family background / Joel went to University of British Columbia, focusing on economics, and returned to the family farm, eventually buying his own land. He’s the son of Louisa and Neal Carter.

grower/Summerland, British Columbia
crops/Apples and cherries
business/Laughing Coyote Orchards

How did you get your start?
We traveled a lot when I was young — going to the Middle East and living in Jordan for a few years while Dad worked on big agricultural projects, mostly in dry-land irrigation.

We eventually moved to a small apricot and apple farm in Summerland.

I worked pruning, thinning and at the nursery every summer through university. Working on the farm was how I paid for everything when I was young.

Did you plan on staying in agriculture?
I didn’t plan on being a farmer, and my interest was initially in engineering. My dad is an engineer, my brother is an engineer, both of my grandfathers are engineers — even on my mum’s side, she’s got five generations of engineers going back.

Growing up, I didn’t process future options; I thought, “Of course I’ll be an engineer.” Once I started studying it, I realized that I wasn’t an engineer. I switched into economics and worked in finance, but I eventually realized I lacked focus with what I wanted to do.

That was part of why I returned to the farm. A lot of my temporary pickers are in their mid-20s and trying to find a direction in their life, and in a way, I was one of them at that age, too.

How did you find your way back to the farm?
After university, one of my plans was to move to China to work in economics. After about a year in Shanghai and Beijing, I really couldn’t deal with the crowds and air pollution — it was too much.

At that time, dad pitched me the idea of returning to the farm and to also help out with Okanagan Specialty Fruits and the bird netting business.

There was a healthy dose of obligation and duties sprinkled into the conversation, because they were looking for help. When I moved back, we took on additional acreage, then I bought 10 acres to start my own farm. It seems like the farm has been growing ever since.

Those opportunities came because I think many of the tree fruit farmers in Summerland are wanting to retire and are looking for some type of exit strategy.

What challenges have you faced since coming back to ag?
I’d say we have some unique challenges and possibly a few more opportunities in B.C. One of the challenges is how expensive land prices are here.

When I bought my farm three years ago it was about $70,000 an acre. Since then it’s gone up about 25 to 30 percent. Land is expensive and the bank pretty much owns me at this point.

Through that experience, I’ve learned that for most young growers, buying a farm is not very realistic.

Then how can a young grower do it?
First, you’ll need to work in the industry and develop a portfolio. Work on someone’s farm and earn credibility that you can be successful. Once you have some farms you can point to, then talk with other farmers about what you’ve done to find lease opportunities.

One thing I would caution about leasing is with land that may need replanting. If a farm looks like it needs major work, the way we do it is we structure a contract saying we’ll pay for the replant on a 15-year lease and they pay us back the orchard installation cost over time.

For instance, in a 4-acre block of Ambrosia that I spent $100,000 to plant, by year six they’ve paid me back $85,000, continuing until it’s paid off. With that payment agreement I wouldn’t be out any installation money.

However, I’d be pretty upset if they canceled the lease because I’d lose the opportunity of continuing to farm the new planting.

What tips do you have for buying?
If buying is an option, it’s going to be a smaller piece of land, one that’s probably not going to be large enough to make a go at it — unless you’re growing some really good cherries.

Considering the age of the average B.C. farmer, I think there are opportunities for younger growers by leasing and taking on other people’s farms before financing their own farm.

—TJ Mullinax