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Live, Laugh and Farm

August 9, 2012
By: Ed Clark, Top Producer Business and Issues Editor
p22 Live, Laugh, and Farm 1
Creative management enables a strong balance sheet and allows (from left) Jackson Dohlman, Tim Richter and Randy Richter to open doors for young people to farm.  

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Tim Richter has a weakness for the big and bold statement, and he has a personality to match. "Who would have thought that grain producers could make all this money at the unfortunate expense of livestock producers, who work very hard every day of the year?" Tim rhetorically asks. "It’s really not right.

"As a grain producer, I’m very grateful," he adds. With decades of experience in both the grain and hog farm sectors, Tim knows that high profits aren’t forever, so he enjoys them while they last and stashes away a healthy portion for future price gyrations.

In addition to topflight management, the head of operations for Saratoga Partnership in Lime Springs, Iowa, is known for his dry wit.

"I have no relationship skills, zero," he notes. At that, Jackson Dohlman, a fellow partner 27 years Richter’s junior, rolls his eyes; you get the impression it’s not the first time Tim has made that statement.

Spend a morning with Tim and his partners—his brother Randy and Dohlman—and it’s obvious he has no problem connecting with people when he needs to, though perhaps he does it in an unconventional way. In fact, the absence of conventional thinking characterizes all three partners. For instance, they don’t consider traditional benchmarking against other operations to be useful on their end because the data is so inaccurate.

"We benchmark against ourselves," Tim says. That doesn’t mean for a minute that they don’t value feedback from other farmers. Actually, the opposite is true. They are members of three peer groups and are in constant contact with progressive producers nationwide.

Pink Flamingo Mascot. It’s apparent that the three partners of Saratoga Partnership love what they do, love to make money and love to have fun. When deciding on a logo, they chose a pink flamingo. "Who we are and how we are different doesn’t really have anything to do with farming," Tim says. "Our core business value—that of having fun—isn’t business-oriented. It’s very personal."

How do they gauge fun in their line of work? "One way is a job well done, which is what we try to do in all we do. Nothing is half-baked," Randy says. Their strong dedication to constantly improve, to do what they do better, is apparent. While all three farmers love a good laugh, they are serious about living and working in a way that reflects their strong values.

"We want to enable people with a passion for farming," Tim says. "I want to serve as a facilitator between retiring farmers and young people wanting to farm. Our employees hopefully become managers and eventually will share in profits, ownership and wealth."

Dohlman is the first employee turned owner; he became a full partner when Saratoga Partnership was created six years ago.

The other overarching goal is to give something back to the community. In 2010, the partners made a commitment to donate $10,000 per year to charities and nonprofit organizations. This past year, they exceeded that pledge. Causes vary from area fire departments and food pantries to disaster relief.

They also give back to their community and support the next generation of farmers by sponsoring two college scholarships of $2,000 each.

Living by their values meant first creating a business that was profitable and sustainable. That business was Richter Inc., the partnership that Tim and Randy successfully operated for decades and an important part of why Saratoga was chosen as a Top Producer of the Year finalist in 2012.

A Transformation. Tim credits a shift in the dynamics of his farm to The Executive Program for Agricul-tural Producers (TEPAP) at Texas A&M University, which he attended in 1998. The weeklong program teaches advanced agribusiness skills with a faculty of prominent agribusiness experts. All three Saratoga partners have attended.

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FEATURED IN: Top Producer - Summer 2012

 
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