The FamilyFarms Group headquarters in Brighton, Ill. (Photo courtesy of FamilyFarms).
Success comes with a sacrifice. For FamilyFarms Group (FFG) members, the price of success means changing the way they think about business.
"The romance of change is a lot easier than doing it," says Allen Lash, Chief Executive Officer of FamilyFarms Group, a group comprised of 43 large, high-growth farms in the U.S. and Canada representing about 400,000 acres.
FamilyFarms Group allowed select media behind its typically closed doors this week in Brighton, Ill., to learn more about this member-only group of family farms.
"That’s why not every farm will survive in this era of consolidation," Lash says. "Not every farm will fit well with FamilyFarms Group’s system and strategies."
For farm "team" members, those strategies include allowing FamilyFarms Group inside their farm for a complete head to toe evaluation of its financial, human resource, equipment and technology systems. The group believes in individualized, standardized processes and systems supported through continual training by their staff, and that may mean farmers have to change the way they’ve been doing business, Lash says. The end goal, he notes, is to keep more families on the farm in an era of intense agriculture consolidation.
FamilyFarms Group will be at significantly more member acres by the end of 2012, Lash says.
"The most important strategic decision is a farmer’s choice of a system. We anticipate that FamilyFarms will be the most successful of the systems to choose from."
Help Moving Forward
Farmers Bill Gruhlkey and his son Braden of Vega, Texas, say that FamilyFarms Group has helped them figure out how to bring that next generation back to the farm. The Gruhlkey’s joined in 2011 and have since restructured their farm business to grow the farm for Braden and his two brothers.
"A lot of the people in our area are getting older and are not as progressive," says Braden. "We want to help those people out who are retiring, and we need to grow. FamilyFarms helped us with some ideas to gain those acres, such as leasing equipment from older farmers and helping them ease into retirement."
Founded by Lash, Leroy Jones (who no longer works with FamilyFarms Group) and Harold Birch, currently the Executive Vice President, FamilyFarms personally invites producers it believes has the attitude and desire for future success.
Members pay a membership fee and go through a screening process to make sure the fit is right for both the farmer and FamilyFarms Group. For years, the quietness of the group helped create the intrigue surrounding the effort. Ironically, that has also turned FamilyFarms into one of agriculture's most talked-about secrets.
"We weren’t trying to be mysterious, we just didn’t have anything to talk about," says Karmen Mehmen of MBS Family Farms, Plainfield, Iowa, and one of the early investors and team members in FamilyFarms Group. "This company is only five years old, and for most of that time we’ve been working to create a solid business concept."
What You Get