Defined Roles, Trust and Respect play an important part in the success of this family’s farm so that it can continue as being a farm well into the future
FORT BRANCH, Ind. (DTN) — The sweat and toil of raising crops or livestock is the price you pay to do what you love, but often what keeps farmers and ranchers working overtime is to establish a legacy for their children.
Fifth-generation farmer Mike Hirsch (center) invited daughter Emily and son Jacob into the farm business in 2011. (DTN photo by Elizabeth Williams)
“Mom and Dad worked so hard to get in a position to support two more families. If there wasn’t another generation coming back to farm, they might go into a ‘coast’ mode rather than a ‘growth’ mode,” explained Emily Hirsch, 21, who raises corn, soybeans and wheat with her parents and 23-year-old brother Jacob in Fort Branch, Ind.
In the old days, the next generation of farmers meant sons coming back to farm. Today, that invitation is being extended to daughters. “As farming has developed and become more of a business, I think my skill set can be valuable to our family operation,” said Hirsch, a 2011 Purdue University ag economics graduate who has developed a website for their farm and last week was harvesting wheat in southwest Indiana.
Kimberly Snyder of Logansport, Ind., has also come back to her parents’ farm. After five years with an accounting firm, when management there changed and her mother experienced some health problems, Snyder’s dad asked her, “Don’t you think it’s time for you to come back to the farm?” She agreed.
“It is a little different being a female in farming,” noted Snyder, 35. “First of all, there are still so few of us.” According to the 2007 Ag Census, 14% of the nation’s 2.2 million farms have women as the principal operator, although many of those are widows rather than farmers’ daughters. While that remains a slim percentage, it was a 30% increase of female principal farm operators over 2002.
Neither Hirsch nor Snyder planned to farm when they were going through high school. What changed their minds was the opportunity to be an entrepreneur, plus patient and encouraging parents. Hirsch’s enthusiasm is contagious when she talks about the chance to work in her family business. “It’s just so exciting, even with a tough spring like this year. Every day is so different. I know I’ll never say ‘this is a boring routine,’” Hirsch said.
“Realistically,” said Snyder, “there are two sides of production agriculture: the physical side and the management side. On the physical side, advanced technology makes it easier for females, but sometimes you need brute strength. And honestly, some guys are better at that than women. I would say it’s easier for women on the management side.”
That doesn’t mean the women won’t run into prejudice, but parents can make it easier for their daughters to take an active part in the farm operation.
Snyder credits the success in their operation to having defined roles. “My strength is business management and accounting, and my brother’s is more hands-on production,” said Snyder. “We need Dad to manage and keep it all together, and we’ve recently hired another manager to help with production.”
Both the Snyders and the Hirsches brought a son and daughter back to the farm at the same time. Opening that door simultaneously allowed them to transition in unison. “We went from one business entity of a sole proprietorship to six LLCs (limited liability companies). We learned together,” Snyder said. “My brother and I came in on the ground floor of a new business structure; I think that’s easier than walking into a pre-established company. My dad, brother and I made decisions together on how to set up the businesses.”
Hirsch also credits defined job descriptions as making it easier for her to work into the family business. “I see my role as dealing with the Farm Service Agency, crop insurance, lenders and landowners and being involved in business development,” said Hirsch. “This is a business. That’s what attracted me to farming. Thirty years ago, I don’t know if I would have come back to the farm. Now, the skill set I have is needed on the farm.”
Hirsch recognizes that working into the family business is an evolving process. “Right now, Dad is at the top of the hierarchy in making final decisions; my mom does the accounting,” said Hirsch. But as part of that process, the Hirsches have growth goals for each family member and employee, and they’ve set goals for being involved in their community.
Although daughters may lean toward more finance roles, that does not mean they don’t help out with production. “It’s important to understand all parts of the operation,” explained Hirsch, who has been driving a combine since she was 15 years old and has recently helped out on planting.
Snyder agreed, “I enjoy being outside and helping out when needed. It helps break things up.”
TRUST AND RESPECT
“The trust and respect my dad has given me has helped other people respect me,” explained Snyder. “My dad and I went into the FSA and he gave me power of attorney. The FSA staff know I’m the one who mainly deals with the government programs.
“If someone has a question that I know the answer to, Dad will say, ‘You have to talk to Kimberly. She handles that.’ He forced them to deal with me. I started going to banker appointments with Dad, and once I computerized our financial reports, the banker was happy. Dad told the banker, ‘Kimberly will be doing the books, so if you have any questions, call her.’ That has really helped me establish my credibility.”
Hirsch agreed. “I think it shows that my brother and I are an important part of the decision-making process when all four of us (Dad, Mom, brother Jacob and Emily) go and talk to any adviser.”
“As with any recent graduate, it takes a while to build up a rapport with people,” Hirsch added. “I know the other employees on the farm know more than me. But I ask them questions and they see I’m trying to learn and that helps build relationships. I haven’t run into any prejudice that I know of. Landowners are excited about a new generation coming back to farm and they’ve been very respectful.”
The only time Snyder had a problem was when a sales rep, that didn’t know her, called and insisted on talking to a man. That vendor did not make a sale.
Mike and Beverly Hirsch are thrilled that both their children are willing to follow in their parents’ footsteps. Mike is a fifth-generation farmer and is proud to welcome the sixth generation back to the family business, said Beverly. “Legacy is a strong motivator.”
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Editor’s Note: DTN’s on-going Senior Partners series examines the financial, legal and emotional hurdles families face as they transition farm ownership from the senior to junior partners. To read other features in the package go to http://www.dtn.com/…