On the Farm: Five generations of Morningstars have lived on this central Sask. farm, which was homesteaded in 1905
LOCKWOOD, Sask. — On the first day of summer vacation, Ryan and Lisa Morningstar’s daughters likely aren’t thinking much about the farm’s future.
Kelsey has just graduated high school after this strange pandemic year. Jayden and Cally will go back to school in the fall. It’s time to sleep late and enjoy long summer days.
Decisions will have to be made someday, but Ryan is cautious about hanging the future of the 116-year-old farm on one of them. Farming is far from what it was for earlier generations.
“Every year, the equipment prices get higher, other expenses go up and grain prices don’t really compete with the steady increase of the expense,” he said.
His father, Larry, echoes that thought, recalling the 1980s when young farmers had to borrow at more than 20 percent interest.
“That ruined a lot of people,” he said. “They went under and they took their parents with them.”
It might be fairly easy to get money to farm, but the totals involved are far higher than ever.
“It’s taken 100-and-some years just to stay level with the water,” said Ryan.
“It would just be impossible to start up a farm without someone who has been established for a long time.”
Clyden Morningstar homesteaded in central Saskatchewan in October 1905 and, according to a family history, by 1908 had 60 acres broken and 40 in crop.
Ross Morningstar was Clyden’s only child and he took over in the 1930s. Ross and his wife Verna had three children; Larry, who married Donna in 1964, stayed on the original site where they still are today. Ryan is their youngest son and the only one of four children to be involved now.
There have been two houses in the farmyard since 1970, allowing each family their space.
Donna recalls that Ryan would visit his grandparents next door every Sunday morning.
“Some people would question our getting along,” she said of when her inlaws were next door, but they weren’t constantly in each other’s houses and that practice remains.
“We each have our own and we keep it that way because that’s the way it should be.”
Larry studied agriculture at the University of Saskatchewan and worked road construction off the farm. One summer he helped build the Gardiner Dam at Lake Diefenbaker.
“I wore myself out,” he says, prompting Ryan to say he is starting to wear out, too.
Morningstar Farms was a typical mixed farm until 2007 when the family sold the cattle herd.
“It was getting to be too much,” said Donna. “I helped quite a bit with the cattle. Ryan is very mechanical; that’s where his interest is.”
The Morningstars farmed 5,000 acres for quite a few years and last year began to rent some out. They used to grow all types of cereals and oilseeds but now stick to a wheat and canola rotation.
Almost all their land touches, and the property they rented out was only about eight kilometres away.
There is little evidence in the neat farmyard that a cattle barn and corrals ever existed. Instead, two shops take up a big chunk of space. They represent an enterprise that has taken on increasing significance over the last few years.
Ryan said he was influenced by his father and grandfather, who were always fixing and welding things. He went to Olds College to study those subjects and while he was away he realized his future path.
“I don’t know if it was clear until I left home, but that’s when I knew I wanted to come back. That’s when the lightbulb came on,” he said.
Fixing equipment and doing repairs morphed into a welding and metal fabrication business that he doesn’t advertise because he is so busy. He has contracts to make seed and fertilizer boots and has enough work that the family can keep a hired man busy on the farm and in the business year-round. They hire part-time help as needed spring and fall.
The girls help with the fabricating business, and Donna says they have developed a good work ethic.
Lisa works off the farm, administering payroll for several local companies, and runs the grain cart during harvest.
The Morningstar name has long been associated with community involvement. Donna was involved with Women’s Institute or Homemakers’ Club, her church women’s group and the curling club.
Larry sat on the school board, the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool committee, the board for Pound-Maker feedlot and ethanol plant, and more.
“Dad was on (rural municipal) council so I refused to go on, but he’s on it,” says Larry, nodding at his son.
Ryan has been on the RM of Usborne council since 2008 and has also served on the credit union board.
As they consider this year’s crop, the family agrees it has been dry for the last couple years with only about 50 millimetres of rain in 2020 and slightly more than that at the end of June this year.
“We’ve been lucky so far,” said Larry, who says the change in seeding practices is probably the biggest he has seen while farming.
“It would be nice to carry on the way we are,” added Ryan. “We’ve got good equipment that we can fix if necessary, and there’s opportunity to expand in our shop if we want to.”