“MacDon swathers may cost a bit more, but we make back that premium many times over in increased productivity.”
Drive down any rural road at night and count the number of lit farms you see. The fact that thirty years ago you would have counted at least three or four times that number is direct evidence that the traditional family farm is changing. Of those farms that remain, many have found ways to not only survive, but also thrive. One such operation is the 8,000 acre Masse farm near Starbuck, Manitoba. Operated by brothers David and Paul, this third generation business is in many ways the face of the new family farm thanks to the Masse brothers decidedly entrepreneurial approach to farming.
“If you’re not an entrepreneur you better not be a farmer today because you won’t survive,” said David Masse. “You can’t sit still. You’ve also got to be willing to try something new.”
David says that their search for more profitability has resulted in them becoming more specialized in their growing operation over the years. In addition to traditional staples such as wheat, canola and oats they also grow soybean seed, grass seed, alfalfa seed and leaf cutter bees. The actual crop mix is always in flux, as the brothers are constantly evaluating the business and how to increase their return on each acre of land.
The brothers’ entrepreneurial mindset has also led them to take on numerous side ventures over the years to contribute to the farm’s income, including their own custom spraying business. But as the brothers added more land to the farm, they found their side businesses were taking too much time away from their core business, so they let them go. But what they haven’t let go is their entrepreneurial approach to farming, an approach David credits to their father Lloyd, who now “farms with a fishing rod” since handing off the farm to the two brothers.
“He was always looking for new ways to maximize farm income. He would haul grain in the winter and was always trying new things. For example, he was one of the first guys in Manitoba to use liquid fertilizer.”
David says that new ideas are essential to their business’s success, and all parties’ contributions are appreciated, including those of Paul’s son Lindsay who is studying agriculture at the University of Manitoba and will join the farm full time when he graduates. “He’s the next generation and you’d be foolish if you weren’t listening to his ideas.”
According to David, the Masse family first started using MacDon equipment about 35 years ago in the mid 70s, but it wasn’t until they started farming grasses that they truly appreciated the engineering that goes into MacDon-built equipment.
“Years ago, when we first started getting into grass we grew this stuff called western wheatgrass. It was so tough that we would cut 30 acres and both the belts on the end would snap. When we would pull out the knife it would be completely worn out. We tried other swathers but they couldn’t even touch it; the only swather that could was a MacDon.”
“When they came out with the open faced knife [C-shaped cutterbar], well that was just fantastic for our grass crops. MacDon comes out with innovations like that all the time. That’s because MacDon’s one of the only companies I have ever known to listen to the farmer – they genuinely want to know your thoughts on everything.”
According to David one of the biggest impacts MacDon technology has had for the Masses has been the recent release of its next generation equipment. Similar to other farms that have moved to MacDon’s new M Series swathers, the Masses were able to reduce the number of machines they require from three to two and “still cut as much or more.”
“Trading off our three older swathers with two new MacDon M Series swathers (M150s with 35' D60 drapers) was one of the best things we’ve ever done. As far as I’m concerned they’re the best piece of machinery on our farm. I’ve never seen anything cut canola like that before.”
“We’re saving on equipment, we‘re saving on fuel and we’re saving on maintenance. We’re also saving time. We do a lot of roading with our swathers and the 23 MPH road speed on those swathers is absolutely vital to our farming operation now because it gives us the ability to get out to a field and cut it quickly, then pack up and go again.”
The Masses also noticed a significant speed boost with the MacDon headers they have mounted on two of their three combines; one a 45' FD70 FlexDraper® and the other a 40' D60 draper. David says that the two combines mounted with MacDon drapers can be run about a mile and a half faster and “do a better job” than their third combine mounted with its standard 40' auger header.
“Last year, believe it or not, we took one of our MacDon windrowers and swathed in front of the third combine. We don’t do that normally, but the weather was closing in and we just wanted to get done. Well, we were doing just as good a job with the swather in front as with our other combines mounted with MacDon headers – it was absolutely incredible. Now, if I had a choice between running that combine’s auger header, and swathing in front with my MacDon swathers, I would swath with my MacDons every time.”
But perhaps the most important benefit the new M Series swathers give the Masses is the fact that they need one less operator to get their cutting done. As with most farms these days, access to experienced workers is vital for the Masses. Unfortunately it is something that is becoming increasingly hard to find.
“We’re always short on manpower. Our biggest challenge over the next few years will be labor. I’ve got retired farmers coming in right now to help, but another 10 years down the line I’m not going to be able to put those same gentlemen in our swathers. There’s not going to be that pool of retired, knowledgeable farmers that can come in when we need and do the work. That’s going to be the challenge because we can’t afford to have three or four guys year round. I don’t know what we are going to do.”
The ability to reduce their reliance on hired labor is just one more reason why the Masses believe their MacDon M Series swathers are critical to their operation going forward.
“We’ve done the math. MacDon swathers may cost a bit more, but we make back that premium many times over in increased productivity. For us, they’re not just good tractors, they’re good business.”