Meet farmer Brett Neilson, who took the time to help us celebrate Canada’s Agriculture Day on February 22, 2022, by telling Farms.com about himself, working off the farm and on the farm, and just why he loves the farm life.
By Andrew Joseph, Farms.com; Photo via Brett Neilson
Working the farm is tough enough, but imagine what farmer Brett Neilson, 32, must do as he also spends time working off farm.
Situated in Big Valley, central Alberta southeast of Red Deer, Nielson has around 2,500 acres where he farms barley, wheat, canola and peas, plus a bit of crop experimentation here and there.
His story is the same, but different from a lot of other farmers in Canada. Yes, he grew up on a farm, but now he’s in the thick of things as he is working on the succession of his in-law’s farm.
“Right now, the farm is called Webster Farms, but because of succession and efforts to incorporate it, the name may change,” explained Neilson to Farms.com in a recent interview.
Neilson isn’t a full-time farmer yet, as he also has an off-farm job—but once the crop season comes about, he takes time off to do the field work and repairs that need to be done. “I’m fortunate that I have quite a bit of vacation time with my off-farm job,” he noted.
He said that he enjoys the farm life for the freedom it offers. “You’re doing your own thing, and responsible for yourself more so.”
He added: “I’ve become very jaded with regards to the corporate world and am very much counting down to the day I can farm full time. I just love the lifestyle. I grew up in it and I want my kids to grow up in it. You learn so much about what you’re capable of at a young age, and really all the time.
“It seems like there is always something new to learn, and it’s satisfying for me to learn something new that can help make life easier on the farm or more profitable.”
The pull of farm life wasn’t always there for Neilson, however. After finishing high school in 2008, “I didn’t think ag was an option for me. My parents had a very small farm at that time and only had a couple quarters.
“It’s a cattle operation which is not something I ever enjoyed,” he continued. “However, once I started dating my now-wife, I began to help on her parent’s crop farm, which was a much bigger operation than my parents’.
“Although I didn’t have the opportunity for much field work at my parents, what opportunity I did have I enjoyed,” he shared. “And, at my in-laws’, there was so much tractor work, I really got to sink my teeth into it—I was hooked.”
Having difficulty finding employment after graduating from college in 2010, Neilson was able to work for his future in-laws. It was only a few short months of working there that he became convinced he wanted to farm.
But then he was afforded the opportunity to work at his current off-farm job, so the best-laid plans to be a full-time farmer had to be put aside.
But now, 10 years later, with his in-laws getting closer to retirement, Neilson is ready for his ag fulfillment. “With the succession plan in the works, I couldn’t be more excited to become a full-time farmer.
“I guess I just really enjoy running the equipment,” Neilson offered. “Getting to see my kids learn on the farm, and being able to walk away from the big corporation style and being able to work for myself.”
He told Farms.com that for non-ag people to learn more about where their food comes from, they should go on a farm tour because “it could offer a quick glimpse into what we have to do daily.”
He continued: “Talk to people in rural areas and gain some insight. There needs to be more honest conversation for a myriad of topics, and that is something that is lacking nowadays.”
Neilson agreed that it is important for all Canadians to recognize Agriculture Day, and not just once a year, but every day of the year.
“It’s important to know what goes into making the food we eat,” he exclaimed. “It would be great if people could understand how we do things differently than in the cities and why we need to do it differently.
“There’s a major disconnect between urban and rural where it is not understood that work for urban areas will not always work for rural areas,” he summed up. “There needs to more understanding that there is no one-size-fits-all approach.”