Couple teaches children to be partners in farm

Fair wage for farm work | Earning money and making financial decisions has given children confidence and independence to eventually take over the farm

HORNDEAN, Man. — Teaching responsibility in children and trusting them to make their own decisions are part of a proven model passed down through generations of Siemens.

Lavern and Darlene Siemens have a conventional operation near the heart of Manitoba’s Red River Valley, where they grow sunflowers, flax, hemp, caraway, wheat, canola and soybeans on 2,000 acres of chernozem.

With Mennonite and farming backgrounds, the couple met through church and were married in 1988. Their three children are Jordan, 21, Allison, 20, and Jeremy, 18.

When Lavern was 12, his father, Henry, suffered a brain tumour. Henry was never 100 percent healthy afterward and much of the farm’s responsibilities went to the children, particularly Lavern and his older brother, Glen.

“So we grew up a little faster than some people did,” he said.

Added Darlene: “Responsibility wise, you guys grew up fast.”

The farm was incorporated, while the land was owned and rented out by Henry.

“All the (five) children had equal shares in the machinery of the corporation. Everybody got equal income off the land that we farmed,” said Lavern.

“I don’t want to brag but my dad is very forward thinking. He set it up so that his daughters could live off the land, would not have to take jobs in town and could stay home with their children,” he said.

Early in his marriage, Glen quit farming to become a pastor and Darlene and Lavern took over the operation. Over time, Lavern bought the machinery from his three sisters, who were by then married and on their own farms. He rented the land from his father on a co-op share to lessen his risk.

Lavern and Darlene are trying to give their children a work ethic while building their self-esteem and trust.

Three years back, each of the three children was given the opportunity to rent 50 acres of the family farm. The children are each charged a custom rate per acre to use their farm’s land and machinery.

A contract between parents and each child keeps everything neat and tidy.

The responsibility model was first implemented when the children were young. By age 12, each had to pay for much of their own expenses, including birthday presents, bowling outings with friends and clothing.

“If they wanted a brand name shoe, go ahead and buy it because we’ve paid you, you have money and you figure it out yourself,” said Darlene.

At the end of each month, the children would hand in a timesheet of their hours of work on the farm, the date worked and the job completed.

“You could see the kids with their stopwatches. They were honest, an hour and six minutes. It wasn’t rounding off,” said Lavern.

“They were cheap. They weren’t buying expensive clothes because it was their money,” said Lavern.

Separating family chores from farm work was a simple matter.

“If they work in the house or in the garden, there’s no wages because that’s family. If they work on the farm, they get paid by the hour,” said Lavern.

Added Darlene: “They still do their vacuuming and their dusting and that kind of stuff for me and that’s not paid.”

Jordan recalled his first year growing canola on a crop share basis, with him getting a quarter share of gross income.

“I rented the equipment on a contract basis so I would hire him to operate the combine per hour and he would hire me back as a wage earner for the farm,” said Jordan.

Besides making a good profit that first year, Jordan said he learned a lot about the decisions that had to be made in growing a crop.

This past year, Jordan stepped it up by renting more land from his father with a new contract.

“Now I’ve switched to a cash crop because I wasn’t too worried about the risk anymore. I had enough resources and it was a little bit simpler. Plus I was paying them an awful lot in rent because the year was pretty good on a crop share basis.

“Instead of paying a quarter of the revenue, we had a contract for a certain dollar amount a year ahead of time,” he said.

Lavern said if the model for responsibility is going to work, it has to be competitive with real market conditions.

“He paid the going rate. You want to make it realistic numbers. Plus he can work on the farm all he wants and make a wage,” he said.

This is all good experience for when Jordan takes over the family farm with his brother. It is also a way for Lavern and Darlene to observe, listen and learn from their children.

“You can watch for drive and attitude and how they handle if it’s a good year or not. It’s great when you have a good year but they don’t come all the time,” said Darlene.

Jordan recognizes the wisdom passed down, first by his grandfather and then father.

“They’ve done a good job of giving up control in different aspects of our lives. They allow us to live very independently. They’ve given us opportunities that most other kids wouldn’t have, I didn’t realize other kids wouldn’t have,” he said.

“They’ve even involved us in capital decisions. If you’re going to buy a tractor, they’ll take us with them, we’ll talk about things together. That’s given us a huge understanding of what we’ll be getting ourselves into. We are not walking into this blind,” he said.

Darlene said it’s about trust.

“If I don’t trust Jordan, then I can’t let him make a decision. If I do trust him, then I’m OK with whatever decision he makes. It goes both ways,” she said.

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