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What’s the secret?

What makes three farms operating as one such a success?

What’s the secret?’ is a question the Weichel family is often asked.

With three generations and multiple families working together as a unit, everyone wants to know what the secret is to keeping three farms operating like one.

For 85-year-old Mike Weichel and his wife Babe, 80, the secret lies in the history of the farm, which was founded by Mike’s father in 1928.

“I’m from the old school and I always say, ‘land is land and it should stay in the family,’” said Mike.

Mike Sr. and Babe were fortunate to have both of their children choose farming as careers. The eldest son, Harvey, took up farming right out of high school, creating a separate farmyard and home just a half-mile down the road from his dad’s mixed farm.

The youngest son, Barry, eventually took over his parents’ farmyard, working alongside his dad and brother to build up their cattle herds and land base. According to the Weichel brothers, some of the good chemistry lies in the genetics of the situation as Harvey and Barry married sisters, Patty and Kathy Haines.

Kathy knows that the ability to work together like one big happy family comes, in part, from the fact that she and her sister married brothers and raised their children just down the road from each other.

“I feel like Harvey and Patty’s kids are mine,” said Kathy, who has two children of her own. “Even though they call me Aunty Kathy, I really have four kids instead of two.”

Operating as one big family, both in business and in play, has allowed the Weichels to reap benefits on many different levels, from sharing input costs to dividing the labour.

“We all have our jobs. Harvey does the spraying, Barry hauls the grain, Mike still drives the combine and about eight to 10 times a year, we all sit around the table to figure out how things are going to work,” said Kathy.

The next generation is now involved in the operation, with Kathy and Barry’s son, Michael, taking over the home quarter. Barry and Kathy established another farmyard and built a brand new house just metres from their son’s home.

While the bookkeeping isn’t as easy to do as it used to be when Mike was the sole operator of the farm, Kathy and Patty don’t shy away from keeping all the accounts in order. The wives spend countless hours together going through financial statements and dividing both the expenses and the profits between the families.

“If we get down to the point where a few hundred bucks is outstanding, we just split the difference and call it even,” said Patty.

In terms of being the next generation to join the operation, 22-year-old Michael said he is proud to follow in his father’s, uncle’s and grandfather’s footsteps.

From the Alberta Farmer Express website: UN declares 2014 International Year of Family Farming

“It’s a crazy thing for me to think back to the time that Grandpa had the farm and made a living on just half a section and now we have quarters all over the place.”

With 4,200 acres of cultivated land now part of the Weichel land base, Mike Sr. said the system of operating has changed dramatically. While he remembers plowing the land with a team of horses, he now regularly drives a combine with a GPS system that allows him to take his hands off the wheel.

“I remember the days when we’d plow with a team of eight horses and we’d start plowing when there was still snow on the ground so we could get it all worked in time for seeding,” said Mike Sr.

While the days of horses and plows presented lots of physical labour, Mike Sr. said the inputs were extremely low which always helped with the bottom line. In today’s agricultural climate, with high input costs, the Weichels agree that they are fortunate to be in operation together as it has enabled them to invest in new machinery and technology.

“I joke that we have to get along because if we had split up a long time ago, the new machinery we have now would be old,” said Harvey.

As of three years ago, the Weichels got out of cattle completely, feeling that the expanding grain operation was providing enough work on its own. Barry and Kathy’s daughter, Sara, and her husband, Nevin Czerwonka, purchased the cattle and now rent the Weichel pasture land.

The Weichels maintain three immaculate farmyards which are their pride and joy. With ponds, fountains, trees, flowers, gardens, decorative lampposts, pathways and lawns that are spectacular in both complexity and scale, yard maintenance is an important part of the Weichel operation.

“We put a lot of effort into it and when you do that, you get a lot of joy and beauty out of it,” said Patty who has pickled about 90 quarts of cucumbers and pro-cessed 30 quarts of tomatoes.

With about 100 dozen annuals, 600 trees, numerous hedges and an acre of garden space between the three yards, the Weichels consider landscaping one of their favourite hobbies.

“We take pride in all we do,” said Patty.

And perhaps that’s the greatest secret of all for this close-knit Saskatchewan farm family.

About the author

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Christalee Froese writes from Montmartre, Sask.

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