The Reynolds brothers are working with their kids to transition the family farm.
Fourth-generation Manitoba farmers Conway and Troy Reynolds are living the multi-generational farm life so many farm families dream of. As March slowly warms towards April, the brothers are currently preparing to plant potatoes into the same sandy prairie soil that their great-grandfather homesteaded over 100 years ago. Even better, their own children — Conway’s 21-year-old son Blayne and Troy’s 25-year-old daughter Becky, are right there beside them — each having decided last year to return home to join the family business.
“It’s good to have the kids back, that’s for sure. It’s nice to have them actively involved rather than acting like employees,” Conway says.
Conway and Troy Reynolds operate C&T Reynolds Farms, a mixed operation near Carberry, Man. which includes 1,300 acres of potatoes under irrigation, and 12,000 acres of grains, oilseeds and pasture for their 400 head of cow/calf pairs. The potatoes, except for a small plot Becky and Blayne took on last year, are all contracted to the local McCain Foods’ plant, conveniently located just seven kilometres from the farm.
It wasn’t a given the fifth generation of the Reynolds family would choose the farming path. Instead, Becky initially had her sites set on being an agronomist, while Blayne intended to be an accountant. However, after completing a couple years of their respective college programs, each decided to give the family farm a go.
Though Becky and Blayne are only one year in so far and no long-term decisions have been made yet, Conway hopes they choose to stay.
“It was a bit of a surprise when they decided to come back — we never just assumed it. But we’ve always hoped that one or more of them would want to take over after all our hard work. They see it’s a good life and a good business.”
Weathering Bad Growing Seasons
Mother Nature has sent some extra challenges in the last couple years to many Canadian growers, the Reynolds included. Their 2018 potato crop was compromised by late season rain and cold, translating to heavy spoilage in the bins. 2019’s harvest conditions were so terrible that half the Reynold’s potato crop never made it out of the field. The 2020 crop, though better than the years previous, suffered yield loss because of the late-starting spring and an early arriving fall cut growing days on both ends.
But, says Conway philosophically, “That’s farming. “Hopefully it’ll be better this year.”
The Reynolds family has been farming potatoes since Conway and Troy’s dad and grandpa, Harry and Delbert Reynolds, first planted them in 1965.
“The potato plant, it was Carnation at the time, got built in 1962. My dad figured it was a new opportunity so he gave potatoes a try. It was a sideline, just a small part of their farm. And at the time, there was no storage involved — just dig them and deliver them and get paid.”
A whole lot has changed since then.
“The biggest thing I’ve seen since I started in 1992 is for sure the technology. When I first got into farming, we definitely weren’t checking irrigation and storage from a cell phone. There’s a lot more scientifically-based decisions on inputs. And variable rate irrigation, variable rate fertilizing — that’s not coming, it’s here.”
While Conway doesn’t describe the family as on the leading edge of tech uptake, they’re definitely open to technologies that improve their productivity, efficiency and profitability. The Reynolds have been using variable rate fertilizing for over five years. Drones are used to capture field imagery for yield mapping. They built a new, high tech storage facility in 2019 and invested in a one-pass planterno hilling required, last year. And yes, all kinds of monitoring and management now occurs via their smart phones. That said, Conway knows new technologies will never replace good management.
“What do I recommend for Blayne and Becky? I’m telling them to stick to the basics. Don’t get too overwhelmed or distracted with all the technologies. You gotta get the basics right.”