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Steady Hand

August 31, 2011
By: Jeanne Bernick, Top Producer Editor
Jim Kline soybeans
Twin-row soybeans and corn are part of Jim Kline’s crop rotation, which also includes wheat.  
 
 

Despite stormy days, this Indiana farmer stays the course toward a profitable future

If Jim Kline wasn’t so clearly destined to be a farmer, he would make a good ship captain. A captain is responsible for the ship’s navigation along with the safety of the crew and cargo. He makes sure codes of conduct are observed and budgets met. Most importantly, he stays calm through stormy nights, steering his ship into the light of day.

Kline might be thousands of miles from the sea, but he has successfully guided his family and farm through troubled waters. He built a business in Hartford City, Ind., over three decades while facing trials that would wreck other men: production shifts, land competition, bank challenges, farmer envy and the long illness and painful death of his wife, Suzanne. During her illness, Kline was her sole caregiver while raising their teenage children, Adam and Kayla, plus running the farm.

TPOYJim Kline,

Hartford City, Ind.

As the 2011 Top Producer of the Year, Jim Kline won a Challenger tractor for 200 hours. He also received an iPad, courtesy of Asgrow; a Toughbook computer from Bayer Crop Science; and a digital camera from SFP.

Kline not only survived his dark time but went on to grow his operation to 7,500 acres of corn, soybeans and wheat while earning a reputation as an ethical and progressive farmer. His debt-to-asset ratio is better than ever, and love found him again in the name of Lou West, a beautiful woman whose laughter and wit mended his spirit.

 

Thousand-Acre Goal. Kline knew early on he was a farmer by nature and nurture. He rented his first 100 acres from a neighbor as a freshman in high school and bought his first farm four years later as a senior.

During his time at Purdue University, Kline kept farming and honing his business skills. He returned after college to work with his father and brother. Both Kline and his brother purchased equipment throughout the 1980s, and in 1990 they bought their parents’ machinery. Kline soon purchased the family farm.

His brother left the farming operation for a career in education, and Kline formed Kline Family Farms Partnership. There are four entities in the partnership, all owned in various percentages now by Jim, Lou, Adam and Kayla. The separate entities support custom farming, seed wheat, corn and soybean production and the family partnership. Brasil Farms LLC was formed in 2006 as a joint venture with investors and Brazilian farmers (see sidebar).

Throughout his career, Kline has kept two goals in mind: increase the net worth of his corporations by 10% per year and own a minimum of 1,000 acres debt-free by age 65.

"My goals have not changed drastically over the years," Kline says. "I’m still working toward increasing farm size, increasing net worth of my corporations and improving return on our investments. But I won’t do it at the cost of my ethics or by outbidding neighbors. It’s been slow going."

There is a quiet ambitiousness about Kline, like an athlete who shows up for practice early but doesn’t expect to be noticed. "I consider Jim to be one of the top farmers I work with," says Brian Kline (no relation), a CPA with Kline’s CPA Group, P.C., in Huntington, Ind., and Kline’s accountant for 20 years. "He is constantly working to improve his business skills. He is the rare farmer who has been open to using various farm operational structures."

Business Innovation. For example, Kline added an S-corp and combined two corporations into a general partnership to gain advantages with the Farm Service Agency as he grew, notes his accountant. Kline also added a trucking company to separate some of the highest liability from his farm operation and to use it as an additional profit enterprise. He pores over detailed financial spreadsheets and works with AgriSolutions LLC for financial consulting.

In 2010, Kline decided to lock down long-term interest rates. He devised a plan that uses the equity in his real estate as collateral to obtain operating money at an attractive 20-year fixed rate. An added benefit was little prepayment penalty in the first five years and no prepayment penalty thereafter.

"This appealed to me because the cost of interest on our real estate mortgages had been higher than the cost of our operating money," Kline says. "I felt that a historical review of interest rates demonstrated that this could be an opportune time to lock in operating money for 20 years."

Kline presented this opportunity to eight different lending institutions and let them compete for his business. The process took eight months. In the end, Kline’s current lender earned the business by taking the time to learn about his farming structure.

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FEATURED IN: Top Producer - September 2011

 

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