While farmers, farm workers and even the media have welcomed Canada’s first farmsitting service with open arms, industry seems to be lagging behind with its support.
Currently AgriConnect is free, with the Red Deer-based service maintaining a database of names and connecting farmsitters with farm or acreage owners across Canada. Compensation is negotiated between the landowner and the farmsitter.
A handful of sponsors, mainly agricultural associations, have helped keep the service free of charge, but more are needed says Frank Campell, president of AgriConnect.
“We need industry to step up here and keep it free. If we have to start charging a $75 fee for someone to use the service, and if we couldn’t find someone to farmsit for them, then we’d have to reimburse the fee.”
Sponsors receive advertising on AgriConnect’s website and other promotional material.
Campbell says he can understand industry’s reluctance to put money towards a new company, but AgriConnect has been on its feet and growing for almost two years. With a database of 200 farmsitters, AgriConnect has helped more than 100 farmers and acreage owners find temporary help. Many farmsitters are retired farmers who want to keep active in the industry.
The majority – about 70 per cent – of users are in Alberta, although AgriConnect is actively promoted across Western Canada, including British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.”We’ve even placed a person from Germany on a farm,” says Campbell.
One of the most publicized stories is about “a little old lady at Penhold who hadn’t been away from her place since her husband passed away seven years ago,” recalls Campbell. “She was a teacher and wanted to attend a teacher’s convention in Las Vegas for a week, but needed someone for just 15 minutes a day to look after her animals.”
Another favourite, says Campbell, is about a farm couple from Manitoba who were looking to travel and farmsit over the Christmas holidays, since none of their children were coming home that year. Consequently, there was a couple near Strathmore who had never been away from the farm at Christmas and wanted to go visit their kids in Ontario. AgriConnect put the two couples in touch. After five days on the Strathmore farm, the Manitoban couple looked after another place over New Year’s and then asked, “Is there anywhere else for us to go?”
Campbell says the economic situation today has not affected the number of requests coming in to AgriConnect. “Agriculture has always been a bit tight, farmers are always cautious, but there was never really a big boom for the industry,” he says. “If there’s one industry that’s steadier than most others right now, it’s agriculture.”
One way that AgriConnect is expanding its reach is by working informally with Agricultural Employment Alberta, a southern Alberta-based farm employment placement company. That firm focuses on full-time, part-time and seasonal positions, it will refer any temporary or farmsitting positions to AgriConnect, and vice-versa.