By Tom Collins
OTTAWA — Fifty-eight per cent of Ontario farmers used custom operators in 2017, according to a recent Statistics Canada report.
Farmers rely heavily on outsourcing jobs at planting and harvest time because farmers have difficulty finding workers, need to plant or harvest in a small-window of time, or are unfamiliar with equipment says an Eastern Ontario custom operator.
Crysler-based customer operator Marcel LaFrance, who crops about 20,000 acres for other farmers across Eastern Ontario, says it is getting more difficult for farmers to find reliable labour, so many are forced to either do the work themselves or hire a custom operator.
The farmer’s decision often comes down to timing, said LaFrance. For example, during an excellent planting season with lots of sun, farmers have more chances to be in the field and won’t need a custom operator. In a year such as this one, when rain and cold temperatures slow down planting, farmers may be more likely to hire custom operators so the planting can be finished on time.
Custom operators may also be beneficial for farmers who don’t have a farm large enough to allow the farmer to become comfortable through repetitiveness with certain aspects of fieldwork. LaFrance, for example, spends 600 hours a year on a sprayer, and is comfortable with the machine and how to clean it thoroughly, whereas a farmer who sprays an herbicide twice a year may worry about contaminating the herbicide with another herbicide through improper cleaning, said LaFrance. The same thought process goes for planting.
“If you’re only going to plant 100, 200 acres a year, you’re just getting comfortable with (planting) and then you’re done, and then you forget it by next year,” he said.
While LaFrance wouldn’t give specifics on costs, he said a farmer can easily spend $250 an acre to get a crop planted and harvested through custom operators. He said there are farmers who hire custom operators to plant, spray and harvest and still make money per acre.
Ontario farmers use custom operators more than farmers in any other province. Fifty-one per cent of Quebec farmers used custom operators in 2017. British Columbia was the least likely province to need custom operators. Twenty-two per cent of B.C. farmers hired custom operators On average across the country, 43 per cent of farmers hired custom operators.