Ag edition: Born to farm

 In News

Scott Oster knew, with certainty, from a very young age that he wanted to farm.

When it was time for him to go to school, he went off to Kindergarten somewhat reluctantly. His mother Clare recalls that on the second day of school Scott told her he had tried school and decided he would go to work with his dad on the farm.

“We knew from the day he could walk that he wanted to farm,” said Clare.

Scott started driving tractor when he was nine years old, bought his first two cows at the age of 14, and got his AZ licence so he could deliver grain to the elevator by the time he was 20. At 28, Scott now has 30 beef cows that he markets privately under the Osterville Cattle Company label.

The Osters have a large cash crop operation, farming about 1,500 acres of land in Clearview and Mulmur, almost all of it rented.
“We treat the rented farmland like it’s our own,” said Clare.

Part of that practice includes rotating crops to break disease and pest cycles. They grow corn, soybeans, wheat for commodity cash market sales and hay to support the cow/calf operation. Scott and his father Tom look after the day-to-day operations at the farm. Clare looks after the financials and administration, and helps out elsewhere when needed. Their eldest son Brad works as a municipal planner and supports the farm operation, especially with his GIS mapping skills. Like many local farmers, Scott has an off-farm job working as a snowplough driver for the County of Simcoe, a gig that ends mid-April, just in time to turn his full attention to the family farm.
Scott said his grandpa was a

livestock man, while his father is a crop man. Scott is both.

“I love spending hours in tractor,” he said, but he also had to find a way to make his own income so he got into the freezer beef operation.

The Osters farmed in Maple (at Highway 7 and Keele, where there is a road named after the family) until they bought land in Avening in the mid- 1960s. Bill Oster was a dairy farmer, milking dual purpose short horns, and supplying cream to the creamery in Alliston. He got out of farming when the dairy quota system was introduced in the mid-1960s, sticking with a cow/ calf operation and feed crops.

The Osters have fully embraced technology as a way of maximizing productivity.

Tom said his father was a real stickler for straight rows so he would appreciate the accuracy that can be achieved with this new equipment. Their tractors are equipped with GPS and auto steering so it can drive between two exact points in a field.

The mapping software indicates the precise conditions of the soil in order to assess the value of each specific area for efficient planting of high yield zones.

“You used to have to wait three weeks for the seed to come up,” said Clare.

She said seed pricing is astronomical so the technology helps to make sure

that every seed counts, and is placed with certainly for maximum growth, taking a lot of the guess work out of planting, therefore reducing input costs including seed, fuel and fertilizer.

“This is a cash driven business,” said Clare. “You have to think ahead and have a back-up plan.”

Scott said he is regularly working with agronomists employed by local farm suppliers to ensure that everything is coming up as it should.

“The technology that goes into the seed has made a world of difference,” said Scott, adding that the drought tolerance is better than even 10 years ago.

The Osters say they have changed a lot of their practices to adapt to the changing climate. In the case of a dry spring the soil is disturbed as little as possible to retain moisture.

Four years ago, Scott invested in his own weather station in order to better predict the weather and navigate shorter planting and harvest windows.

“It’s just another tool to help us make decisions,” he said.

“It’s a scary time. Input costs are high, crop prices are at an all-time low and it’s a lot capital that is invested,” said Clare. “Scott is very lucky. If he wasn’t born into a farm family there is no way that Scott could farm. A 100- acre farm will never produce enough to pay the mortgage, let alone pay for equipment. We were lucky that Tom’s dad farmed and that we wanted to farm.

Tom trucked gravel during the day and farmed at night.

“When Tom’s dad got sick we had to make a decision,” said Clare. “Are we going to farm or truck?”

Scott maintains that the trucks have been the key to their success, allowing them to haul their own product.

“A lot of people do not realize that farms across the country are family owned,” said Scott.

They say those farm families do a fantastic job of producing high quality low carbon products, compared to the rest of the world.

When prices go up at the grocery store, they say, people don’t realize that the producers aren’t seeing those increases, illustrating a big disconnect in the economy of growing versus selling.

“The ups and downs are not new,” said Clare. “But I wouldn’t trade it for anything. We all love living on the farm. There are sacrifices, there are a lot of things you can’t do because there’s always something to do on the farm. We put our whole life into this farm.”

Photo: Scott Oster with a third generation pure bred Limousin calf, only days old.

Recent Posts

Leave a Comment