Crisis breeds opportunity: How adaptability has kept the Todd family farm running for 119 years
The Todd family thought they’d seen every kind weather on their 4,500-acre farm – until that fateful day in ’89 when a tornado came ripping through, reshaping the land, and destroying buildings in its wake.
“It took years to rebuild,” explained Dustin Todd, who is the fourth generation to run the Somerton farm, located just outside the small village of Glenavon, Saskatchewan.
Visiting it today, you would never guess that the entire farm layout changed because of that tornado. When the howling winds knocked down the old barn, it opened up space to construct a new farm shop to work on equipment. On the ground that previously housed chicken coops, grain bins now line up like soldiers, protecting stores of wheat and canola from the elements.
“As bad as the tornado was, it also helped changed things for the better,” said Dustin. “Otherwise, we might not be on the road that we are on now.”
This positive mindset and adaptability are essential for running a mixed operation like Somerton. Originally just a quarter-section, or 160 acres, the farm was established in 1903 by Dustin’s great-grandfather who immigrated from Scotland.
Today, the Todds typically seed 4,500 acres of grain and canola. The yearly cycle begins with seeding in the spring, as soon the ground is workable; with summer comes spraying to protect crops from weeds and disease; and then fall is spent harvesting from dawn to past dusk, trying to get all the crops off and in the bins before the snow flies.
“A big thing for farming is constantly sitting in machines nowadays,” he said, referencing the hours spent in the cab of a tractor or sprayer.
But the work doesn’t end when the grain and oilseeds are safely binned – these commodity products must be transported to market for the Todds to be paid. This entails loading big grain trucks and hauling them to terminals in all kinds of inclement weather.
The other side of the operation involves breeding and caring for 520 commercial cattle. This takes extra daily care in the winter as the animals cannot feed off pastureland.
“Hungry cows get your butt in gear in the morning in winter,” he chuckled. “But it’s something I grew up doing and I love doing… It’s not really a job.”
Dustin’s whole year is spent jumping between the cattle side and what he calls the “green side” or crop side of his operation. It is this diversification that has allowed the farm to stay financially viable.
“Always keep a few fires burning everywhere,” he said. “That way if you have a bad year in one area, you have something else there to make you money.”
Although Dustin mainly oversees the farm’s operations these days, he is fortunate enough to still have lots of help from his mom and dad. During busy times like seeding, it is like a well-choreographed dance between the three of them to make sure everything gets done – whether dad takes a turn in the tractor so Dustin can go spray, or mom makes sure the cattle are fed and healthy.
“We each play our own role and it makes the operation go smooth.”
Part of what has allowed the Todd family to stay squarely focussed on their farming operations is their 40-year business relationship with FBC.
“I've been with FBC for a lot of years,” explained Glenn Todd, Dustin’s father. “I have been audited three times and every time, FBC stood in front of me, not behind me. They’re great to work with.”
This positive relationship with his dad and before that, his grandma, is the reason Dustin decided stay with FBC when he started farming full-time 13 years ago.
“Having the convenience of FBC coming to your farm, right to your kitchen table and doing your books right there? It saves you driving and going to their office which helps with your busy schedule farming,” he explained.
It’s the peace of mind, however, that he values most, knowing that someone is looking after his best interests and giving him financial insight to his farm.
“It’s the stability of knowing where your books and where your accounts are at,” he said, adding that if he ever has a question, FBC is always just a quick phone call away.
With nieces and nephews already spending time at the farm, Dustin hopes one of them will take up the reins.
“They’re all animals lovers,” he said. “With any luck, one of them will branch over and come farming with me. It would be cool to pass the farm down to one of them and continue it on for the fifth generation.”