This is the third story in a six-part series chronicling farming on the South Island ahead of the 150th anniversary of the Saanich Fair. We talked to farmers both old and young, and asked them what has changed over the years and what makes them who they are today.
Check back each morning and afternoon for new stories between Aug. 29-31.
John Pendray has lived through generations of change.
The 93-year-old dairy farmer started farming out of college and has seen great strides in technology and transportation over the past 70 years. New machinery moves the earth around in ways he couldn’t have imagined and irrigation systems allow for farming in ways they weren’t capable of before.
“I was born on a farm in Saanich down by Swan Lake 93 years ago, so I have seen a change or two,” Pendray said smiling. “Things have developed, production has increased immensely, but there are some serious problems.”
He sees the the cost of land for new farmers and a disappearing agricultural land base as two of the biggest challenges facing farmers on the Saanich Peninsula.
“It’s difficult to find (farmland) in this area, it is better to go to the interior of B.C. or Alberta if you want to go into farming,” he said. “We got the productivity up, but without that we might as well lock the gate and shut it down.”
Pendray still lives on Pendray Farms, known primarily for its milk production and the corn maze that pops up every Halloween. Technology and science have helped him go from roughly 12,000 pounds of milk per year to 20,000 pounds per year, but the cost of the new technology has also kept pace with his returns leading to other problems that technology simply can’t solve.
“We certainly need young people if we want people to eat and drink what the farmers produce, unless they are farmers’ kids it is pretty hard,” he said. “Better use of farmland would make it more available. You don’t want to depend on California and you see the problems they are having with the huge fires… It makes a lot of sense to have some here.”
Despite challenges facing the industry, Pendray believes farmers have always been great problem solvers and he sees the industry finding new ways to survive despite the many challenges they face. He is grateful to have made the choice to become a farmer after choosing to take a gap year following two years of college.
“The war was on and I was working at four a.m. in the morning and thought I would take a year off, (to work on the farm),” he said laughing. “I’m is still here… It has been quite rewarding.”