If you want to hear the downside of equipment sharing, Chad Krikau can give you a couple of examples. But it’s a very short list.
On the other hand, the benefits have not only been extensive, but critical in helping the 35-year-old Saskatchewan producer achieve his dream to farm full-time.
“It started out pretty simply, trading my labour for use of equipment so I could get my crop in the bin,” says Krikau, who along with wife Darlene, was recently named their province’s Outstanding Young Farmers.
“At the time, I don’t think Elmer or I were thinking about what this might lead to. But because of that, opportunities have popped up and we’ve both been able to grow our businesses as a result.”
Elmer is Elmer Enns, a grain farmer from Rosthern, about 70 kilometres north of Saskatoon. Back in 2005, he was a client of Krikau’s, then a full-time agronomist with Wendland Ag Services.
“Elmer was in the office one day and asked if I knew someone who could help him with harvest and I thought, ‘Shoot, maybe I could do something with him’ and that’s how it started,” recalls Krikau.
Krikau started farming on the side a decade ago by renting 110 acres from his father. He slowly started buying his own land, but aside from a combine he’d purchased, was still using his dad’s older equipment. However Enns, along with neighbour and partner Jim Flath, were buying the latest technology, and their progressive approach was bearing fruit.
“I saw a lot of farms and they were definitely growing better-than-average crops,” Krikau says. “That’s really why I wanted to work with them.”
Enns and Flath also liked what they saw in Krikau.
“We could see he was going to be a very good farmer – he just lacked equity,” says Enns, 59. “When he was in our fields, he was intrigued by how plants grew and really focused on getting the crop to reach its full potential. He’d spend a lot of time when dealing with problems. You could see it was more than just dollars and cents to him.”
Krikau’s boss knew his dream was to farm full time and allowed him to cut back on hours as his farm grew. Stream Stick Farms was 530 acres in 2007, doubled in size in 2009, and reached 1,650 acres by 2011. Krikau also began slowly building his own fleet of equipment, but still relied on his partners to get his crops seeded and harvested. However, there were times when both parties wanted the same piece of equipment at the same time.
“But they were fair,” says Krikau. “If they had malt barley lying on the ground, then they would go after that first even if I had wheat ready and rain was in the forecast. But I didn’t get left until last, either. Things were done in rotation.”
In fact, there was a year when harvesting malt barley meant a quarter section of Krikau’s oats was left for a few days, suffered a quality drop, and sold for a lower price. There was also the time in spring 2010 when he was using Enns’ tractor to pull his seed drill.
“We had gotten into the wet years and Elmer needed his tractor to harrow in front of his drill,” recalls Krikau. “Elmer called one day in May and while he didn’t ask for his tractor, I could tell by his voice that he would like it back.
“So I called someone I know who works for John Deere, asked what was out there, and basically bought a four-wheel tractor over the phone – which is a little uncomfortable, considering it’s a pretty big investment.”
But that’s the end of the list of bad things (moreover, the tractor proved to be a sound investment).
The good part? Krikau was steadily expanding, becoming familiar and expert with the newest technology, and – like his partners – producing above-average crops. But a good deal was about to become a great one.
In 2012, a nearby farmer in his ‘70s was ready to retire and move to town.
“He had some of the nicest land in the area and all the big players basically had their cheque books out and were ready to buy,” recalls Krikau.
However, the farmer approached Enns, partly because he admired his farming ability but also because he had a special request: He wanted a young farmer to take over the home and farmyard.
“They had built it themselves and they wanted to see a young family move in and take care of it,” Krikau says. “That was a fit for us as we were living in town at the time. But I don’t think this opportunity would have come to us if not for Elmer.”
Along with a new home for the couple and their children, Liam and Kalyna, the couple added another 1,000 acres to Stream Stick Farms. It also worked out well for his partners. By dividing the land, they were able to grow their joint operation to 9,000 acres and optimize their equipment.
Needless to say, Krikau, who is now “90% farming,” is a big fan of equipment sharing and has two pieces of advice for anyone considering it.
“First, I would say, ‘Don’t sweat the small stuff,’” he says. “If your partner forgets to fill up the tractor before returning it and come November, you’re still hung up on those 50 gallons of fuel, then maybe it’s not for you.”
It’s not that the partners are cavalier about money. For example, they used a provincial farm equipment rental guide to establish the fees that Krikau would pay with his labour. But the overall idea was that everyone would profit.
“So we didn’t worry about the pennies and there was always room for give and take,” he says.
Even then, Krikau adds, “the money part is almost secondary.”
“You have to have the same goals as your partner; the same goals when it comes to how you grow a crop and run a business; and the same goals when it comes to family. It’s quite complicated in a way because it’s really about the relationship. I’d say it’s more about wanting to partner with that person.”
His partner agrees completely.
“You can always make the dollars part of it work,” Enns says. “The big thing is being able to work together, making sure everyone benefits, and being able to see things from the other guy’s point of view. Many partnerships just don’t work because people have different goals. And over the long term, those differences make things pretty stressful.”