Producers say it makes sense for them to hire ex-farmers at harvest because of their experience: ‘they just figure it out’
FAIRVIEW, Alta. — It’s been 14 years since Nigel Cleland sold his farm, but each fall he takes time away from his trucking company to help out other farmers harvest.
“It still connects you back to the farm. I enjoy being part of a team and the camaraderie it brings,” said Cleland of Fairview.
For the past five years, Cleland has helped neighbour Rick Hammerschmidt harvest as a way to stay connected to agriculture. Before that, he helped other neighbours at harvest.
“It’s not for the money, it’s for something to do,” said Cleland, who wanted a retirement project he enjoyed.
Cleland began driving trucks at harvest for Hammerschmidt, but now spends most of harvest on the combine.
“It’s a challenge running the big equipment,” said Cleland, who needed to learn how to operate and monitor the modern electronic systems on the new combines, something his older model combines didn’t have.
“I’m not a great tech person, but I picked up how to run all the things.”
Cleland often opens the fields and combines the outside rounds before Rick’s father, Joe, 82, joins the field in a second combine.
“He is still running stuff just like the young guys,” said Rick of his dad.
Rick’s son, Myles, is also part of the harvest crew.
Cleland’s desire to keep a hand in farming doesn’t mean he’s willing to give up luxuries afforded by modern equipment.
“I’m not going to go back into a dusty, old, mouse-stinky cab. I’m past those days.”
Having knowledgeable hired help is important for Hammerschmidt.
“They know how to run equipment. It may not be the same brand, but it comes naturally. Ex-farmers just pick it up. Once you show them how to operate the machinery they just figure it out,” he said.
“This equipment is so expensive. If you can find someone with experience, that’s where you go to,” said Hammerschmidt, although he said some young people who are tech savvy are not scared away from the technology.
“They pick up stuff quickly because there is so much computer stuff.”
Kevin Lohner of Daysland, Alta., said he enjoys hiring retired farmers to help with harvest.
“I like working with older, retired farmers. They show up every morning at 10 (minutes) to nine and they’ve got their lunch packed and they’re on their way. When the sun goes down they go home,” said Lohner.
While some retired farmers are able to transition into the newer equipment with harvest monitors, others don’t want to learn how to use the new equipment. They are willing to drive swather, but not the modern combines, he said.
“They enjoy operating the equipment and not making any decisions,” said Lohner.