Plowing Ahead

For the Bachand family, long days, cold nights and the tough times of days gone by have not only been obstacles to overcome, but reasons to succeed.

By Caitlin Kelly | Photos By Jessica Deeks

It’s an accomplishment to retire at 80 after running a successful farm business for decades. Then again, that’s just one of Jean-René Bachand’s latest achievements. One of his earliest was surviving a hardscrabble childhood as the sixth in a family of 11 children.

Only 19 when his father died, Jean-René  had to step up at once to take over his father’s role as breadwinner. “The sudden death of his father forced him to develop the sense of responsibility at a young age,” says his proud son Yvan, who now runs the family enterprise.

“When it happened, his brother and he began working to help their mother raise the family. Besides the work on the farm, the two young men were also working at the Port of Montreal, emptying containers. They would give their mother almost their entire paycheck and would keep only a few dollars for their personal use.”

Today, Bachand père—Yvan’s father—is enjoying his retirement, resting at home most of the time. “He tries to call family meetings as often as possible with his four children and 11 grandchildren,” says Yvan. “Once in a while, he still contributes to the farm’s operations with his wisdom and educated advice.”

The Bachands’ property, about 30 miles east of Montreal, has grown tenfold over the years. “The size of the farm was a lot less impressive,” says Yvan. “It’s with the years, and my arrival as an employee at first and then as a shareholder, that the company went from 200 to 300 acres to 2,000 acres today.” After 25 years of being a tenant, Jean-René Bachand was finally able to buy some of the acreage he farmed, thanks, in part, to a key provincial agricultural zoning law that helped prevent farmland from being developed and, in the process, kept prices low.

The Bachand family, which includes two grown daughters not involved with the operation (Yvan’s sisters, Nathalie and Guylaine), began their farm in 1960 with 200 acres of land. Over the years, they continued to farm rented land; in 1983, they bought 100 acres that, as it turned out, was one-third the price per acre the family paid for farmland in 2014—such is the consequence of living so close to Montreal and its expanding suburbs. The Bachands now own 445 acres and continue to rent the rest—a total of 2,000 acres.

A Year-Round Business

Jean-Francois, Jean-René and Yvan Bachand

As Jean-René brought Yvan and Yvan’s older brother, Jean-Francois, into the business, change has continued. These days, Yvan relies on his brother as an employee to help run the farm, but also as his partner in a winter-long enterprise that brings in supplemental income.

Today, in addition to growing and selling crops, the younger Bachands run a thriving snow-removal business. Their glossy flyer—its clever logo including a snowflake made up of tire tracks—offers color images of their equipment and lists their 18 local clients, which include commercial properties such as the local airport in nearby Saint-Hubert.

“Our snow-removal business is very, very important,” Yvan says. Right after harvesting, it’s time to re-equip his tractors and get them ready for his winter operation. “I’m lucky,” he says with typical Canadian modesty. “Clients are satisfied, and I have a good reputation. It’s really a 24/7 operation.”

As for farming, today, Yvan produces some 160 bushels per acre of corn, 50 bushels per acre of soybeans and 70 bushels per acre of wheat. Japan is the largest buyer of his soybeans, while 7% of the corn is sold for ethanol production in Ontario and Quebec, with the rest sold as feed. The wheat is sold for making bread flour.

Yvan’s 2017 corn crop was excellent, thanks to multiple growing days in the low 30s Celsius. Normally, though, his “greatest challenge” is the long, bitter Quebec winter.

Yvan explains that in the best of years, they cannot seed until May. Yet, in the spring of 2018, he says he was almost two weeks late because of excessive rains. “When the season is shorter, we get less [yield] at the end—probably 10 to 12% less. And because we have a short season, we then have to change the variety of corn we’ll plant.”

Global trade disputes aside, Yvan expects demand for his production to remain strong. He also notes that, despite the delay this year in planting, the 2018 yield was good, slightly less than in 2017 by about 10%, due to a July heat wave.

Drawn To The Land

A vintage photo shows Jean-René and his brother, both of whom came to work on the farm when their father passed.

Yvan initially studied humanities and international law at CEGEP—Quebec’s equivalent of a community college—and worked during the day as a truck driver. Yvan got a taste of the city … and the urban nightlife.

But a mere three weeks into class, he says “the call of the land” proved stronger. “I had an interest and facility for school, but I was more drawn to farming,” he says. “I wanted to pick up the torch, since my dad had the same interests. And I like the machinery.”

Yvan deeply values continuing the Bachand tradition, and knowing what his father overcame has offered an example to live by. “At one point, he didn’t even have money for gas or groceries,” Yvan says of Jean-René. “He had to learn all of this by himself. And I learned it all from my dad,” adding, “we’re both very entrepreneurial. He’s a self-made man. He has the same guts and drive at 84 as I do at my age,” marvels Yvan, 47.

“He constantly built the business,” continues the younger Bachand. “My dad is very much a visionary. He’s always said, ‘If you’re not growing, you’re retreating.’”