As of now, there are only 3,445 dairy farmers left in Ontario. We all know farmers who have quit, the reasons varying from farm to farm. Usually it’s a combination of things but in the end there is always just one word for it: Stress.
Computer illiteracy is often a challenge. Sometimes, the quitting farmer doesn’t have a computer and isn’t online when almost everything is done by email now.
New programs, regulations, demands and “surprise” inspections initiated by marketing boards, overwhelmingly staffed by employees ignorant of farm realities, have many wondering, “Why bother? Obviously my best is not good enough!”
Surveys can add to the stress. They ask a stream of inane questions. So ignorant of the industry they are studying, the researchers choose April, May, September and October to make their requests.
There is also the ever increasing snowball of costs. Expenses, over which one has no control, continually rise while the only way income can rise is by buying more quota and milking more cows. Increase the herd and you need more land, which increases costs . . . and labour. A vicious circle.
The same problem arises with tired machinery needing replacement or barns no longer able to comfortably house cattle. For the former, spend enough time online and you may find a good used replacement or buy new at a dealer but expect to pay more than you planned.
One promising young couple we know bailed out a few years after starting into dairy farming and said that they just couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. Very demoralizing.
There is the big, bigger, best mentality or “keeping up with the Joneses.” For those who buy into these slogans, you can fall into the trap of life and their own accomplishments never being enjoyed, nothing ever good enough. Everything the neighbour does must be equalled or bettered. But he’ll die trying.
Some find themselves alone to carry on the farm, their children washing their hands of farming years ago. Why work seven days a week from dawn to past dusk for complaints, not enough money and no time off? Finding reliable farm hands can be almost impossible. Those fortunate enough to have them protect them with a vengeance. Finding new help is hard. Those with no experience, little desire for hard manual labour or learning expect a 9 to 5 job, paid vacations, sick days and top dollar. Few have the vested interest in the business that the farmer does. A day off is merely a phone call away and if the farmer is lucky, he gets the phone call. Otherwise, he gets the surprise in the morning when no one shows up. Either way, the work falls entirely on his shoulders!
Then there’s the machinery that breaks down at the most inopportune time. There are parts that never arrive on time, and when they do, they are too-often missing a crucial “O” ring or gasket. Repairs are delayed even longer.
The weather is changing constantly, though most, like us, are loath to call it global warming. We could do with some of that right now. Crops can’t be planted when or where all the planning in the world said they should be or harvesting is delayed, even to the spring in some cases. When cattle need to be fed or grains sold to pay bills, it doesn’t help. Neither cattle nor creditors understand.
Then there are health issues for both the farmer and the livestock. This is often the last straw. Many continue despite the loss of limbs, but for others, continuing can be impossible. How many farmers were forced to close the barn doors due to “farmer’s lung” contracted from the moulds in silos? Or heart, lung, joint, muscle and tendon problems? Damage from old injuries resurface years later. An incapable body makes the days even longer.
There are other reasons to quit and they’re all stress-avoidance factors.
Farmers must learn to take troubles in stride, to laugh, be happy and relax whenever they can. A healthy family, livestock and land are worth more than outdoing the neighbour. Step back, take a deep breath and appreciate what you and your family have accomplished. Farm for yourself, not the guy down the road. He has his own problems. Live for today and your family and enjoy it.