Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Make hay while the sun shines

Wally Bradley pitching hay
                             “Make hay while the sun shines”
Latin proverb
As a third-generation farmer and largest hay producer on the Peninsula, I can tell you what real farming is. It means surviving in a global agriculture marketplace.” Bryce Rashleigh, farmer
      Farmers who make hay in the summer start thinking about making hay in the spring. The grass is growing after a winter’s sleep, and the hay in the barn is nearly all gone; if you’re lucky you might have a good reserve to sell your less lucky neighbour who ran out already. Equipment will be pulled out, greased up, tested and parts replaced. Maybe the farmer has been to a few early spring farm auctions to pick up a “nu-to-yu” tractor, mower, rake or baler. When the grass is ready to shoot ahead in growth, the farmer might spread some fertilizer on the fields to ensure a good yield. Perhaps a field or two may be completely renovated, which means tilling, rock picking, raking, planting, and irrigating.
the crew
      The farmer has an eye on the weather at this time, hoping for warm rains to help the grass grow, and warm stretches of dry sun just at the time of cutting, curing, raking and baling. Only comedy is more reliant on timing and perception than farming. Then again, maybe they are about the same in that respect. Because if you don’t hit it all just right, nobody is laughing. There is no rest or celebrating until the last bale is in the barn. Hopefully, none of it was rained on. Hopefully, none of the equipment broke down in the process. Once the hay is all in, the farmer should have enough hay to last six months. Part of having a sustainable farm is being able to produce and store your own feed for your own livestock so they can enjoy their own “100 mile diet” year round.
the whole family pitches in
      All of this takes a lot of work, and is a central activity of many farms. So how is it that in the past couple of years I have heard that producing hay is not really farming? What is a farm and what is farming? We all know it is a place where food, fibre and perhaps flowers are grown or raised or produced. Sometimes farms are subsistent and produce only for the residents of the farm. Sometimes farms are very productive, supplying food to many people who do not farm at all. Many types, sizes and definitions. So how is producing hay not really farming? Perhaps people who think this do not realize that hay is just one step removed from the beef or lamb on your plate.
      Bryce Rashleigh of Central Saanich makes a living producing hay on his own and other’s land. He keeps state of the art equipment, employs 7-10 people a year, and prides himself on being a very good farmer. He believes that hay farms are keeping the land in farming until the economics of farming improve. There is good demand for hay in these parts. Many small farmers do not have the land base or capital to grow their own hay, so they must buy it from someone who does, or have someone like Bryce cut their hay for them. Farmers will grow what they can sell. If you see land in hay and not “food” such as carrots or beans, think about what might be behind this. Bryce and many other farmers blame the global supermarket on the cheap food and labour that Canadian farmers have to compete against. In the west we have an overabundance of food from all over the world in our supermarkets. If the consumer bought local food, or requested the supermarket to source out and carry local produce, there would be the demand to encourage more local vegetables and fruits to be produced here. Otherwise, farmers will just keep growing what they can sell. With predictions that global food production will have to double by the year 2030 to meet the escalating demand for food, maybe rising food prices and higher transportation costs will drive up the price of imported food, making locally produced foods more competitive.

Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you're a thousand miles from the corn field.” Dwight D. Eisenhower

1 comment:

  1. Of course producing hay is farming. Many farms would grind to a stop without it and its central to the industry.