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The Weltmer brothers, Kenton and Mike, and their spouses are proof you can farm with family if you put the work into it.

Jennifer M. Latzke, Editor

February 16, 2024

10 Slides

At a Glance

  • Kenton and Mike Weltmer, and their wives Deb and Ladonna, are members of the Class of 2023 Kansas Master Farm Families.
  • For nearly six decades, Kenton and Mike Weltmer have farmed in partnership.
  • The next generation of Weltmers is coming aboard, using the pilot KLA Succession Planning Program.

Most everyone could probably agree, it can be difficult farming with family at times.

But for nearly six decades — from the age of 18 and 16 years old, respectively — brothers Kenton and Mike Weltmer have farmed side-by-side.

“If we couldn’t agree on any major decision, if we couldn’t come to an agreement, we didn’t do it,” Kenton says.

“Well, we may not do it that way, at first,” Mike says. Eventually, though, they’d hash out an agreement.

Negotiations, compromises, and a shared goal to get the work done and do it right, have been the keys to their success.

Second generation

It was 1955 and their father, Richard Weltmer, and mother Avis purchased 160 acres of grass and tillable crop land just southeast of Smith Center, Kan.

Back then, Richard Weltmer Farms consisted of a commercial cow herd with the W over S brand, stockers, a feedyard, a farrow-to-finish hog operation and a farming row crop business.

It was enough work to keep two growing boys busy with farm chores, Kenton says. When their father started working at a nearby livestock sale barn, the teenagers were tasked with more responsibility on the farm. They received truckloads of hogs, took care of cattle and farmed — always with the guidance of their father, but with the expectation that they would find a way together to get the work done.

“You have to give Dad credit,” Kenton says. “He gave Mike and I a lot of latitude.”

“Almost too much,” Mike says with a smile. “If he thought we didn’t quite have enough work, he found more.”

In 1973, the teenagers took out a bank loan to buy an IH 666 diesel tractor and 80 acres of farmland — split 50-50. That was the start of their partnership.

Besides instilling a work ethic, Kenton and Mike’s parents also encouraged their sons to further their education, whether through formal education or continuing education through K-State Research and Extension or trade organizations such as the Kansas Livestock Association and the Kansas Farm Bureau and the Farm Bureau Young Farmers and Ranchers committee.

It was a way to bring outside ideas to the farm business that would improve it and help them become more successful. Kenton earned a bachelor’s degree in animal science from K-State in 1975, and Mike got his associate degree from Beloit Vo-Tech in 1976. Armed with this education, they came home to Smith Center, ready to join the farm.

Business eye

Kenton married Deb, and Mike married Ladonna after they both came home to farm, settling in houses within a mile of each other. Their father approached the two young couples with a plan. They would establish a C corporation for the family business, W & S Ranch Inc. in 1978.

“We’ve had multiple entities from the beginning,” Mike says.

Over the years, the brothers entered and exited many different businesses, all with an eye to profit over sentiment. They built a 2,000-head swine-finishing facility and a custom feed mill that utilized the farm’s sorghum.

The families were tightknit, and with everyone living in close proximity to each other, Ladonna and Deb had help with work or farming duties. They recall how their children could walk to Grandma’s and still be in eyesight of home.

By 1980, most of the daily farm decisions were up to the brothers. Their father, Richard, bought the nearby livestock sale barn and changed its name to Weltmer Livestock Auction Inc., further expanding the family’s business entities.

Transition planning

Starting in the 1990s, the farm started to shift focus, and in 1994, they transitioned out of swine finishing. By 1999, they moved to more cow-calf herd with fewer stocker cattle in their mix. As their children were reaching an age where they might want to come back to the farm, the brothers started to purchase more acres that they’d formerly leased.

And when Mike and Ladonna’s son Philip and his wife, Jessica, returned to the family farm after graduating from K-State in 2003, the brothers started to think about how they could help that next generation transition into the farm.

For years, they’d used business structures to help them manage tax liabilities, and still be able to be a working family operation that could expand when opportunities appeared. But they knew that they needed to do more. It took them a few years, but in 2020, they prioritized creating the Weltmer Family Partnership LLC.

Kenton and Mike used the help of the Kansas Livestock Association’s Succession Planning Program to fine-tune their plans. They and 10 other families met six times in the year through Zoom, facilitated by Lance Woodbury with K-COE ISOM. The brothers credit this as helping them put into words and actions their transition plans.

The partnership ensures the contiguous acres they have bought over the years that surround the original 160-acre homestead will stay in the family for generations. Each active farming family member has ownership in W & S Ranch Inc. and their own personal businesses.

They use record-keeping software to track cost records on each enterprise and segment of their operation. Philip says this helps provide detailed crop and livestock data on a cost-per-unit basis. That data can then be used to make management decisions as to what crops should be planted on which fields, cattle herd cull decisions, even the cost-benefit of adding more land or other enterprises.

Kenton says as he and Mike start their plans to let Philip take on more responsibility, they had a good example in how their mom and dad trusted them. Neither brother is going anywhere anytime soon, but they figure they’ll take on a more advisory role like their dad did before for Philip. Kenton credits that mentoring relationship with fostering a good working relationship between the brothers.

“I think Mike and I have a good balance,” he says. “I help him, and he helps me. I think our management decisions, it’s been a good balance. And I’m real proud of how Philip has come along and how he works with our two pretty strong personalities.”

Farming with family isn’t often easy, but these brothers and their families have found what works for them.

Read more about:

Master Farmers

About the Author(s)

Jennifer M. Latzke

Editor, Kansas Farmer

Through all her travels, Jennifer M. Latzke knows that there is no place like Kansas.

Jennifer grew up on her family’s multigenerational registered Angus seedstock ranch and diversified farm just north of Woodbine, Kan., about 30 minutes south of Junction City on the edge of the Kansas Flint Hills. Rock Springs Ranch State 4-H Center was in her family’s backyard.

While at Kansas State University, Jennifer was a member of the Sigma Kappa Sorority and a national officer for the Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow. She graduated in May 2000 with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural communications and a minor in animal science. In August 2000 Jennifer started her 20-year agricultural writing career in Dodge City, Kan., on the far southwest corner of the state.

She’s traveled across the U.S. writing on wheat, sorghum, corn, cotton, dairy and beef stories as well as breaking news and policy at the local, state and national levels. Latzke has traveled across Mexico and South America with the U.S. Wheat Associates and toured Vietnam as a member of KARL Class X. She’s traveled to Argentina as one of 10 IFAJ-Alltech Young Leaders in Agricultural Journalism. And she was part of a delegation of AAEA: The Ag Communicators Network members invited to Cuba.

Jennifer’s an award-winning writer, columnist, and podcaster, recognized by the Kansas Professional Communicators, Kansas Press Association, the National Federation of Presswomen, Livestock Publications Council, and AAEA. In 2019, Jennifer reached the pinnacle of achievements, earning the title of “Writer of Merit” from AAEA.

Trips and accolades are lovely, but Jennifer says she is happiest on the road talking to farmers and ranchers and gathering stories and photos to share with readers.

“It’s an honor and a great responsibility to be able to tell someone’s story and bring them recognition for their work on the land,” Jennifer says. “But my role is also evolving to help our more urban neighbors understand the issues our Kansas farmers face in bringing the food and fiber to their store shelves.”

She spends her time gardening, crafting, watching K-State football, and cheering on her nephews and niece in their 4-H projects. She can be found on Twitter at @Latzke.

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