March 19, 2004
For immediate release
LIFE ON THE FARM
Agriculture, Fisheries, Aquaculture & Forestry
Farming has always been in his blood. His family traces its agricultural roots back several generations, and his father transplanted those roots on a new continent when he moved his family to Prince Edward Island from Holland in the 1960s. Casey became a partner in the dairy operation after he graduated from Nova Scotia Agricultural College, and now it is run by him and his brother.
“One of the biggest changes since I started is there used to be a lot more of us farmers around,” Casey said. “The numbers have really dwindled in all sectors -- in dairy, when I started there were more than 1,000 and now it is just under 300.”
While the number of farmers has dwindled in size, he said those that are left have gotten a lot bigger. Like virtually every other industry, Casey said there has also been a sharp increase in the use of computers and technology. Long gone are the days when cows were milked by hand -- today's dairy farmer uses highly technical equipment that measures everything from volume of milk produced to signs of potential infections in the animal.
“We usually start at 6 a.m.,” Casey said. “After the first milking, I go in for breakfast and help get the children ready for school.”
Casey and his wife, Beverly, have five children-- Adam (24), Steven (22), Tyler (17), Spencer (12) and Emily (11). Like many farm couples, Beverley has a job off the farm. He explained his wife is not from a farming background and chose to continue her career after they were married.
After the rest of the family heads off to work or school, Casey heads back to the barn to clean the stalls and feed the animals. Depending on the season, there could also be field work to be done, adding “we just always seem to be busy all day.”
He said they usually finish up around 6:30 -7 p.m. Dairy farming is a 365 day a year job, so Casey said he feels fortunate to have his brother as a partner so “we can spell each other off somewhat and take turns on weekends -- I don't know how people who are in the business alone can do it.”
Since dairy is a supply managed commodity controlled by a quota system, Casey said that does allow him to perhaps manage the risk a little better than farmers in other sectors. However, he said there are always some unknowns -- for instance the mad cow crisis that is now crippling the beef industry is having a spillover impact on dairy by making it harder to sell cull cattle (those that have been taken out of production.)
In addition to his busy farm life, Casey has also found time to serve as calf project leader for the Morell 4-H club. His two youngest children are members of the club, adding “I was never in 4-H myself so I am learning and I think I have as much fun as the kids.” As well, like many Island parents, he also does his share of driving his children to minor hockey games during the winter months.
Casey was instrumental in helping to organize an agricultural fair held last year at Morell Consolidated School. Nancy Reeves, Chair of the Agriculture Awareness Committee, said the fair was one of the first to be held in the province and said the concept is a great way to help children in non-farming families understand more about agriculture as a way of life.
As for what the future holds on the Van Diepen farm, that is something that worries Casey. His two oldest children are in university and have no interest in pursuing farming as a career. The same for a son in high school, adding “the two youngsters probably ask more questions about the farm than the three older ones did.” Casey added, “I'll be 50 next year and if none of the children are interested in the farm I'm not going to expand.”
He frankly admits there are times when he wonders if he should even encourage his youngsters to farm, adding “we know the hours we put in and sometimes you think there must be an easier way to make a living.”
Casey said he feels the best thing about farming is the chance to improve your operation -- your herd, your income -- it is your operation and you take a sense of pride in it.
This is one of a series of articles prepared for the Prince Edward Island Agriculture Awareness Committee to profile life on 21st Century Island farms.