KELSEY BANKS KNEW she wanted to be a farmer. She grew up working on her maternal grandparents’ fruit and vegetable farm in eastern Ontario — picking asparagus and growing a love for pumpkins.
But her succession story involves taking over her paternal grandparents’ farm in Dufferin County with her dad and brother.
“I’ve always loved farming, and I want to be able to do what I love and love what I do,” says Kelsey, who at 26-years-old, is operating the farm — growing corn, soybeans, wheat, and pumpkins.
But it took a bit of stress and involved several difficult conversations with family to get where she is today.
Five years ago, her grandparents were slowing down and looking to move off the farm. Kelsey wanted to get started on fulfilling her dream. She moved to Orangeville, without knowing anyone else and knowing very little about farming in the area. At first, her grandparents let her manage one 30 acre field, and Kelsey chose to grow IP soybeans. She didn’t have access to much equipment, her grandparents had run a cow-calf operation and land for cash crops but had sold the cattle and started renting out the land several years before. So, she relied on a local farmer to provide custom work the entire season. After that first year, Kelsey slowly added in more land as agreements ended on the rented land.
About two years ago, Kelsey wanted to change some of their production practices and try some new things on the farm that her family may not have thought was ‘the right way’, such as venturing into a conversion from conventional tillage to minimum-tillage.
Kelsey did not want to further any tension that may have been arising between family members, so she decided to take an opportunity to work in Saskatchewan.
“Some people had told me, you don’t want to let it affect your family, you don’t want to be fighting over everything. And because I wanted to get more agronomic experience anyways, I decided to go out west for a year.”
When she left, there was a lot of uncertainty about the future, but Kelsey decided she would wait and see how everything settled out once she returned.
Three weeks after she moved west, her grandparents found a house in town and decided to move off the farm.
“At that point our succession plan had to be developed and implemented very quickly,” says Kelsey.
A young farmer, just 24-years-old at the time, Kelsey didn’t have enough credit built up to finance the farm on her own. Her younger brother also had an interest in the farm but was busy raising cattle in the east. Her dad stepped in to speak with advisors and help develop a financial plan that would allow Kelsey to manage the farm through a partnership with her dad and brother.
Being three provinces away added an extra layer of difficulty to their conversations while they were figuring out the transition.
“I wish that my brother and I had talked more in terms of figuring out what we wanted. Trying to talk about what you want is difficult as it is, but even more so because you can’t read emotions over the phone. It would have been better if we had been able to sit down and communicate a little bit more about it,” says Kelsey.
When her work in Saskatchewan wrapped up in October 2018, Kelsey came back home to her own family farm.
“I had to learn some pretty tough lessons. In my opinion, with the small to mid-size of our farm, it didn’t make sense to continue with the full custom work crew, it was better to go the share crop route. So now I share crop the grain land and I do all the pumpkins myself.”
Kelsey says that while it was stressful at times, once they got past the awkward ‘what if’ stage, it became easier to figure out their succession plan. It isn’t a perfect situation — but she and her brother are better at communicating now and they make time to sit down with their dad whenever Kelsey is in eastern Ontario to visit her family.
Kelsey isn’t shying away from building her dream. She wants to grow their land base, expand their pumpkin business, and investigate other niche markets.
“I think if you’re a young person, you just have to figure out what you want. You might have to move five hours away from everything you have ever known, or even provinces away, but you have to go for it,” reflects Kelsey. “I never veered from what I wanted. The goal was always there — it was just a matter of getting there.” •