Career change both challenging and rewarding

On the Farm: Beef and grain producers Jocelyn and Jesse Velestuk switched gears in 2016 and became full-time farmers

Saskatchewan grain and cattle producer Jocelyn Velestuk describes her first six years in farming as a whirlwind of activity.

“It’s been a wild ride,” says Velestuk, who farms with her husband and his parents near Broadview, Sask.

“There’s always lots going on. There are times when we’re going flat out and there are times when things slow down a bit but we’re always very busy.”

In 2016, Velestuk and her husband, Jesse, decided to make a career change and become full-time grain and livestock producers.

Jocelyn, previously an environmental consultant, and Jesse, an oilfield welder, were on the road frequently and began to yearn for a career that would allow them to set down roots, spend more time together and raise a family.

“We decided that to have the family life that we wanted to have and to see each other as much as we wanted to, that the farm life was for us,” says Jocelyn.

“We got to a point where we knew we needed to make a change so we decided: OK, let’s start farming.”

That’s when the whirlwind began.

After approaching Jesse’s parents, who are also active farmers in the Broadview area, Jocelyn and Jesse rolled up their sleeves and got down to business.

In the past six years, the Velestuks have restructured the farming operation to accommodate two families.

The farm’s land base has almost tripled since 2016 and most of the machinery has been upgraded or replaced to accommodate the extra acres.

The Velestuks constantly seek ways to increase their productivity, improve their soil health and ensure that the farm follows a sustainable path toward long-term profitability, says Jocelyn, who has master’s degree in soil science from the University of Saskatchewan.

Maintaining a diverse crop rotation is a big part of the farm’s sustainability plan. The Velestuks produce as many as 10 different crops and are also experimenting with inter-cropping in silage and grain crops.

“We’re a very diverse operation,” Jocelyn says.

“It’s something that’s important to all of us, is to have that diversity.”

Jocelyn has also parlayed her post-secondary education in soil science into a career as professional agronomy consultant.

When she’s not working on her own farm, she works as a contracted consultant for Western Ag, producing customized soil fertility plans for other growers.

On their own farm, the Velestuks plan to seed about 3,500 acres this spring, both for feed and commercial grain production.

Feed crops are used to maintain a herd of approximately 350 cows. Calving is just around the corner so that will add to the farm’s already heavy workload.

The Velestuks are also backgrounding another 300 cattle so even in the winter, the demands on their time are significant.

Somehow, between everything else, Jocelyn and Jesse have also found time to start a family.

Their children, aged four and six years old, live just a hop, skip and a jump from their grandparents, Jesse’s mom and dad.

Jocelyn says the decision to settle down and become full-time parents and farmers was the right one, even though the workload can be demanding.

“We both grew up farming and we both loved it but we knew what we were getting into,” says Jocelyn, who also serves as president of the Saskatchewan Soil Conservation Association and is a director with the Saskatchewan Wheat Development Commission.

“We knew that it wasn’t necessarily the easiest career choice and that it would take a lot of hard work,” she adds.

“But it was a well thought-out decision and it was definitely made for family reasons.”

Jocelyn says each family member brings unique skills to the farm. She takes pride in the fact that her role as a woman on the farm doesn’t necessarily conform with established industry expectations.

A big part of Jocelyn’s contribution involves staying involved in professional agronomy, applying her soil science knowledge at home, making connections through her board involvement, attending farm conferences and bringing home new knowledge about emerging trends in production, agricultural research, marketing and policy.

Jocelyn and Jesse Velestuk moved to the farm partly for their children. | Photo courtesy Jocelyn Velestuk

“We each do what we’re best at and that’s how we’re going to be successful at our farm,” Jocelyn says.

“It’s kind of neat how everyone’s role fits in,” she adds.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re a woman or a man, you do what you’re good at and I think that’s something that’s been a strength of our farm.”

Jocelyn says it can be challenging as a woman to define your role on the farm.

“The industry, I think, has its own idea of what a woman should do on the farm but I think a lot of women today are kind of breaking that trend, or breaking from the norm….”

With such a busy operation and so many moving parts involved in the farm’s success, Jocelyn says it’s also necessary to slow down occasionally, revisit priorities, communicate openly and focus on personal well-being.

“Farming is not an easy thing. It can be very stressful and we’ve been through some very tough times…,” she says.

“But we’ve learned how to talk about the stress. We’ve learned that a big part of coping is learning how to talk about the white elephant in the room, even if it means having some very uncomfortable conversations.

“I think everyone has to know where everyone else is at so that the farm can move forward and be successful.

“Every farmer is different and every farm makes decisions for different reasons,” she adds.

“But we are all in this high-risk game together.”

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