Pulse Beat

Meet On-Farm Network Participants Jeff and Sheila Elder

By: Toban Dyck, Director of Communications, MPSG

UNPACKING WHAT THE word ‘value’ means is a tricky undertaking. For some, it has a material definition. For others, it’s something else entirely. Sitting around the dining room table at Jeff and Sheila Elder’s house, the definition of value was as clear as the home-cooked food on my plate.

To Jeff and Sheila, the things in life that matter would endure a drought, a flood, a storm. They farm together, and that’s valuable to them. They enjoy and are very grateful to be able to live and work on their family farm, and that has value to them, despite the crop conditions.

“I’m just happy to have the opportunity to be here, and that we can be here together,” said Sheila, who has an identical twin, which, for Jeff, had its challenges in grade school.

They first met when Jeff was in Grade 3 and Sheila Grade 2.

Recalling old memories, Jeff said, “Sheila and her sister Shelley dressed and looked the same. I would never know who I had just said hello to, or if I’d be repeating myself. They were beyond identical.”

Jeff and Sheila’s farm was founded in 1881. They think about the toil that went into making their farm what it is today.

And they are grateful for it.

To some it’s just an old nail protruding dangerously from a piece of old wood, but for Sheila (and Jeff, too) it’s a spike representing the dedication and sacrifice of a previous generation and it’s beautiful and worth preserving. It has value.

Those spikes and more make up the bones of a large, 130-year-old barn preserved under tin cladding just east of their house.

“If you look inside, you can see all the manual labour that went into making it – timbers and rafters. I’d like to see that all cleaned up. It’s not about the money. It’s about keeping up the things that matter.”

I first met Jeff and Sheila at MPSG’s On-Farm Network appreciation dinner, an event honouring the famers who participated in the program – a program giving growers the tools to conduct significant and relevant research on their own farms, empowering them to make the best decisions possible in their unique situations.

The Elders participated in the On-Farm Network last year and plan to do so again in 2018. They farm nearly 2,000 acres near Wawanesa, Manitoba. And the genuine and applicable discovery that accompanies this MPSG program is valuable to them.

“2017 was the first year we had an On-Farm Network trial,” said Jeff. “I’ve done trials with different entities in the past, so   I wasn’t afraid to get into it. I knew what it was going to be about. It’s all about learning how things work on our farm and   not on a farm 50 miles away.”

“I think the main value is seeing results on your soil, in your conditions, under your management. You get a general idea from a trial somewhere else, but when you see it on your own farm, you know whether or not there is value in the thing you’re testing.”

Last year, Jeff and Sheila ran a seeding-rate trial and it confirmed what Jeff had already found to be true on their farm.   “I’m now confident that we’re doing the right thing. We’ll be doing another one this year – single vs. double inoculant trial.”

And seeing these trials through to harvest is not a big deal, according to Jeff, who said, “Any of the agronomists or companies that I’ve worked with on any trial, they are really trying to not hold you up. MPSG and others fully realize that it’s combining time and they don’t want to interfere with your business.”

The Elders invited me into their home for supper following the Getting it Right crop production meeting in Brandon, one of the flagship events MPSG puts on for its farmers.

They enjoy attending ag-extension events – together, of course – and they walk away with something important almost every time they do. Because Jeff and Sheila are interested in many things. And because Jeff and Sheila are pretty smart.

Until they moved back to the farm in 1998, Jeff worked for Manitoba Hydro as an electrical technologist in Gillam, Manitoba. There, Sheila – medical lab technologist and registered cardiology technologist – worked as a substitute teacher and was flown around filling brief vacancies at various medical centres.

After 10 years at Hydro, Jeff asked for a three-year leave of absence, at which time they moved to Wawanesa to try out this whole farming thing.

“I guess it worked out,” said Jeff. “We’re still here.”

Since moving back on the farm, Sheila has completed additional schooling in the sciences. In 2010, she completed a bachelor of science degree with a major in zoology (branch of biology) and a minor in chemistry.

But, that’s not all.

One fateful day, Jeff asked a rhetorical question to Sheila: how hard would it be to make a grain moisture app? Sheila said she would try it. Jeff said, don’t bother. Sheila took this as an issued challenge.

Grain Moisture was released on the App Store in April of 2016 and to date is approaching 700 sales.

In 2014, Sheila learned how to use a Mac computer. And in 2015 and 2016 – a difficult period when Sheila cared for her mother as she fought a losing battle with cancer – she sunk her mourning mind into learning how to write computer code. Sheila made the app, from start to finish.

“We’ve grown faba beans and edible beans – sat in on a faba bean session today at Getting it Right,” said Jeff. “And we currently grow a lot of soybeans.”

Jeff and Sheila’s son is 20 and is studying at Brandon University and their daughter is 23, “working in Calgary to support her horse habit,” said Jeff. “Farming has taught them a lot of lessons – economics, hard work.”

For the last few growing seasons, there have been three generations of Elders helping out on the farm, they said. This is important to them.

The Elders are enjoyable company. And I found hanging out with them to be a grounding experience. It was valuable.