The Recovering Farmer

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Life After Farming

I had a stark reminder last week that I am merely a statistic as it pertains to agriculture and, more specifically, the hog industry. At the annual meeting of Manitoba Pork Council they provided an update of the number of hog producers in Manitoba. The province now has 377 producers, down from 848 in 2006. I was still a producer in 2006. So that means that I, along with 471 others, exited the industry over the last 5 years. Truly unbelievable. In the mid-nineties there were close to 3000 producers in the province. How things have changed. I had the opportunity to meet many of these producers, whether at meetings, delivering hogs to market or just simply on the street. Hog producers were everywhere. I wonder what many of them are doing today.

There was an interesting article in a recent issue of the Manitoba Cooperator in which the columnist looked back at his own life as a hog producer. What was particularly interesting was his reference to a “quiet barn”. I recall spending time in my barn after all the pigs were gone. Quiet is right. Haunting, in a way. There are many of these grim reminders on the Manitoba landscape. What was once a significant part of the family farm is no more. Things have changed. Even today there are many producers reassessing their lives as farmers. Whether dictated by age, financial issues, health reasons, or just simply tired of trying to make ends meet, farmers are moving on. And when you look at income numbers it’s really not surprising that farm families are leaving the farm.

Stats Canada has some interesting numbers on their website. From 2004 to 2008 Manitoba lost 2000 farmers. Although total income increased each year that increase was derived from off farm income. If you average the numbers the results show that average farm income for the years 2004 – 2008 was just under $5000. The rest of total farm income came from off farm work and program payments. That is reality. And in this case reality sucks.

So many farmers are wondering, more and more, about life after farming. Wondering what they could do to make a living. After all, farmers are a “jack of all trades”. There was a Free Press article some time ago that profiled a cattle producer who had finally said enough is enough. He sold the herd and went and worked in a mine in northern Manitoba. He shared, somewhat facetiously, that he had made more money in one day at the mine than he had in the last seven years of cattle farming. Sad but true.

So, difficult decisions have to be made. I have heard from many people that there is life after farming. Some have said they wish that they would have made that decision sooner. But when you have a passion to farm, when you are connected to the land, when farming has been your life, it is very difficult to see anything beyond that. Talk it through with someone. Keep an open mind as you seek out options. It works and it helps. There is life after farming. I know. Make it a good one.

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