By Tom Collins
PEMBROKE — It’s a familiar refrain amongst older dairy farmers looking to get out of the business. Their backs and knees hurt after 30 years of milking cows and there’s no one willing to take over.
Last year, 79 Ontario farmers left the business. One was Pembroke-area farmer Darcy Smith, but not because his body was breaking down. At age 35, he got out of dairy last July when others his age are in the prime of their career. For Smith, it mostly came down to time management. His sister spent four years running the dairy operation while Smith focused on the cash crops, running 2,000-2,500 acres. When his sister left the farm, Smith was the one tapped to take over.
“I was like, I am either going to lose my wife, or my sanity,” he said. “To have two businesses running at 75 per cent because I can’t stretch far enough would not be very efficient.”
The number of Ontario dairy farmers has been on a steady decline for years. In 2018, there were 3,534 Ontario dairy farmers. Fifteen years ago, there were 5,346. That’s an average of 129 farmers exiting each year.
Smith and his wife Lyndsay also have five children, the oldest of which is eight. Without a dairy operation, Smith can spend more time with his family and is coaching hockey for the first time.
Milking 60 cows in a tie-stall, he would have needed to build a new barn in about five to seven years and acquire more debt to keep operating, he said. Throw in the uncertainty around the supply-management system and the new NAFTA deal, quota cuts and the hassle involved in managing milking crews and it was enough to convince Smith to sell.