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Landowners advised to get it down on paper

"Trust companies have no love of the land. They don’t understand a farmer’s love of his soil. To them it’s just a commodity like ticker tape on the stock exchange. Just numbers." - Keith Berglind, retired farmer
Keith Berglind wp
Moose Jaw farmer Keith Berglind lost the right to buy his family farm from his four sisters and a trust company in the late 1960s.

Former farmer tells of how his one chance to buy the family farm was stolen by paperwork almost 60 years ago.


My name is Keith Berglind. I’m 83. This story is about how my opportunity to buy our third generation Berglind family farm was stolen from me nearly six decades ago.

I’ve wanted to tell this story for more than 50 years. This is finally my chance. Maybe just one young farmer will read this and avoid the same misfortune.

In the 1960s we farmed 3,000 acres adjacent to the Moose Jaw RCAF base, a pretty big farm for those times. My father and uncle owned the farm, and between the three of us we got it all done. With so many acres to cover we couldn’t afford downtime, so we always had a full line of new green equipment.

There were lots of tractors. I grew up driving tractor. I loved farming. All along I assumed I would someday take over the family farm. That was my dream. I would buy out my four sisters and I would be the next generation Berglind farmer. My mistake was I assumed too much. I didn’t have anything down on paper. That’s my fault. It was all in my head.

Dad died at an early age. His first will was drawn up by a lawyer. The wording was clear. The land was to be divided equally and I was to arrange with my sisters to buy their acres. I’d say that first will respected the farm and the land.

Dad had said I was to become the owner and operator of the Berglind family farm until such a time I could pass it on to the next Berglind generation. This was a family farm, and my dad intended it remain so. We’re Swedes so he was pretty stubborn about this.

So things were fine until my dad died suddenly. Then we realized he had abandoned the original document and instead had a new will drawn up by a trust company. I don’t know who convinced him to do this, or why. I only know that the new will had no resemblance to the original. And as I understood it, the trust company was going to charge us 10 percent to manage the farm we owned. It was all very vague.

Now, instead of owning acres, we owned shares in a new company we did not want. We were no longer farmers and the land was no longer a farm. It had become nothing more than an asset to be dealt with, like a hotdog stand or a motel or a junk yard. And I was treated as a hanger-on. We each had a 20 percent share. I didn’t receive any land in the will, just paper value.

Trust companies have no love of the land. They don’t understand a farmer’s love of his soil. To them it’s just a commodity like ticker tape on the stock exchange — just numbers.

So when Dad died, I took over running his 1,500 acres for one year. I had to lease the farm from the trust company. I made my rent cheques to the trust company, and income from the farm went to my mother. But I owned no land. To a farmer, owning that dirt is the most important thing.

Dad’s new will stated that he wanted me to buy his four daughters’ shares, provided it did not jeopardize their interests. I would buy them out at fair market value. I did not believe it would have jeopardized their interests.

The whole thing could have easily worked. That’s what upsets me over these years. My sisters and the trust company had other ideas. They took it to a judge, who ruled my sisters had the right to determine what’s meant by jeopardizing their interests.

The judge ruled I didn’t even have the right to make them an offer. For all we know, I might have offered more, but I never got the chance. It happened so fast, like it was pre-determined. It took me all day to fully understand how it had turned out for me.

That’s how the farm was lost to me. The trust company had the power to keep the farm intact, but it had no interest in doing so. In the eyes of the trust company and my sisters, a farm is no different than a hotdog stand or a tire store or a taxicab. It’s just an asset that one can liquidate.

We had become a corporation, so I lost my individual right to take out a mortgage to buy my sisters’ land or my uncle’s land. There was no equity. I couldn’t get a mortgage to buy my uncle’s half, so he sold his 1,500 acres to a neighbour. That meant half of the farm was out of the family for good. Then the trust company sold our 1,500 acres. We each received money for our one-fifth share, but the whole farm was gone. The land was gone.

I never did have the opportunity to own land. For a while I had rented a half section from the city of Moose Jaw, and I crop-shared two-thirds with it. The profit from that half section went into my own bank account.

That was about the only money I had. It would have been totally futile to stay and try to make a living on a leased half section.

Here’s where we both went wrong. I should not have assumed anything. I should have talked to Dad and worked out some kind of agreement about continuing the farm in the Berglind family. I lost the farm because I didn’t get it down on paper and that left me and the farm as a unit vulnerable.

Dad should not have gone to the trust company. He lost family ownership of our land the moment he signed the paper. The farm had been in the family from the early 1900s.

Everything we owned, Joey and I packed up in the truck and moved to Winnipeg. I worked as service manager at (Co-op Implements) for 13 years, spending time on hundreds of prairie farms that had issues with their CCIL equipment. Then for 10 years I served as machinery editor at Grainews. Both jobs allowed me to stay in touch with machinery and farmers and their land.