What inspires farmers and why is their job so important? Jake Leguee explains:
Why did you want to be a farmer?
Growing up on a farm, it was always a big part of my life. Although I certainly understood there were challenges in this business, I was still interested in pursuing it as a career. Farming requires such an extensive combination of different skills: agronomy, mechanics, finance, engineering, marketing and so on. The growing season is an unpredictable, intense operation that demands every fiber of your being to complete successfully; it is an adrenaline rush, and no two years are the same. Farms are generational businesses, and to be given the opportunity to help shepherd this farm into the next generation is incredible. We all work together as a family, and we all share the same vision – to grow a better world for the next generation. Maybe I’m biased, but I don’t believe any other business could give me that opportunity.
What crops do you grow?
We grow several different crops, including canola, durum, winter wheat, peas, lentils, soybeans and flax.
What impact do pests and disease have on your crops?
The impact pests and diseases have on my crops is massive, and most of the decisions we make revolve around managing them. Every year, our crops are attacked by a variety of species of insects, fungi and so on, and every year, we must make decisions on how to reduce their impact. One example is Fusarium head blight. This disease has become a major threat to our ability to product durum wheat, which has little to no natural resistance to it. Fusarium infects the head of the wheat plant as it flowers, then grows on the developing kernel. Unchecked, it loads the kernel with a vomitoxin called deoxynivalenol (DON), which can make the grain unsuitable for consumption, even as animal feed. In 2014 and 2016, our durum suffered substantial quality loss from this disease, which directly impacted our bottom line. In fact, while a durum grading #1 was worth over $9 per bushel, durum heavily loaded with DON was (and still is) only worth $3 per bushel. At 70 bushels per acre, that is a tremendous difference!
In general, how important is it to have access to crop protection products?
Without crop protection products, growing the variety of crops we do today would simply not be possible. The only way we can grow lentils is with weed and disease control options – they are not competitive with weeds, and if summer is wet, lentils can become so diseased that you can literally lose an entire field. Our durum would have no options at all for suppressing Fusarium. Without crop protection products, our farm would be similar to that of my grandparents; we would rely on tillage for weed control, our only real crop options would be cereals and one or two others, and our land would once again be extremely prone to erosion. I don’t ever want to experience a dust bowl like they did, and crop protection products allow us to minimize the risk of that.
Why is your profession important in the challenge to feed the world?
These days, very few of the world’s population farms. This allows people to choose what careers they want, and to work in professions they are best at. It is because of the success of farmers that people have the freedom to do other things, and as a result, we have achieved unprecedented success in science, medicine and entertainment. Without food, the world cannot operate. Farmers have always, and will always, be an essential part of society.
What inspires you about your job?
Crops are immensely complicated, and growing more yield with the same amount of land is an amazing challenge. What drives me is the continual push for ever-greater yields – and the only way to do that is to help our soils become a healthier ecosystem. Every year, we get another opportunity to find innovative ways to maximize yields, and every year there are new tools to help drive that.
Ultimately, it is the desire to build a business that lasts; to build my soils and my balance sheet to allow my children to inherit an even more sustainable farm than the one I started with. To build a great farm means growing great crops, all the while ensuring a vibrant environment.