Ask Blake Lundstrum what he loves most about farming and the answer might surprise you. “I never stop learning,” says the fourth generation farmer. “With so many technological changes in agriculture, there’s always something new that I need to learn more about.”
His great-grandfather, Rudy Kamlah, started the farm in the early 1940s. His grandfather, Dennis, is still involved in the operation as is his mother, Shelley, and his brother, Ryan. The family farms about 400 acres, 300 in vegetables (potatoes, beets, peas, beans, corn) and 100 in feed grains (barley, wheat).
Having multiple generations involved in the business has its advantages and its challenges. The collective knowledge that comes with over seven decades of potato farming has to be balanced off with rapid changes in the industry. “You’re constantly updating and streamlining your operation every five to ten years,” says Blake. “If you don’t, you fall behind.”
In addition to enjoying all aspects that country living offers, Blake also believes providing food for people to eat is one of the most important contributions that agriculture can make to a community’s overall health and well-being. There are economic and ecological benefits, too, as the industry provides long-term stable employment and offers natural habitat for local wildlife.
As with any sector, though, there are always ongoing challenges and concerns. For example, hotter, drier summers have affected the farm’s irrigation needs. Blake notes that in the past decade, the weather has definitely become more unstable and unpredictable.
Another concern is the loss of acreage due to regional commercial development, which has had a two-fold effect. “There’s increased competition for land to rent,” says Blake, “So the price of land goes up while the availability of good land goes down.”
Competition from import markets also has an effect on their operation. “At the retail end, we’re competing with producers who are selling the same product but have grown it in a different area. In a lot of those areas, their labour and input costs are about half of what we pay and their land rental is about a quarter of our current prices.”
“When people shop at the store and see the price of food, I think a lot of them believe much of what they’re paying is going back to the farmer and that’s just not the case. I think they’d be very surprised to learn just how little return there is for the commodities we’re producing.”