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Launch Your Dreams

October 5, 2011
By: Sara Schafer, Farm Journal Media Business and Crops Editor

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Jeanne Bernick welcoming seminar attendees.

So, you’re a young farmer dreaming of the day when you’ll be your own boss, with your own land and your own equipment. Right now, though, you have no land and very few assets. How can you start with nothing?

During a roundtable discussion at the 2011 Tomorrow’s Top Producer event in Chicago, Ill., three experienced and successful farmers shared how they got started and achieved their farming dreams.
The 2009 Top Producer of the Year, Lon Frahm, didn’t have many choices when he was in his 20s because his father passed away. The Colby, Kan., farmer felt trapped but took over the farm and now grows wheat and corn on 20,000 acres.
Donny DeLine, the 2010 Top Producer of the Year, began farming in 1998 when his uncle retired and turned the operation over to him. Now, DeLine’s farm spans 24,000 acres of rice, cotton, soybeans and wheat in three states.
After Hans Schmidt, a 2010 Top Producer of the Year finalist, graduated from college, he wasn’t sure what to do with his life. “Once I came home, it still took me a few years to figure out that I really did want to farm,” says the Sudlersville, Md., farmer. Today, his operation includes grain crops, vegetables and a vineyard.
The old-fashioned way of getting land is marrying or inheriting, Frahm says. Those opportunities are far and few between these days. “Access to more land is such a big deal,” he says.
Frahm says he knows that purchas-ing the first piece of land—taking that first jump—is extremely difficult. “Buying that first quarter is the hardest one you’re going to have to do. But it keeps getting easier.”
Schmidt knows all too well the importance of land access. His 1,800 acres are surrounded by urban sprawl. “We live in a populated area and are outnumbered,” he says.
Schmidt suggests that younger farmers align themselves with older farmers in the area who might not have a succession plan. “Finding that person will probably be the hard part, but once you do, you can move forward,” he says.
DeLine welcomes the opportunity to have young farmers join his operation. “I’d use them as a resource or assistant manager,” he says.
Once you have the land, creating a good relationship with your landlord is vital, DeLine says. “Our retention rate is 99%, and I’m proud of that,” he says. “I think the way you manage your business says a lot about you.”
Happy landlords are good for your business, Frahm adds. “You have to make yourself known as the tenant of choice. Satisfied landlords talk to others.”
Bright Future. The three farmers agree that agriculture is promising and will continue to be for the next generation. “Think out of the box,” Schmidt encourages.
Frahm advises today’s young farmers to always do their homework, go to conferences, read the latest news and network with peers. If you take these steps, he says, you’ll be ready to make a good decision when an opportunity arises.
“We can do things to make opportunities happen,” he says.

Tomorrows Top Producer Logo FINAL
If you’re a young farmer looking to expand your management expertise and want to establish networks with like-minded, goal-oriented producers, the Tomorrow’s Top Producer seminar is for you. Mark your calendar for the 2012 event on Jan. 31. Visit the “Young Producers” section at for details.

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FEATURED IN: Top Producer - October 2011

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