New leadership energizes established operation
Traditionally, farmers have been rewarded for their ability to wear a surplus of hats. Although understanding every corner of the operation is vital, today’s sophisticated and diverse businesses require specialization and a divide-and-conquer mentality and management style.
That’s where farmer Jared Osborne thrives. As general manager of Top Notch Farms, a grain and cattle operation headquartered in Carthage, Mo., Osborne didn’t spend his early years ringside to the operation. Instead, he grew up in town, the grandson of an entrepreneurial ag businessman.
(From left to right)
Marty Block, Operations Manager
Part of the business since 2008, Block executes plans by scheduling employees and equipment.
Jared Osborne, General Manager
Jared joined the farm in 2007 and oversees business operations. He is the direct link to the board of directors and executive committee.
Jerry Compton, Production Manager
All aspects of crop production are led
by Compton and
reinforced by his 40 years of experience.
Click here to read how he and his successor have capitalized on
changing economics and markets by diversifying their business portfolio.
In his early 20s, Osborne joined the operation and transformed the mature business on the brink of decline to a state-of-the-art business armed for market fluctuations—all within a decade. His outside-looking-in viewpoint delivers innovative business acumen, free from biases of a traditional farm upbringing.
“We are a business first and a farm second,” he explains.
Chicken and Egg. Top Notch Farms was founded as a chicken layer operation by Osborne’s grandparents, Hollis and Nina Osborne, in 1959. Hard work and sharp business skills led Hollis Osborne to expand the business to become one of the largest operations in the state in the 1960s. His financial success, drive and willingness to follow market trends led him to diversify.
“My granddad was always looking for new opportunities for growth,” says Osborne, 31, smiling. He is appreciative of his family’s legacy. During the past five decades, Top Notch Farms has evolved and adapted to specialize in layer hens, cattle and even fescue seed.
In 2007, Osborne returned from the University of Washington in Seattle, where he earned an environmental science resource management degree, with hopes of becoming a game warden or forester. To earn money, he became a general farmhand on the family operation.
The timing couldn’t have been better. Because of health issues, Hollis Osborne needed to step back in his responsibilities, and Top Notch Farms lacked a strategic vision. Osborne saw the opportunity to hone his business skills and grow the established operation.
Today, Top Notch Farms produces corn, wheat and double-crop soybeans on 8,000 acres on a flat expanse of southwest Missouri near Kansas and Oklahoma. It also runs a 250-head herd of Black Angus cattle.
Hollis Osborne still offers insights to the farm team of nine full-time and two part-time employees.
Tri-Fold Management. Three managers lead the team, focusing on how to maximize everyone’s skills and create ultimate output. Osborne heads up all business areas, such as finalizing leases and executing marketing and hedging strategies. He occasionally jumps on the tractor to relieve other employees but spends 90% of his time in the office.
Jerry Compton serves as production manager, a position previously held by his father. Compton’s second-generation knowledge and 40 years with Top Notch Farms makes him a true asset as he oversees all crop production.
Marty Block joined Top Notch Farms in 2008 and is its operations manager. He worked on his family’s farm and has good relationships with local farmers. Block schedules employees as
well as equipment.
“Between the three of us, we make one really good farmer,” Osborne says. “We all come from different backgrounds and don’t always agree. If we don’t agree, it actually makes us communicate more on why we need to do things a certain way.”
The responsibilities of the three managers and full team are clearly defined. The farm’s website lists each employee with a short biography, a photo and general duties.
Financial Focus. One of the biggest learning curves Osborne had to tackle early on was financial calculations and grain marketing. “I was not a numbers person, but I’ve come to be one,” he readily admits.
When grain prices started to recede in 2013, Osborne brainstormed ways to shield the operation. “After research and visiting with a marketing consulting group, I saw the benefits of storing wheat,” he says. They made plans to expand and also to buy grain.
To shield the operation from low crop prices, Top Notch Farms doubled its storage capacity and started an elevator to purchase grain. Photo: Kenneth Ruggiano
They formed Stagecoach Ag, a grain elevator that purchases wheat, soybeans and corn. Total storage capacity grew from 235,000 bu. in 2013 to 815,000 bu. today.
“The extra storage lets us not have to move grain as frequently during harvest,” Osborne says. “Plus, we are able to get better pricing by selling bigger lots. We also can pass on those better prices to other farmers.”
Osborne pursues outside knowledge. He attended The Executive Program for Agricultural Producers and is a member of Top Producer Executive Network (TPEN).
“He knows how to build and really use his network,” says Lance Woodbury, a farm management consultant in Garden City, Kan., and Osborne’s TPEN facilitator. “Because he didn’t grow up in ag, he is willing to ask questions. He is committed, passionate and brings an outside perspective. It is hard to overestimate the value of an outside perspective in a mature business.”
Osborne knows he has a different business mantra than his predecessor.
“My grandfather knew he had to be OK with letting go of things and knowing it wouldn’t get done like he would have done it,” he says. “My thought is: If someone can do things better than me, let’s find them and hire them do it.”
Osborne is proud to work in a family operation, especially since he and his wife, Alicia, welcomed their first child, son Alden, in June.
Family Governance. Currently, Osborne is the only member of his family managing day-to-day operations of the business. Three generations own the business, as Hollis Osborne’s four children (one of which is
Osborne’s father, Paul Osborne) comprise the Top Notch Farms board of directors.
In addition, the operation has a six-person executive committee that meets quarterly and includes family and non-family members. Some are familiar with agriculture, while others run businesses in industries outside of farming. “We have a good mix people who each have their own expertise,” Osborne says.
The two boards vote on major decisions and direct overall strategy. Osborne is the link to these groups, and when he sees an opportunity, he presents it for approval. This process, he says, forces him to research and analyze new ventures.
Top Notch Farms is far different today than several decades ago. It perfectly illustrates how a risk-taking founder and eager outside perspective can combine to make an operation stand the test of time. TP
The secrets to A Dedicated Team
Jared Osborne’s grandfather, Hollis, founded Top Notch Farms and is known to say, “People are our true business.” Turnover is low because the team is respected and asked to provide feedback, says Jared, general manager. “Our employees share our values,” he says. Farmers should develop a culture to retain good employees, says Chuck Schwartau, an educator with University of Minnesota Extension. “A good team needs to be cultivated, nourished and developed to function at a high level,” he says. His advice:
- Be sure the staff knows what is expected of them. Communicate high expectations and make it clear minimal standards are unacceptable.
- Communicate appreciation to your staff. Everyone appreciates a little praise for a job well done, and leaders should deliver it.
- As skills grow, involve them in decision-making.
- If they offer a suggestion that makes sense, give them the chance to help implement it.
- Build your own management skills and abilities.
- Look for opportunities to learn and grow as a leader, and invest in them whenever possible.
- Let employees be in charge of a process or job. Show trust and add appropriate responsibilities to increase self-esteem and potentially profits.