For Rauri Qually and Pam Bailey, a young farm couple, getting involved in commodity and agriculture boards is a way to protect what they love — and a way to cope with the solitary farm lifestyle.
“It’s lonely here. I don’t know how my dad did this all by himself,” Rauri told the Manitoba Co-operator while sitting around a firepit in the yard of his farm in Dacotah, about 20 kilometres outside of Winnipeg.
Pam and Rauri are both fifth-generation farmers. Pam’s family owned a small farm on the East Coast. Rauri’s farm began just before the turn of the century when his great-great-grandfather, Eric Qually, moved up from North Dakota with a business partner.
When they saw grass eight feet tall, they said, “I guess wheat will grow here too,” Rauri said. The partners started a large, company farm.
A thriving community quickly surrounded the farm, including a store and a farm equipment dealership. For a time, it was the largest privately owned farm in Manitoba, employing around 100 men at harvest.
Now, it employs two — Pam and Rauri.
They took over the grain farm, now less than 1,000 acres, about five years ago. Rauri had worked as an electrician but had always had it in mind that one day he’d take over the farm.
“It became such a part of me,” he said. “Plus, once a farm is gone it’s gone forever.”
Rauri went to school to get his agriculture diploma. Around that time, he met Pam who’d come out west to learn more about agriculture and make some money after obtaining her degree in horticulture.
She was the first girlfriend to ask Rauri if he needed her help bringing in the harvest, Pam said. It was a sure sign she was a keeper, he says. They set out to farm together.
There were growing pains. Rauri said his first surprise was how hard it was to be self-employed and self-motivated — and how hard it was to sit in the office and do the books.
And then, there was the loneliness.
As an electrician, Rauri had enjoyed grabbing beers or golfing with his co-workers. After he took over the farm, he started his own, solo electrician service to supplement his income.
Pam had been a part of a big family and a big community out east. Besides farming, she now works at the credit union in Starbuck.
It’s hard to find friends who understand the farm lifestyle, or what’s at stake.
“Name me a woman in her 30s who has an easy time making friends without children,” Pam said.
Pam said they’d get invited to a friend’s event, decline because they were harvesting, and be asked, ‘what do you mean?’
Sometimes they also feel guilty for leaving, said Rauri. There’s no real weekend because there’s always something that needs to be done.
One solution was to be heavily involved in their community and invested in the agriculture industry. They get involved in the local “Dacotah Days” celebration, take yoga classes and play beer-league hockey.
In November of 2017, Pam became the first woman director of the Manitoba Canola Growers Association.
Pam explained her philosophy: “Before you want to complain about something, you better be willing to volunteer.” She added it’s important that more women and more young people get on the boards of agricultural organizations.
Pam co-founded Ag Women Manitoba. Its mission is “Connecting, supporting, and fostering growth for women in Manitoba’s diverse agricultural community,” according to its Facebook page.
Pam said back east she’d been accustomed to having a “girl gang” of other women in agriculture and was looking to build similar connections in Manitoba. She’d been involved in a mentorship program for women agriculture students at the University of Manitoba, and realized that long after the students left the meetings, the mentors would be there, still chatting.
She and co-founder Tiffany Dancho used their connections to start the group as a forum for women to share their knowledge and help each other meet their goals.
Rauri is a director with the Manitoba Wheat and Barley Growers Association, serves with the Western Grains Research Foundation, and sits on multiple boards and committees with the Keystone Agricultural Producers.
“It is imperative that — especially young farmers — but young and old are involved. Get interested and get involved,” Rauri said, his tone becoming emphatic. “Joining local government, joining your local organizations and working on policy or research is how you effect change in agriculture.”
Rauri said that the industry has to recognize that younger farmers, though they have technological advantages, are dealing with a whole new set of issues such as rising input and operating costs, the difficulty in acquiring affordable land, and the fact that most young farmers work off farm just to keep afloat.
Both stressed that if things didn’t change, small family farms like theirs would vanish, swallowed up by large factory farms and foreign landowners.
“They’re not helping. They’re not supporting the schools nearby, they’re not buying the bake sale goods, they’re not going to the mailbox, they’re not helping in these small communities and things like more of us, smaller, younger farmers,” Pam said. “They’ll go do their field work and then they’re gone.”
“Help the young farmers,” said Rauri. “We are the local economy and we want to be here.”