Meet the Vande Weerd Brothers: Doing the work as a family

The Vande Weerd family has always been involved in agriculture. Brothers James and Justin grew up farming and love the business. James explains, “We love the lifestyle, challenges, and opportunities that come with operating a family farm. There is always something to learn, and we are constantly looking for ways to improve or try something new.”

The brothers began their operation by milking dairy cows, transitioning their focus to feeding fat cattle in 2012. According to James, “We learned a lot of lessons from milking cows that improved our operation feeding cattle. Milking cows is a great way to learn about the ag industry and work ethic growing up, but it didn’t align with the goals we had for our farm into the future.”

Currently, the Vande Weerds feed almost a thousand head of fat cattle, which they say is a good fit for their equipment and the number of acres on their small family farm. They also raise corn and beans, with most of their corn acres dedicated to feeding their cattle. While the brothers handle the cattle feeding side of the operation, their father and uncle help with the crops, lend a hand working cattle and assist with larger projects as needed.

Managing a family farming operation is more than a job. James says, “Farming is a lifestyle that our wives and kids embrace. We try to integrate the kids with tractor rides, checking cattle, and, this year, babysitting irrigation systems.” Ventures like this also require flexibility. At the same time, the Vande Weerds strive to find opportunities to be together with family. James continues, “It’s always an effort to balance work and family. We strive to prioritize family time and incorporate family into much of what we do on a day-to- day basis.”

Doing the work
All business owners learn and grow with their experiences. The Vande Weerd brothers say that while they have realized that mistakes are easy to make, they do their best to learn from them. According to James, “We work to improve on the smallest things in our operation, whether it’s manure wagons that do a better job spreading or software that better tracks daily operations.” The human aspect of running a business also requires a significant commitment; as James says, “We’ve learned that it is important to invest in good people. We found out early on that if we look for people that we can hire at a low cost, it will cost us money in the end.”

To stay ahead of the operation’s needs, James and Justin employ a few part-time staff, each of whom brings excellent skills that help improve the operation. Knowing that ag businesses are constantly evolving, the brothers say, “We also know it is important to have good connections with other people in our industry and to network and learn from one another.” In addition to industry connections, the Vande Weerds value their local connections as well. James feels that it is important to work with neighbors regarding ground tilling or manure management practices. He comments, “We happen to have many great neighbors, and we are thankful for it. Our children have a great neighborhood and community for continuing to farm.”

A family affair
Working with family members offers a unique combination of triumphs and challenges. Celebrating successes with beloved relatives is a blessing. Yet, the Vande Weerd brothers admit that it can be difficult to prevent minor issues from complicating their goal of growing their family farm. In the end, the family ties are the strongest, as James explains, “Our family has had a lot of success in life because of our work ethic, willingness to work with each other and practice of adapting to the changes of agriculture. Justin and I each bring different strengths to our operation. We try to stay in our lane and trust each other.”

The habit of trusting each other has served the brothers well over the years. In the beginning, the younger Vande Weerds found it difficult to secure financing. They were strategic in their approach, pairing hard work with thoughtful financial decisions that balanced conservative spending with calculated risks. As their operation grew, James and Justin faced the same weather and market challenges that other producers encounter. Regarding the current state of the market, James says, “The most recent challenges are in the fat cattle market and the discrepancy between box beef and cash cattle prices. We do what we can to market accordingly while also advocating for
producers both locally and regionally.”

Watching it grow
Farmers have the unique opportunity to watch the progress of their efforts from the very beginning until the end. James and Justin are at the point in their lives where they still work hard yet find those precious moments to breathe it all in. James says, “The greatest rewards for any farmer are watching the cattle and the crops grow. Now that we are older and have families, it is fun watching the kids grow up on the farm just like we did, having some of the same interests and learning experiences to grow up with.”

As they watch other younger farmers starting on their own and think about the days when their children enter the profession, the brothers offer this piece of advice, “Keep a good business plan and finances. Have a good marketing strategy and incorporate good management practices. Do the work.”