Custom Farmers Staying Equipped In An Ever-Changing Industry
The Van Lagen family serves as a wonderful example of diversification in farming. Not only do they have a contract for a beef barn and two contract pig barns as well as farming some of their own acres, they also offer a wide variety of custom services: planting, tillage, forage harvesting, bailing, hay preparation, combining and trucking.
The Van Lagen family has been farming in Canada for the better part of sixty years, when David Van Lagen’s father came from Holland in the 1950s and purchased a dairy farm. The operation has grown substantially since then, as they estimate they work over 10,000 acres annually including their work with forage crops. The farm demands the employment of 5 full time and 2 part time employees, along with others who they call on in the busiest fall months.
David and his wife, Pia, have five children: Josh, who manages their pig farm and helps to operate equipment, Ben who manages all accounting and agronomy, Dan who lives on their other pig farm and helps with equipment maintenance and operation, and their younger children, Thomas and Sophia who are still in school.
Their family farm is unique in that they have livestock as well as being heavily invested in row crop farming. Van Lagen sights this as a full-circle advantage because they can use manure in their row crop production, which reduces expenses. This continues to aid them in what they are seeing as the main issue agriculture is facing right now: rapidly rising input costs. The two ‘F’s’, fertilizer and fuel, have increased “dramatically over the past year. Higher grain prices are offsetting these inputs in the field,” adds Van Lagen, “but we have to also charge more for our custom work services. Which leads us to a hard task, as raising service rates as fast as input pricing is not a choice. We have navigated the fertilizer price increase by relying heavier on manure and being more efficient with our fertilizer. But the higher machinery and fuel costs are still up in the air as to how we are going to pass some of that down to our customers.”
The efficiency Van Lagen mentioned is in part due to the more accurate technology and equipment they have at their disposal. Van Lagen also states that planting and harvesting “technology has gotten a lot better, and more accurate”. Their family has noticed a large change in tillage practices over the past decades as well: “Many farmers are going towards more conservational/no till”. As they look to the future, they predict more farms adapting to these conservational farming practices and imagine other technological advances in agriculture as well.
Like many multi-generational farmers, the Van Lagens communicate a deep care for all they do: “We as farmers are trying to be the best stewards as we can. If we don’t treat our livestock and soil in a good way then usually we do not get results in terms of yield. So it is in our best interest to treat our land and animals the best way and they will in turn reward us.”
Neighbours who wish to support farms with these long-term best practices in mind can simply buy local beef and pork, and of course, keep them in mind if anyone needs help with row crop production.
Van Lagen was born into farming, but farms now with his family “because I enjoy the process of growing crops and helping farmers to do the same. Every year is different in farming and poses a new set of challenges, which keeps it very interesting and forever makes you learn new ways of navigating challenges.”