Don Petheram – Decades of Enjoyment in Farming
Don Petheram says he was, “born with farming in his blood.” He remembered being always with his dad and Uncle Orville, and that he had more interest in farming than in school.
In grade ten a guidance teacher tried to talk him out of farming, but he ignored that advice and starting farming with his dad in 1957. He is still at it; it has been his lifelong passion.
Don grew up next farm to the west of his family’s original homestead on the ninth concession of Townsend Township. Family history here goes back to 1843, when his great great grandfather purchased that farm. GG grandfather was an engineer who helped build the railroad that runs parallel to Concession 9 between Waterford and Hagersville. He emigrated from England, landed in New York, then travelled by foot or horse to Walsh area, Ontario before buying the farm in Townsend Township. Great grandfather Walter was just one year old when the family immigrated to Canada.
As a teenager, Don travelled to the old Ontario Livestock Exchange in Toronto (before its move to Cookstown) with a trucker friend. The friend told him to just follow the cattle and he’d meet him later. However, it proved impossible to follow the cattle and Don ended up lost in the labyrinth of the huge facility. Eventually someone directed him to the right place and he reunited with his friend.
Don married Marion in 1965 and the couple purchased the farm from his parents that year. Marion has been a partner in every sense, even to quitting her off-farm job to drive tractors in busy seasons. The couple raised three children: Donna, Doug and Daniel. Donna is a hair stylist with her own salon, Daniel is a trucker and carpenter. Doug works with his parents. Don and Marion have three grandchildren now – Matthew, Renee and Grayson.
Don liked beef cattle, so on the advice of the Norfolk Agricultural Representative, he built a feedlot facility where he grew stockers up to finished cattle. The barn measured 45 feet by 100 feet and cost a whopping $3,500. He also renovated the old barn on the farm to handle younger calves before they transitioned to the feedlot. He sold his finished stock at the Stockyards and took home a new bunch of stockers each trip. His facility handled about 400 head at its peak. Don sold out the last cattle in 1979 due to a number of factors, including the land buyout of the time. There was also his son Doug who had bad asthma and couldn’t work in the cattle barns.
Don was one of the founders of the Norfolk Beef Improvement Association.
Custom work was part of the business from the 80’s to 2011, when around 3000 acres was worked between owned land and custom work. Don started tiling land in 1974 – all of their land is now tiled and producing better for it.
Doug joined his parents in a partnership in 1984. This time was marked by the purchase of one of the first no-till drills in the area and Doug’s purchase of a farm on Concession 12 of Walpole. They incorporated as Petheram Farms Ltd. in 1999. Another farm along the Haldimand-Norfolk town line was purchased in 2012.
Don put up his own grain bins and elevators in the mid 80’s which cost around $3000 each at the time. These have paid off well as they can hold grain for the right time and price instead of being forced to sell at someone else’s options. There are now multiple silos, all interconnected and run at the touch of a button.
Don and Doug now work 1000 acres growing soft white fall wheat, corn and soybeans. Doug finds full time employment on the farm, doing most of the maintenance and repair to the equipment, building and manufacturing things needed for the business and helping with the trucking jobs. He says of his dad that, “He picks and chooses his jobs.” Don is still pretty busy though, as he runs tractors during planting time, oversees sales, runs the elevators and trucks. Not exactly slacking off! He has found a bit of time for some hobbies now though and enjoys building birdhouses and decorative wheelbarrows.
Marketing is mostly done through brokers. Don is able to set a price they are willing to sell for and the brokers arrange the sales. The men do their own trucking to terminals. Most of their soybeans are exported through the Hamilton port. Corn goes to Port Colborne, wheat to Andersons in Norwich. Don had developed a reputation for producing good grain, but he is disappointed in the quality this year due to the excess rain that has fallen.
Don sees an uncertain future for farming, as costs have gone crazy in the last year or two. He remembers buying his first farm for $100 an acre … costs are now $10,000 plus for land. Corn has gone from $2/bushel to $7/bushel – and the extra is needed to keep up to rising input costs. Last year he paid $270/tonne for liquid nitrogen – this year it is $750/tonne. Other costs have risen exponentially as well – fertilizers, fuel, parts are all up, and some items are not readily available.
Doug stated that it is becoming more and more difficult for younger guys to keep going with everything costing so much, adding that if his parents had not been already established he would not have been able to get a start. He doesn’t mind working hard but feels working smarter will be important as he gets older. He expressed uncertainty as to whether the farm operation will be able to carry on to the next generation. Still, for now, he will work hard and continue to the best of his ability.