The Manitoba Swine Seminar in early February 2015 saw many first timers come to such a program. With hog farms and companies hiring immigrants to help run those operations, economic times dictated that farms send groups of employees, not one or two.
Over 400 people attended this year’s event making for good idea exchange and learning what’s new in the business, and in some case what not to do anymore. Things change, and the sooner producers and industry people alike recognize that, the better for them and the industry.
Len Penner of Blumenort, who is part of Oak Lee Farms likes what he saw and heard at this year’s swine seminar. However, he had other things on his mind, too.
Penner says diversification serves this family farm well, now into the fourth generation and planning to involved the fifth, if that generation so chooses. This farm operates a farrow to finish unit, raises turkeys and chickens, operates a feed mill to produce the feed for the animals, and crop enough land to supply the feed mill, and some extra cash sales like canola, but use the canola meal to supplement the feed too.
Penner who comes by the farm honestly married a farm girl whose father farmed, but looked to involve the next generation, the same as his grandfather and father did before that.
Getting into the business of farming for Penner is an interesting story.
“It’s funny growing up I always said I’d never be a farmer,” he said. “Then I started dating a farm girl, now I enjoy the lifestyle, talking family time, working together as a family, it all intrigues me, as opposed to all going your separate ways at the beginning of the day. Everyone works together at the same thing.”
Penner knows it’s impossible to start farming when working for a salary, so he took the opportunity when this family decided to accommodate him and his wife internally within the farm.
“We all know the cost of getting into farming is a tough go,” he says. “You don’t do that working on minimum wage, you don’t just go into farming.”
In Len and Angela’s case, they’re farming because the family planned to have their children farm with them.
While the farming population as a whole compared to what the rest of the people do, continues to shrink as part of the whole, many young farmers continue to take over from their parents or parents-in-law. That is the only way 99 out of 100 new farmers start, and the only way the Penners’ children can get into it, if they so desire, through proper planning that starts now, not when Penner and Angela want to retire.
“That is what we’re growing our farm for,” says Len. “My brother-in-law Mike Reimer and I only now became part of the farm financially, and we’re already planning for our children as to how we will accommodate this, and how will we grow our farm and what areas are we going to grow our farm. Just to be able to accommodate them down the road, if they have an interest in it, and we certainly hope they do.”
The key factor in their planning right now is diversification.
“I think being the diversified farm that we are, we have to, knowing how the industry  is with everything growing big, so we have to figure out exactly where our place is in every market, and do we focus on one specific direction or do we continue to stay diversified the way my father-in-law and uncle did it,” he says.
Penner knows without a doubt, how diversification carried the family farm through some very difficult times. Do they want to continue with that, jack of all trades master of none type of mentality or do they want to focus and specialize in one area. So that is a big discussion point for them.
How do they market?
“We mill our own feed. We use up almost all of what we grow on our own farm. Obviously, canola we market as a cash crop, but turn around and use the meal to feed our pigs and poultry,” says Len.  •
— By Harry Siemens