Yesterday we visited a young farm couple from Schleitheim. Someone had told me they bought a cattle farm in Canada. I was interested to know why someone would do that when my neighbours in Westlock, Alta., are liquidating their cattle herds because they’re losing rather than making money.
The grapevine was wrong. Karl Gabriel, 33, and his partner, Julie Naïf, 28, haven’t bought anything yet. But they definitely are looking.
Julie is a Canadian, the daughter of Swiss immigrants who operate Parkland Packers (a butcher shop) in Stony Plain, Alta., east of Edmonton. Julie came to work in Switzerland four years ago and met Karl. She’s now lived on the farm in Schleitheim for a year. A wedding is planned for July in Stony Plain.
“Most important to me is a farm that the two of us can live off of,” Karl says. He is anxious to put down roots – build up a place they can stay on. “Ich wot irgentwo dihei sii.” (“I want to be at home somewhere.”)
Karl grew up on farms his father rented. His father finally was able to buy his own farm in the French part of Switzerland when Karl was in his teens. Karl completed his farming apprenticeship and agriculture college diploma. He worked on several farms before renting the Alphof. He’s farmed there for six years on a nine-year rental contract. The owner would be interested in coming back earlier if Karl decides to leave before that.
Why Canada? Well, Julie of course, but Karl feels there is more room to grow in Western Canada than in Switzerland. He once looked at farming in Russia, but is glad now that he didn’t have the courage at the time. He struggles with the high subsidies Swiss farmers live on, saying they distort the real value of food. The subsidies also come with an enormous amount of red tape.
He’s not looking for a dairy farm in Canada. He says he doesn’t have the kind of money it takes to buy quota, and besides, he wants a life, too.
They hope to find a mixed farm: grain and cattle. His skills as a cattle breeder will stand him in good stead there, too. He’s hoping that if they buy at the bottom of the price cycle he’ll be ready when prices turn around.
Karl isn’t a conventional farmer, and that’s good. He’ll need to be innovative and creative to make a living in Canada.
As we drove away from the Alphof, we said to each other, “they’ll be OK. They’ve got the right attitude.” Between that and Julie’s Canadian roots, they’ve got as good a chance as many a young Canadian farmer.