Ag edition: Giffens farming through the generations

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The fourth and fifth generations of Giffens are working together at Riverview Farm in Edenvale.

While raising three children, Dale and Debbie both worked full-time jobs off the farm, which made for some long days.

“It’s a lot of work,” said Debbie. “After a 12-hour shift you put your kids to bed and then take the baby monitor out to the barn.”

A former lead hand at the Township of Springwater, Dale has been retired for five years, giving him more time than ever to work on the farm, and Debbie retired this year from her job as an oncology nurse at Royal Victoria Hospital.

A combination of home and business, the family farm is the nucleus that connects past and future generations. Riverview Farm has been in the family since 1876, when it was purchased by Pete Gilchrist, a relative on Dale’s mother’s side of the family. It is located next to the Nottawasaga River, where Gilchrist harvested large blocks of ice.

Debbie’s family lived on the other side of the river and she met Dale at a church dance. They were married in 1985.

Just as Dale’s grandparents were married at the farm, so were two of the Giffens’ three adult children – Katherine, Stuart and Jamie. They all have a vested interest in the family farm.

“There is meaning in having a wedding on the family farm,” said Debbie, adding that her eldest son Stuart and his wife Shannon had photos taken on a refurbished front porch, in the same place as their ancestors.

When they started farming 30 years ago they had pigs until the market dropped out and then, like others, they switched to crops. Together they now raise 60 cows per year, up to 300 chickens and have gone back to their roots with 10-15 pigs. They grow 350 acres of hay and have 100 acres of pasture.

“We had to work together as a family in the barn,” said Debbie, adding that members of their extended families also pitch in when needed. “It’s a community.”

Although they may farm separately, members of the Giffen family share resources and equipment.

“Farming is 24/7,” said Shannon, who wasn’t raised on a farm, “I don’t think they get enough credit.”

Stuart and Jamie both work in the ag industry – Stuart is an agricultural insurance broker for Brokerlink Insurance and Jamie is an operator at Alliance Agri-Turf. Katherine is an educational assistant at Minesing Central School and is a member of the Bluewater Angus Committee, past president to Simcoe County Beef Association, is involved with the 4-H calf clubs, and organizes beef shows at the Barrie Fair.

They each have their own areas of interest on the farm. Katherine’s passion is the cattle, breeding Angus, and having a particular interest in animal health; Stuart manages crops and his 20-head heard of crossbreeds; Jamie helps at harvest time and plans to do some cash cropping in the future.

“They all have their own ideas,” said Dale, laughing. “We have less and less of a say as time goes on,” adding, “there are a lot of good young farmers in their thirties who are taking over and are very progressive.”

But the reality is they also see a fair number of farm consolidations because the next generation either doesn’t want to farm or can’t afford it.

At 31, Stuart said he is always researching and innovating.

He has experimented with a chicken coop on wheels that can be moved. They also received a grant for a rotational grazing set-up which rotates the cows onto two-acre portions at a time.

It costs $1,700 to keep a cow for a year. The high prices that consumers pay at the grocery store does not reflect the farmer’s income.

“It’s a passion,” said Stuart. “If you didn’t love it you wouldn’t do it, not for financial gain.”

The Giffens say crop heat units are now pushing 3,000, up from 2,600.

With the milder temperatures, the Giffens have noticed that they are getting better yields and can grow an extra crop of feed, allowing them to raise more cows, but they also have to de-lice more often. Luckily, seeds are now more tolerant to pests and drought.

“GMOs allow us to grow crops that need less pesticide,” said Stuart. “There is a disconnect between farmers and consumers. The government is vilifying the farmer.”

Being located right on Highway 26, the one thing that has really changed is the struggle to fight increasing traffic, especially when moving large equipment between farm parcels.

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