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Lampman's Walter Family Farm earns 2022 Farm Family of the Year Award

Walter family has a rich history of farming in the Lampman area.

LAMPMAN - Agriculture has been a big part of the Walter family’s life for well over a century.

And now the family has been recognized for their efforts to not only grow and thrive in an ever-changing industry, but to be part of the community.

Walter Family Farm, a mixed operation located just outside of Lampman, is this year’s recipient of the prestigious Estevan Farm Family of the Year Award. A presentation took place at the farm Monday night.

The farm traces its history back to 1903, when George Walter immigrated to Canada. George Walter’s great grandson Mark Walter noted they still farm the same quarter section of land where George Walter settled. George Walter’s son Anton and grandson Richard kept the farm going, and now it is operated by Mark Walter, his wife Judy, their children Allan Walter and Stephanie Wourms, and their families.

“We have a mixed farm. We have a large grain farm and a large cattle side,” said Mark Walter.

He didn’t disclose how much land they have, but they have more than 700 cows.

“Most of our grain land is within eight miles of us,” said Judy.

Mark purchased his first land in 1978, and at that time, farmed with his father and some brothers. In 1995, Mark and Judy started farming on their own with their children.

“The farm has gotten a lot bigger, obviously. Also the technology has changed. More electronics in the equipment in seeding. Young people seem to be more adaptive to that technology,” said Mark.

The family was shocked to find out they were selected for the award, and they weren’t even aware they had been nominated. They didn’t get into farming for the recognition. They continue to do it because they enjoy the work.

“It was a pleasant surprise,” said Judy, who thought someone was pulling a prank on them. “You’re just kind of in shock or disbelief.”

The family was looking forward to the presentation Monday night.

“We just told some of our workers and friends that there’s a free supper Monday night, but we really hadn’t said anything to anybody. It will be interesting,” said Mark.

Judy was looking forward to meeting the people who were involved in the selection process. 


Challenges of farming

Having a large mixed operation has its challenges. On the beef side, they currently have to contend with the high price of feed grain.

“All of the costs in agriculture have gone up quite a bit in the last couple of years or actually in the last 10 years,” said Mark. “I don’t think the beef prices have kept up.”

On the grain side, those who have been able to harvest a crop in the last couple of years have done very well due to the drought conditions. It’s been easier to turn a profit on the grain side in recent years than cattle, but that doesn’t mean it’s been a guarantee.

“Our costs on the grain side of things have probably doubled in the past 12 months, from fertilizer to chemical,” Mark said. “Fuel has doubled from 18 months ago. The costs go up. You have to obviously get a crop to survive. But I know we have relatives west (of here) that had no crop last year.”

Having a mixed operation also means there is little down time.

“That’s where you have to rely on very good employees and try to share jobs so that nobody’s overwhelmed by working constantly,” said Mark.

If somebody is going to be away for a while, they are able to co-ordinate it so that another person is around to manage everything. But Judy believes the family and the employees are good at the give and take and providing advance notice of their plans.

Farming is a profession that creates a different type of work each day, which they find exciting. Mark believes the workers enjoy that element of the profession.

Technology has brought about a lot of changes. With GPS, a tractor will move straight with the push of a button. Sectional control means they don’t overlap on the seed and fertilizer, which has resulted in big savings.

“There is a variable rate on the fertilizer on the seeders. We don’t do that ourselves, but there are lots of farmers that do that,” said Mark.

They might not have the newest of equipment, but it has come a long ways from when they first started.

“We do a lot of repairing ourselves,” said Mark. “Our son-in-law Kevin (Wourms) is very good. He rebuilds the transmission on the four-wheel drive, rebuilds a couple of rear ends on the tractors in the winter. So we stay busy that way. Some guys like to be inside in the wintertime, and some guys like to be outside with the cattle, so there’s something for everybody.” 

With the demise of the Canadian Wheat Board, farmers are able to market al of their grain, and that has been a challenge and a learning experience.

“Mark would involve his children’s opinion on what they think is a fair price to pay contracts,” said Judy. “We try to involve the children that are directly farming with us.”


Family takes an active role

The family has taken a big role in the operation. Son Allan Walter and his wife Courtney, and daughter Stephanie Wourms and husband Kevin, represent the fifth generation on the farm. And there is a sixth generation that enjoys being out on the farm, as Mark and Judy have grandchildren who are ages five and under. The children like meeting the employees and riding around in the equipment.

“We have family meetings a couple of times a year to set goals. They each bring their own different skills. Some have agriculture degrees. Some have engineering degrees. One is mechanical and one likes cattle. I think the blend of different skills is crucial to making a successful farm right now,” said Judy.

It’s been rewarding to farm with their children, and it’s been fun to watch their grandchildren grow on the farm.

“If we didn’t have any children involved, we wouldn’t be at the scale we are today,” said Mark.

The Walters also have a couple of full-time employees and some seasonal workers.

“Since 2012, we’ve had one or more people from out of the country employed as seasonal workers. Some of them have come back for up to six or eight years, some have only come the one year and then go back and return to school,” said Judy. “I find that interesting. I’m a retired teacher, and the young people, with lots of questions and thinking – they really enjoy their time here, seeing a different part of the world, and learning how farm operations go in Canada – I find that really interesting.”

As for Mark and Judy, they expect to remain on the farm for a while yet. Mark hopes to keep working for a few more years and then reassess. They’ve talked about selling the cattle to ease the workload, but right now they’re good.

“We’re gradually turning over decision making to the next generation,” said Mark. “Some things you learn take years to learn.”

Allan has a degree in crop science and makes significant contributions with his knowledge of sprays, chemicals, seeding and working with the ever-advancing technology. And he remains in touch with friends from university to draw on their experiences and knowledge.

“Our daughter and daughter-in-law both can contribute and do contribute to the office work and the paperwork. They’re better on the computer than I am,” said Judy. “They’re faster and can do more problem solving with issues when they do arise.”

In the case of Courtney, she works at a veterinary clinic in Estevan as a vet technician, and she helps with vaccinating and tagging cattle.

Both Stephanie and Courtney have operated combines at harvest time.

Mark and Judy also have a daughter Stacey who lives in Regina, and a daughter Lee-Anne in Texas who has a doctorate in animal nutrition and works for Merck Animal Health.  They head to Texas a couple of times per year to visit her, and she still returns to the farm.


Community involvement

Community is a big part of the selection criteria, and the Walters have certainly taken an active role in various organizations in the Lampman area. Mark has been on the Lampman Recreation Board for a number of years. They managed their son’s minor hockey team for a number of years, and Judy has been involved with Girl Guides and the local band association.

She was a big part of the United Church when there was still one in the town.

Allan was on the RM of Browning council for a number of years, and now Stephanie is on the council. Both Allan and his wife have been on the Lampman Curling Club board for a number of years, and both Mark and Allan are strong curlers who have competed at the provincial level.

“Our children were in the 4-H beef program and it involves a lot of volunteering. We weren’t the leaders, but the kids learned a lot of responsibility and how to work with animals. It’s a great program,” said Judy.

The Farm Family of the Year Award is selected by a local committee with seven people. Traditionally it has been presented during the Estevan Farmers’ Appreciation Evening, but that event has been called off the past three years due to concerns with the COVID-19 pandemic.

The award has been handed out at the farm of the recipients the past two years.

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