Roger Kleweno flips his suspenders and breaks into a grin when a white SUV with the Canadian license plate “HUDYE” pulls up in front of his insurance office in Burlington, Colo. One of his favorite landowners, Ben Hudye, has just rolled into town. Hudye makes the 1,100-mile trip from Norquay, Saskatchewan, at least three times a year to discuss crop insurance decisions and to visit tenants who crop-share the 16,000 acres his family owns in Colorado and Kansas.
“The Hudyes are good people,” Kleweno says. His Colorado Federal Agency, Inc., office serves as a coffee stop for local farmers and as an adopted home base for Ben and his brother, Greg. “It’s nice to see them go out of their way to personally know growers and farm suppliers in the U.S., even down to the local equipment store staff,” Kleweno adds.
There is a personal touch in everything the Hudyes say and do. From the moment you meet the brothers and their family (four children are involved in the business), you get the sense that they are genuinely happy to know you. The Hudyes make on-farm visits with their tenants a requirement and spend thousands of dollars to put on educational field days in Canada for clients of their soil services company. Hudye Farms may be spread across tens of thousands of acres in two countries, but the Hudyes maintain a tie to nearly every acre.
Ben and Greg’s father, Paul Hudye, now in his late 80s, began Hudye Farms in small-town Saskatchewan in 1946, growing mostly wheat and canola and later producing livestock, including bison and elk. In the 1980s, the family started Hudye Soil Services, a full-service farm supply company, which today includes three retail fertilizer chemical plants. Meanwhile, they began eyeing land in the U.S., starting with a few sections of ground in eastern Colorado.
“We learned early on from our father that relationships matter,” says Ben, who is president and general manager of Hudye Farms Inc. “It is our philosophy that no one works for us, they work with us.”
Hudye family business pursuits now include grain farming in Canada and the U.S., wind energy projects, oil and gas development and real estate investments, and the family owns 95% of the 32,000 acres it farms. You don’t garner that kind of asset base without a keen sense of relationship building.
Growth in Tough Times. Amassing the impressive amount of acres the Hudyes farm has not been simple.
In fact, the Hudyes were forced to reinvent their business several times.
The family went through a period in the 1980s when they struggled to juggle farming land in the U.S. and Canada while starting up their soil services company. The economy was tough on both their farming operation and the operations of their producer customers. Accounts receivables ballooned.
By the mid-1990s, the Hudye Group of Companies was financially on its knees and survival was uncertain. “We paid some mortgages at 20% interest and struggled through,” Ben says.
About that time, opportunities for expansion ripened in the U.S. The Hudyes realized they could not continue to manage and do all the physical labor themselves. “Our farm reached a level of complexity where in order to grow, we had to change our business model,” Ben says.
A blip in the wheat market gave the Hudyes an opportunity to sell off all the property they had originally acquired and completely restructure their business. That’s when they developed a plan to buy farmland but not farm it themselves. Masters of networking, they began contacting the best local farmers and established cash/crop-share arrangements.
“We networked with young, aggressive growers who had a need for additional cropland and were willing to share part of their success in crop production with us,” Greg says. “This has worked effectively and allowed us to generate the degree of cash flow required to fund expansion.”
The Hudyes also severed ties with their longtime bank, which didn’t understand or support their business objectives. It was a tough decision, Ben says, but part of being good at relationships is knowing when it’s time to end a business arrangement—especially when your partner is not listening or valuing your interests.
- November 2010