Young farmers are few and far between these days but 23-year-old Joe Sletmoen of Crozier is working hard at it—and is the future of the industry in Rainy River District.
“I’ve always enjoyed farming, right from when I was a little kid,” Sletmoen said. “When I got into high school, I decided farming was what I wanted to do.”
He likes working with the animals, being outside, and being his own boss.
“I got my diploma in agriculture, so that’s really helped me out,” he stressed, noting he went to Olds College in Alberta. “I’m glad I did, it was really hands-on.
“We did agri-business, machine work on motors, and for agriculture things, we took animal health, and worked on soil and crop ideas,” he added.
Sletmoen also specialized in cattle and grass management courses before taking a five-month certificate course for meat-cutting.
He worked at The Place here in Fort Frances for a year-and-a-half before going to work full-time on Doug Teeple’s farm north of Barwick.
“[It] gives me the freedom to do my own thing on the farm because I’m my own boss out there for the most part,” Sletmoen enthused. “I do all the day-to-day jobs, such as feeding, odd jobs in the shop, greasing tractors, and a bit of welding.
“We’ve been getting ready to start calving because they can start getting the first calf [this week],” he noted. “And getting ready for calving is a pretty big job getting pens set up and the barn cleaned up.”
In the last year, Sletmoen also has taken over all the farming operations on his dad’s farm and bought cows of his own, to make a total of 25.
“Most cows start calving mid-to-late January. My own cows don’t start until March,” he noted. “I should have 15 calves this spring and the rest of them are fall calvers.”
He said all his cows are pretty quiet, both at work and at home, which makes them a lot easier to deal with.
“When they’re calving, you have to check them every hour to every three-four hours, depending on if there’s lots of calving or if it’s really cold,” Sletmoen explained.
“If it’s really cold when the little calf is born, you have to make sure it is in the barn right away because they’re so wet, they’ll freeze.”
Sletmoen added his dad has been a huge help.
“With him working shift work, quite often if I’m at work, he’s able to be home for feeding or other things that arise, like if the cows get out [of the pen].”
Last summer, Sletmoen put up 300 bails of hay, as opposed to the 20 he needed the year before, so it’s been a big change since high school.
“I have a lot more work,” he acknowledged. “When I was a little kid, my dad would run the equipment and I would follow him along and get wrenches and things like that for him, but just as a gopher.
“Now I do 90 percent of that work.”
Sletmoen eventually would like to earn his living completely off the farm.
“But that will be quite a ways off because it’s a huge investment to get into farming,” he stressed. “So, I’m going to have to have a job to help pay for it.”
He believes the availability of land is pretty good in Rainy River District because there are so many older farmers and so few younger ones coming in.
“I always like going to the [meetings, programs, conferences] and going visiting with all the guys, but for the most part, the number of people who are under the age of 30 is slim to none,” Sletmoen noted.
“I can only think of a handful of guys who are farming who are under 30, which is kind of sad.”
But Sletmoen said most of the older guys are great to deal with. “Most are excited to talk to a young guy, like myself, who is interested in farming,” he added.
He thinks there are so few young farmers these days because it’s a lot of work, it’s hard to get into, there is a financial burden to buy a farm and set up the operation, and some kids just don’t enjoy it.
“And that’s one thing, you have to enjoy what you’re doing to be out on the farm,” he stressed.
As for himself, Sletmoen is trying to get involved in as much agriculture as he can.
“I would like to go to as many conferences and different schools as I can,” he remarked. “Because even though I’m just out of school, talking to people who have been farming for years, you get many new and good ideas you haven’t thought of before.”
Back in November, for instance, Sletmoen attended a two-day school in Brandon, Man. with 400 participants. “I learned one point of an operation could change whether you are profitable or not,” he explained.
“There are a couple interesting things I’d like to try, such as grazing corn because you can graze corn as late in the winter as you want, and some guys had done an experiment on grazing turnip tops,” he added.
Sletmoen is going to join the Ontario Federation of Agriculture and the Ontario Cattlemen’s Association this year, and he recently became secretary for the local Soil and Crop Improvement Association.
“They’re looking for some younger people to get into it—some of the guys who have been in it for a while are getting tired,” he noted. “It’s always nice to get new people into organizations.”
Sletmoen also is going to continue as a 4-H leader.
“I really like doing that—helping out young kids,” he enthused. “The numbers are coming up a bit, which is really nice to see, and it gives us more things to teach them.”
Sletmoen said it’s hard to say what the future of farming is in Rainy River District, but he’s optimistic.
“You could get a whole bunch of young kids who are just coming into high school now who have grown up on a farm and are interested in it,” he stated.
“If kids saw their parents making money on the farm, they might think maybe it’s not such a bad idea,” he added, noting clubs and being taught in the classroom help, too.
And Sletmoen said this district can produce just as well as the best land in the country.
“When I was in Alberta, the foothills of the mountains are supposed to be some of the best land in North America,” he noted. “[But] when we got talking about numbers and what they were producing, our area was matching with them for cattle and grass.”
But, he admitted, it’s difficult to get started in farming.
“I took a diploma in agriculture because that’s what I want to do,” he stressed. “I took a meat-cutting course as a way to make some money.
“Turned out I’ve been able to use my diploma in agriculture, so I’m lucky. And I love what I’m doing,” he concluded.