Farm to stay in family but passing torch difficult

HANLEY, Sask. — Andrew Zdunich doesn’t mince words.

He leans to the right politically and he’s quick to point out in a radio voice who has and hasn’t done a good job in government office.

He’s also adamant he will leave the farm founded by his parents a century ago on his terms.

Andrew was one of 14 children born to Mike and Mary, Croatian immigrants who settled in the Hanley district.

Mike turned over a half section of land to Andrew to jump start his mixed farm, where he raised six children with his wife, Thelma.

Over the years, Andrew served on the rural municipality council and maintained his membership in the Knights of Columbus, while both of them enjoyed watching their sons play hockey.

Now widowed and with health problems that makes a move into town imminent, the 83-year-old wants to measure this decision as he has all others in his farm and family life.

Andrew has regrets about some of his choices, including not buying land when it was cheap and not adopting air seeders because of the high cost. However, he is adamant the family farm be sustained.

“That’s what I wanted. I want it to stay in my family,” said Andrew, citing his numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

His son, Greg, and daughter-in-law, Cathy, farm Andrew’s home quarter while also operating their own farm a short drive away. They say their son, Rocky, one of four children, is interested in living on and helping farm his grandfather’s land, but he is currently a full-time mechanic at a nearby potash mine.

Farm succession is a touchy subject for the Zdunich family.

“Some days (Andrew’s) interested in talking about it and some days absolutely not,” said Greg. “We’ve been in a holding pattern for years.”

Greg started his farm 38 years ago, buying land, adding equipment and buildings and paying for the im-provements with income from off-farm work on the pipeline in the winter.

“We could never have paid the bills without off-farm income,” Cathy said.

“Not a chance. Even so, we had a lot of lean years.”

Their mixed farm has grown to eight quarters and an additional six quarters of land leased from Andrew, which he plans to turn over to Greg in the future. Andrew still derives in-come from his home quarter.

The Zdunich family plants hay, wheat, canola and barley crops and has 25 head of cattle, down from a high of 80.

“BSE hurt the cattle,” said Greg, citing the culling that took place be-cause of it.

“We just rode it through the first couple of years. The financials have always being a challenge on the farm.… Mostly it’s been a great place to be, other than the finances sometimes are a chore.”

Andrew agreed: “There’s a freedom. You feel close to the land and nature. I loved the birds, the sun and open spaces. There’s no nicer smell than freshly mown hay.”

Tending to the commercial cow-calf operation fell largely to Cathy when Greg was working away for days at a time.

“She is helpful in every aspect of this farm,” said Greg.

Cathy is modest about her contributions.

“It’s just being a mom and a wife,” she said.

She credited Greg with being organized and a good planner. Greg has coached sports teams, and the pair spent many hours at games and recitals as their children grew.

“We’d be meeting each other on the road,” said Greg.

They were busier then but enjoyed all of it. Now they visit and support their six grandchildren and their activities.

They keep six horses, partly to do chores but mostly for family recreation.

“It’s what we get our enjoyment from,” Cathy said about family life.

Added Greg: “ ’Cause there’s more to life than just sitting on the farm.”