Succession planning | Partnership agreement lets new generation buy in while elders work toward retirement
KATEPWA, Sask. — “That’s where I lived,” said 79-year-old Fred Brown, pointing up the road.
“And that’s where I lived,” said Yvonne Brown, 76, pointing just across the river.
When Fred moved to the Qu’Appelle Valley in 1952 to help on his stepfather’s farm, he had no idea he’d still be here 62 years later, along with his son, grandson and great-grandson.
There are four generations of Browns living in the valley east of Katepwa Lake on a farm that covers more than 4,500 cultivated acres and 1,000 acres of pasture land. The Brown legacy was established by Fred when he met and married Yvonne and decided to establish a farm.
“When I came here to help my stepdad, I knew zero about farming, but I liked the freedom and I just decided that this was the life for me,” said Fred.
Starting with a mix of cattle and grain, Fred and Yvonne inherited and purchased land from their families and slowly enlarged the operation until their son, Rick, and his wife, Sheryl, decided to farm alongside them in 1981.
Rick had grown up loving anything to do with machinery, so he tried his hand at an off-farm job before he decided to buy into Katepwe Farms.
“When I started working off the farm, I knew without a doubt that I didn’t want to work for somebody else the rest of my life,” said Rick, 53.
In 1981, Rick and his dad set up a unique partnership agreement. Rick’s uncle Jim Halford, inventor of the Conserva Park Air Hoe Drill and founder of Vale Farms Ltd., helped them design a working contract.
“What we did is combine as one unit but split our ownership up into percentages. As the years went on, I’d get a greater percentage and Dad would get less until I owned the majority in 15 to 20 years,” said Rick.
The arrangement worked so well that Rick’s son, Chris, bought into the farm using the same agreement. About five years ago, he bought out Fred’s remaining percentage, allowing Chris and his wife, Siobhan, to get started in farming and allowing his grandparents to exit.
Chris will keep buying a portion of the farm as Rick downsizes his percentage.
“We still own our land but all of the machinery is together and the cows are together and we split the income so it just helps avoid conflicts over whose land is worked on first and that kind of thing,” said Rick.
When Rick and Sheryl entered the original agreement, they set up a farmyard beside the historic Eaton’s house that Rick’s parents live in. The couple had two boys.
Two decades later, Chris established a home behind his parent’s house in 2004, bringing the number of Brown families in one farmyard up to three.
Now that Chris and Siobhan have a son of their own, Oliver, and a daughter, Sarah, there are four generations of Browns on Katepwe Farms.
An emotional Yvonne said her parents would be proud of the fact that farming has stayed in the family.
“All of my ancestors were farmers and they came to Canada (from England) because they could own land,” she said.
Both Sheryl and Siobhan agree that it is a privilege to be in a family that works well enough together in business to be able to share coffee breaks most days.
“I thought it was weird yesterday when nobody had called us for coffee. I was kind of concerned,” said Siobhan.
For the future, Chris hopes to farm in a sustainable way while maintaining cattle on the farm’s pasture land.
“I hope that when it’s my turn to do the managing that I can improve it or at least do as good of a job as my predecessors did,” he said.
The Browns agree that doing a good job of farming doesn’t necessarily mean growing bigger.
“We’re focused on doing everything better and that comes before getting bigger,” said Rick.
The Browns value getting the most net income out of the acres they have by timing seeding and harvest and by using chemical treatments to their maximum potential.