The Dell family looks to the future while valuing the past
Spring planting is well under way on the Dell family farm located in Carroll County, Md., near Westminster. Second-generation family patriarch Greg leads the planting process with help from various family members, including sons Gary and Douglas.
Greg selected the corn hybrids and soybean varieties to plant this season and determined in which fields to place them. He also oversaw the herbicide and fungicide selections.
"I pretty much do what I did before, but more of it now, because Tommy was starting to take over those things," Greg says. In September 2010, third-generation farm partner Tommy—son of Greg and his wife, Della, and Shannon’s husband—was killed in an on-farm accident. His death left a huge void in the family as well as in the farm succession plan the family put in place nearly three years ago.
While the family is moving forward with day-to-day farm operations, it is only now beginning to revisit its succession plan, which it put in place with help from Farm Journal succession planning expert Kevin Spafford.
This past harvest, the second without Tommy, was tough. Greg says the family pulled together and worked through the process, focusing on the various jobs that had to be completed.
At the end of harvest, corn yields were all over the board—from 60 bu. per acre to 210 bu. per acre—due to weather extremes during the growing season. Soybeans averaged 45 bu. per acre.
"Basically, our harvest results weren’t great, but they weren’t awful, either," Greg says. "The corn we planted later in the spring did pretty decent, and we felt like our beans did all right."
With strong prices headed into spring, Greg has already priced a lot of his new crop to take advantage of the market opportunity. "I’m thinking prices are more likely to go down than up at this point," he says.
A mild winter and higher-than-usual temperatures so far this year have put the Dells ahead of schedule with field work and planting. "The big question is the weather, but that’s always the case," Greg says.
Progress made. The other big question Greg ponders is what’s next to keep the family’s succession plan moving forward. Some members have made progress this past year.
Greg’s brother, Roger, retired from the farm as planned and is enjoying his additional free time.
The third generation has made transitions as well. The dairy is now owned and operated by Gary and Crystal, a husband-and-wife team in the third generation of the Dell family. Gary also works off the farm at a retailer.
Greg and Della’s son Douglas is a full-time fireman and provides manpower on the farm as needed.
"He’s pretty much here to do whatever he needs to do on his days off, and that’s been a big help," Greg says.
Daughter-in-law Shannon continues in her role as farm bookkeeper.
Della works for the Carroll County Board of Elections, but plans to retire next year. She may spend more time on the farm, though Greg says her main interest is the grandchildren.
The Dells have nine grandchildren, six boys and three girls. The oldest, his namesake, Greg, graduates from high school this May and plans to join the family farming operation. His interest in mechanics will also be an asset.
Greg senior adds that an employment policy is in place if members of the fourth generation wish to join the farm in the future.
Spafford says a family employment policy is invaluable as it helps everyone maintain a business-like environment, and enables management to base hiring decisions on a written plan instead of an emotional impulse.
He adds: "Succession planning is a dynamic process, and tools like the employment policy help farm families keep the process moving forward."
To draft a plan that spells out the criteria for hiring and employing family members use the family employment policy tool.