Under a bright sun early on a mid-June morning, a bulldozer scrapes away soil from a strip of land on Alain Leduc’s farm, clearing a path for a gravel road to a towering grain elevator added to the bustling family business three years ago.
In the fields, white and black beans are emerging from the earth, and stalks of yellow corn grown mostly for ethanol are already knee-high, weeks ahead of last year. The family’s winter wheat crop is looking good, too, almost ready for harvest.
Even with Eastern Ontario’s blistering summer heat wave and drought, which have strained their crops, it is shaping up to be another prosperous year – nothing like Mr. Leduc expected at this stage of his life. After several generations of farming, the 55-year-old thought he would be the last in his family to work the land. He thought he would be downsizing about now, not expanding. His children, Erin and Patrick, had shown no interest in making a career out of agriculture: The prospects seemed too meagre.
But as they sought to carve out different career paths than their father, an economic revival was taking root on their family farm and on many others across Canada. Prices of corn, grains, oilseeds and soybeans have been soaring in recent years, helping to fuel a 31-per-cent surge from 2006 to 2011 in farm operations reporting more than $1-million in gross receipts.
Those 9,602 farms were bigger and more profitable than they were six years ago. They accounted for nearly half of Canada’s food production and 49 per cent of the $51-billion in gross farm receipts, even though they made up just 5 per cent of producers.
While it’s true that not all sectors of agriculture are thriving (consider beef cattle and hogs), for many, farming has never looked more promising. Younger generations who thought there was no future in agriculture – such as 25-year-old Patrick and 27-year-old Erin – are returning to the land, bringing fresh energy and new ideas to the family business.
“This is happening all over the place. The really sharp young people are coming back because they can see the possibilities,” says Larry Martin, a senior research fellow at the George Morris Centre, an agri-food think tank in Guelph, Ont.
Take the Leducs’ latest solar project. It was Erin’s idea. Later this summer, the family will start erecting a 28,800-square-feet building with a roof of solar panels on their homestead, about an hour’s drive southeast of Ottawa. Along with generating guaranteed income for the farm from the green power fed into Ontario’s grid, the steel structure will provide space for offices, storage and a lunchroom for their seven employees.
“It’s an incredible time in agriculture,” Erin says, beaming. “I’ve kind of come in at a bubble and I think it’s not necessarily a short-term bubble, either. I think it’s about time that farmers do make some money. They should.”
Inside their modest two-storey house, at an oval kitchen table made of maple wood, Mr. Leduc’s wife, Susan, pulled out a scrapbook chronicling their life on the farm. Erin made it this past Christmas, a present for her father. She wanted her parents to take stock of all they had accomplished.
Although agriculture runs deep on both sides of the family, the Leducs started from scratch in building their farm operation three decades ago, buying 140 acres and renting another 300 to grow corn and soybeans. Mr. Leduc’s parents, who were small-time dairy farmers in the region, had tried to dissuade him from agriculture. It was the “life of a pauper,” he recalls them warning.
But farming was his dream and he was determined to make a go of it, hence the name for his business, Wanna Make it Farm. Ms. Leduc, his sweetheart since high school, was initially reluctant, but supportive. Both had full-time jobs off the farm. Mr. Leduc worked at a tile drainage and land improvement company, while Ms. Leduc was a delivery-room nurse at Winchester District Memorial Hospital, where she still puts in 12-hour shifts.