It can seem like there are impossible barriers keeping young people from purchasing a farm or from starting a farm from the ground up. If a person has not grown up on a family farm, taking one over comes with a huge financial burden, making it inaccessible for most. However, there are some folks who have managed to find success even without the family ties.
Mitchell Wattie is a Valley resident who has been involved in farming since he was quite young, though his family did not own a farm. At the age of 11, he took his first job working on a farm owned by Kurt Jackson. “I worked a lot there. That’s where I got a lot of my knowledge; I got it from him,” Wattie explains. When he graduated from high school, he immediately started working on three different farms to gain a proper salary and a fair number of hours.
When Wattie was 20, his father needed some help with the family business, a livestock trucking service. Wattie still worked on two farms and trucked cattle as well. As the trucking business got progressively busier, he had to slowly cut back on farming hours until about two years later, when he started trucking full time.
Last October, an exciting opportunity presented itself to Wattie when the possibility of taking over a farm arose: “One of my customers decided he’d had enough. He had three kids with no interest at all, and he said he was going to sell the farm,” he explains. Wattie stepped in and took it on.
He and his partner, Christina Buermans, now own the farm 50/50 and split the responsibilities. He admits that buying a farm is “not an easy thing to do. We’re pretty fortunate.” Buermans says that when looking to buy a farm, “It feels pretty much impossible.”
Wattie explains that when starting a dairy farm on your own, the costs add up extremely quickly. For example, if you need 200 acres at $25,000 per acre, that’s 5 million dollars right there. Then, if each kilogram of quota costs $24,000, 100 kg of quota is another 2.4 million, meaning you’re paying 7.5 million dollars before even buying the cows. This financial barrier at times can seem insurmountable. Buermans says it boils down to “You have to either have all kinds of money, or know someone who has all kinds of money.”
That being said, there are always other ways to get involved. Buermans explains that “There’s not a lot of people our age that are interested in putting in the amount of work that it takes to run a place like that. So, if you find a place where they don’t have any kids that are interested, or they just don’t have any kids at all, then the best move would be to get in there.” Wattie also recommends offering to buy the cows and quota, but then renting the land. “That helps you save 5-10 million dollars right away.” He also adds that it takes time to understand how running a farm works, so finding a job on one is the best place to start. “The best way to really get into it is to get out there. There’s so many opportunities to work on dairy farms.”
They bought their farm in October 2022, but Wattie and Buermans only officially took over Ferme Ruissolait on April 1, 2023. “We’re still trying to learn all the ropes,” Wattie explains. They currently milk about 75 cows but have a total of 155 animals on the farm including heifers and calves. The 280-acre farm also includes a large section of bush. They have about 150 acres of tillable land, with an additional 100 acres which they rent from neighbours.
Wattie and Buermans have three children under the age of three, which makes for a bit of a chaotic household at times – especially since the farm demands such long hours. The family is currently living about 15 minutes away from the farm and will be moving into the house on the land later this year. Currently, Wattie is taking care of most of the manual labour, while Buermans manages the legal side and paperwork. Once they move, the labour will be divided in a more balanced way, allowing for both of them to spend time with the kids.
Wattie admits that “When I was trucking, I did enjoy it, and I had a hard time kind of letting go of it.” But that being said, the chance to have a farm while raising a family is so worth the challenges it brings – especially seeing the kids play around and be excited about the farm. “I don’t think there’s anything better than that,” he says.