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(Dave Chan For The Globe and Mail)
(Dave Chan For The Globe and Mail)

Many young people are taking another look at the family farm Add to ...

The first few years were really tough. Facing low commodity prices and big start-up costs, the Leducs dipped into their wages to cover the farm bills.

“We weren’t hard done by, mind you, because we still had our off-farm jobs,” Mr. Leduc says, “but it made you think, ‘Is this thing a viable business?’”

The financial struggles resonated with their children. Even as the farm’s prospects improved slightly, allowing Mr. Leduc to quit his job and focus solely on farming in 1999, the business demanded long hours, seven days a week most months. There was little spare time for Erin and Patrick.

“Growing up, dad wouldn’t be around too much. He would be steady out the door,” Patrick recalls, including out to meetings to help organize Canada’s largest agricultural protest in decades.

Several pages of Erin’s scrapbook are devoted to the nationwide rally. Thousands of farmers across Canada took to the streets in convoys of tractors and trucks in the spring of 2001, calling on the provincial and federal governments to boost emergency aid. Crop prices were dismal then. Many producers were selling their food below the cost of production. The future of the family farm looked bleak.

“My son doesn’t understand why we are doing this,” Mr. Leduc told a reporter at a rally in Ottawa. “My daughter says the farm is a drag, why don’t we get rid of it? We are losing a generation.”

***

Out on the farm, Erin was on her smartphone again. The calls are constant. She takes care of the seed sales and buying and selling grain. When problems surface, such as the storm that pelted corn crops with penny-sized hail in June or last month’s hot, dry weather, she gets the phone calls that used to inundate her father. Looking after customers’ concerns is part of the seed-sale business.

“We try to keep everybody happy. Easier said than done some days,” Erin says as she headed in a dusty pickup to hay fields the family bought not long ago and converted into land for corn.

Wanna Make it Farm has grown significantly in the past few years, and the family is not done expanding. The Leducs own 3,750 acres and rent another 1,640 for crop production. It is a big operation, far larger than the average 244-acre Ontario farm.

Although cash crops have always been the family’s primary business, Mr. Leduc diversified his operation early on, branching into land clearing, hauling and harvesting services as a way to cope with poor commodity prices. With his children now working alongside him, the varied nature of their farm allows each to focus on a different piece of the business.

“I give them a lot of responsibility. I feel it’s important at a young age,” Mr. Leduc says. “I know lots of kids that are 40 years old and they still don’t do what Pat and Erin will do.”

Patrick came back first. He was employed at a mechanic’s shop in a town nearby when he realized he didn’t want to fix cars for the rest of his life. He went to Algonquin College in Ottawa in 2004 to study business for three years and began working on the farm on weekends and during summers. Unfamiliar with cropping or the equipment, he had a lot to learn, but he was a quick study.

He’s now in charge of the maintenance schedule for the farm’s $7-million worth of trucks and high-tech machinery. In the fields, he has reduced their soil tillage and staggered their fertilizer applications to make better use of the nutrients.

As Patrick learned the family business, Erin had her sights set on living in a big city. After studying international business at college and marketing management at Ryerson University in Toronto, she went to Hong Kong for her final year of school, travelling to about a half-dozen countries while overseas. But when she returned to Toronto in 2008, the recession-battered employment market was grim. The best job she could find, it turned out, was in agriculture, as a market development specialist for Mycogen Seeds. Farming, she soon realized, had changed dramatically from her high school days.

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