|What Made It Work
There was unquestionable trust among the group members, and an agreement that while they were a group, each business was separate. This meant some individuals might be successful at the auction and others wouldn't, as was the case with two members.
The area of Macoupin and Montgomery counties in central Illinois, known as Racehorse Flats, has produced a feel-good story the likes of which isn't heard much these days.
The region's nickname comes from the aggressive attitude of area farmers: They're always in a race to be first in the field each spring. That attitude has produced a competitive landscape that's as rocky as the countryside is flat and fertile. Farms of 10,000 acres are common, and the area has three operations that total more than 30,000 acres each.
So when nearly 4,000 acres of the locally famous Kilton land came up for sale around Litchfield, Ill., three area farmers knew they had to get it. Steve Gartner, Kevin Niemann and Chris Zimmerman each farmed ground that was near some of the parcels, which surround Litchfield to the north and west. And it is good land.
Individually, it would be difficult to compete for the 43 tracts in the multiparcel auction, particularly in this region of the state. Guys like these, with a couple thousand acres each, have to be resourceful to secure highly productive, conveniently located ground like this.
Well, they got downright creative when they decided to join forces with other area farmers. A pool of money that was more than $15 million deep put them in the running.
"An advantage to this is we were able to work with people who would normally be our competitors in the auction," Zimmerman says. "We were looking at as many as eight bidders. Now we were all together."
A group of 10 businesses, ranging in size from 600 acres to 3,000 acres, was formed. The group walked away from the January 21, 2009, auction 2,462 acres stronger. Each partner took his pre-agreed share of land and the mortgage that goes along with it.
Play nice. The original three, Zimmerman, Gartner and Niemann, met to discuss how they would approach the potential purchase and who they wanted to join forces with. This ruffled a few feathers along the way, Gartner says.
- SPRING 2009