreams.

“It’s a dream come true all the way around,” she said. “I wouldn’t want anything else. I really wouldn’t.”

About the author

Comments

explore

Stories from our other publications