By Connor Lynch
ADMASTON-BROMLEY — A Renfrew County crop farmer is offering a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a budding young farmer to take over an existing operation.
Bert Welten grows 700 acres of corn, soybeans and wheat at Admaston-Bromley Township, in between Douglas and Renfrew in Renfrew County. At 57 years old, he’s eyeing retirement. Welten figures he’s got another 10 years in him. Unmarried with no children, he has no clear successor to his farm. He has family, but none of his brothers’ children are interested in farming. He thought about splitting the farm amongst his nephews anyway but didn’t want to cause any animosity between them. He debated donating the land to the local township, but then an idea came to him.
Find a young person who wants to farm but who doesn’t have the opportunity.
Welten approached one of his young coworkers more than two years ago to see if he wanted to take over the farm. But the two didn’t see eye-to-eye on a plan. So Welten decided to publicize his offer in this month’s Farmers Forum newspaper.
He’s looking for someone aged 19 to 28. Welten’s plan is to give the budding farmer 200 acres of mostly Class 1 and 2 land but not right away. The young farmer would earn 10 per cent of the farm’s 200 acres each year over 10 years while working the full 700 acres. Welten plans to sell the remaining 500 acres as his retirement package.
The offer is not chump change. Farmland in Renfrew County goes for $5,000 an acre, so Welten essentially is offering $100,000 a year in wages for farm work. Not a bad wage for a farmhand, though he’ll need an off-farm job, since earning land won’t pay the bills. There’s room in Welten’s house for two, but living in the same house is not a condition. At the end of the 10 years, the young farmer would also take ownership of Welten’s two-storey brick house, his three storage bins and the on-farm dryer.
A Dutch immigrant, he came over with his family in 1979. Welten was just 18 years old. His family had bought a dairy farm east of Ottawa, and Welten farmed it with his father and brother for 17 years. In 1996, they were looking at expanding. That didn’t suit Welten. So he decided to go it alone. His brother and father bought him out, leaving him cash-flush but land poor. Land in Renfrew County then was going for around $1,000 an acre.
Welten took a drive through the county, looking at available farms. By chance, he stopped at Agnes Lynch’s farm, a 200-acre property for sale. Stopping in, he noticed decorative windmills hanging from the walls inside the house, a Dutch tradition. Despite her Irish last name, Lynch was a Dutch immigrant. They got to talking and discovered they were from the same Dutch district and shared the same local Dutch slang. A 60-year-old widow, she was too old to run the farm and her son didn’t want to take over.
He bought the farm for just over $1,000 an acre on March 15, 1996, and was on the land one month later. Lynch stayed at the house until October, when her new house was built. The two became fast friends, and Welten still attends all their family reunions.
He started a cow-calf operation of Limousin-Charolais cross cattle, since he had a lot of pasture land. He slowly started buying land and growing cash crops, working as a herdsman for Linkmilk Farms for eight years, for Barclay Dick and Sons Farm Supply for 12 years, then MacEwen Agricentre at Cobden for the last three. He was always busy but with the nearest family 150 km away, Welten handled his farm almost entirely by himself.
Over the years, he turned six head of cattle into 85. In 2013, some of the pasture land he was renting came up for sale. He decided to sell his herd rather than lose the opportunity for more land and be forced to dial back the operation. His cash crops were paying more than his beef animals, and were less work to boot.
Always busy with the farm, he didn’t pay the idea of marriage much mind.
His plan is far from a sure thing. But Welten’s belief in the importance of agriculture runs deep, back to his home country of the Netherlands, where he learned that growing food is the difference between life and death.
His father told him about surviving the “Hungerwinter” during the Second World War. A German blockade starved the country, particularly the northwest. Living on a farm, the Weltens had enough to eat. But Welten’s father recalled people walking 50 kilometres for one egg. Over 20,000 people died. He remembers his father in the 1970s telling him on his way to school: “Don’t throw away your lunch box and buy French fries.”
“To me, that would be my legacy, if I could put somebody in that place,” Welten said. “Whether I’m going to find somebody or not is the big question.”
If he does find a dedicated stranger, he can say, “I did my good deed.”
Contact Welten by letter at P.O Box 251 Cobden, Ont. K0J-1K0 or email firstname.lastname@example.org