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Wanted: Young farmers seeking farmland to rent in west central Minnesota

RJ and James Orsten, two brothers who raise cattle north of Willmar under the name Cardinal Creek Cattle Company, are trying to get the message out that they are looking for land to rent and that they do, indeed, know what they’re doing.

Brothers James, from left, and RJ Orsten on their cattle farm north of Willmar
Farming brothers James, from left, and RJ Orsten are looking to expand their cattle farming operation through renting land for crops, pasture and haying from surrounding community members.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune
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WILLMAR — With farmland locked up tight — and expensive to buy or rent even when land is available — it can be tough for young farmers to get into the business.

Securing land can depend on who you know or who you’re related to.

Along with having the financial means, convincing a retiring farmer or unrelated landowner to lease property to a young farmer can oftentimes hinge on cultivating a relationship.

Steam rises from a cow at James, from left, and RJ Orsten's cattle farm north of Willmar
Light from the setting sun illuminates the breath of one of James and RJ Orsten's cows Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022 north of Willmar.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune

A landowner wants to be assured that a young farmer just getting their start in the business knows what they’re doing and that they’re a good risk to bet on.

RJ and James Orsten, two brothers who raise cattle north of Willmar under the name Cardinal Creek Cattle Company, are trying to get the message out that they are looking for land to rent and that they do, indeed, know what they’re doing.

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More information:

The average cost to rent pasture land in Minnesota has ranged from $24-30 per acre, according to statistics from the University of Minnesota Extension Service, which had data through 2020.

According to that report the average price per acre of pasture land in the state peaked in 2016 at $30 an acre and dropped to $24 an acre in 2020.

The 2020 rental rates for pasture land in area counties includes:

  • Chippewa County: $40/acre
  • Lac qui Parle County: $39/acre
  • Pope County $29/acre
  • Swift County: $35.50/acre
  • Kandiyohi County: Not available for 2020 but was $60/acre in 2019
  • Renville County: $39.50/acre

Source: University of Minnesota Extension

RJ, who is 25, and James, who is 21, mailed cards to 75 landowners in northwest Kandiyohi County and northeast Swift County this winter that includes the brothers’ credentials, goals as young farmers and a request to be considered as a future renter.

“We’re just trying to get our name out and try and show them we have the experience to run the land ourselves,” said James.

The attractive notecards, which features their logo of a cardinal on the front, includes a testimonial to let landowners know who they are and that they have the education and experience behind their dreams.

“We are writing to express interest in renting cropland, pastureland and hay ground. We grew up in the Willmar area on a farm and have been passionate about the family operation ever since we were young,” reads the cards. “After attending college and graduating in 2019, we have returned to the area to pursue farming full time.”

The idea to reach out to landowners came from their dad’s banker, said RJ.

Because farmland rental contracts usually last for several years, the brothers were advised that it can take 2-5 years to see results from initiating a relationship, he said.

Brothers James and RJ Orsten chat before feeding their cattle
Brothers James and RJ Orsten chat before feeding their cattle just before sunset at their farm north of Willmar on Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune
Cattle farmers James, from left, and RJ Orsten check on young calves at their farm north of Willmar
Cattle farmers James, from left, and RJ Orsten check on young calves at their farm north of Willmar on Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022. The pair are looking to expand their cattle farming operation through renting additional land.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune

Farm background

RJ and James are third-generation Kandiyohi County farmers who grew up raising hybrid turkeys and hatching eggs for Hendrix Genetics alongside their dad, uncle and grandparents on their Kandiyohi County farm, where they grow poults that became layers that produced fertile eggs that were hatched into new poults.

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James Orsten moves equipment across the farm to prepare for feeding cattle on Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022
James Orsten moves equipment across the farm to prepare for feeding cattle on Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune

The family raises row crops on about 850 acres of land and, in the 1990s, added a few beef cattle as a hobby.

While growing up, RJ took an interest in the cattle and James started tinkering with the equipment and gravitated towards row crop farming.

After finishing college the brothers began working on the farm full time in 2019. While still working in the family’s turkey operation, RJ and James are trying to branch off on their own.

“We have been taking on more responsibility with the crops and cattle since returning to our family’s farming operation and are looking to expand our operation over the next few years,” reads the card.

RJ Orsten holds a letter on Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022
RJ Orsten holds a letter on Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022, asking those in the area for land to rent so he and brother James Orsten can expand their cattle farming operation in Kandiyohi County.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune

“Together, we believe our combined strengths will benefit the farming community and we aspire to continue the legacy set before us, being good stewards of the land God created.”

The request concludes with a request that the landowner “keep us in mind if you are ever looking to rent your land.”

Cardinal Creek Cattle Company

The family operation had been run by the brothers’ dad (Robert) and uncle (Ross) under the name R & R Family Farms before RJ and James took over the cattle business.

The brothers renamed the operation the Cardinal Creek Cattle Company.

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The cardinal was a favorite first of their dad’s grandmother, said RJ. “And we wanted to make a fresh start.”

Cattle line up to feed at James and RJ Orsten's farm on Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022
Cattle line up to feed at James and RJ Orsten's farm on Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune

Their cattle herd, which is primarily raised as breeding stock for other growers, has grown to 150 registered Hereford cows that will all be calving this spring.

The brothers don’t own any pasture or cropland of their own but rent about 350 acres from neighbors, which they heard about by word-of-mouth.

They’d like to rent another couple hundred acres of pasture land for their cattle to graze as well as additional hay and cropland to generate feed for the cattle and to sell as a cash crop.

Cattle farmer James Orsten stands on his cattle farm north of Willmar on Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022
Cattle farmer James Orsten stands on his cattle farm north of Willmar on Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune

The extra land would allow the brothers to increase their herd and eventually develop a production sale for their cattle to be sold through their own company’s online auction. They currently take their cattle to consignment auctions in Minnesota and South Dakota as a way to establish their reputation and make commercial and registered cattle buyers aware of their breeding stock.

RJ Orsten looks over his cattle at his farm north of Willmar
RJ Orsten looks over his cattle at his farm north of Willmar on Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune

The brothers also shoot videos and photos of their cattle and utilize social media to promote them to buyers.

Marketing through social media is an important part of getting their cattle and the company’s credentials exposed to cattle breeders.

So far they haven’t had any responses to their cold-call cards looking for land to rent, but they know it could be a start to building a future relationship.

If they can’t find additional land they’lljust have to continue to work with what we have” and new ways to be efficient, said RJ.

“But we’ll keep looking, and searching and asking,” he said.

RJ Orsten walks through a barn at his cattle farm on Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022
RJ Orsten walks through a barn at his cattle farm on Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022. He and his brother, James Orsten, are looking to expand their cattle farming though renting additional land in the area.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune

Carolyn Lange retired from the West Central Tribune in January 2022.

Carolyn Lange is a features writer at the West Central Tribune. She can be reached at clange@wctrib.com or 320-894-9750
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