Mature Into Ownership

07:02AM Apr 01, 2015
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Young producers can advance careers with experience, long-term plans

It took Jackson Dohlman just six months to become a part-owner in Saratoga Partnership, a three-farm operation based out of Lime Springs, Iowa. He was 24.

“It was something I wanted and something I requested,” Dohlman explains. “It was one of the best decisions I ever made.” 

As more farms prepare to transition ownership from older producers to younger ones, experts say this kind of enthusiasm, coupled with in-depth business planning, can go a long way toward success.

Farm owners must first work as managers, advises Dennis Stein, farm management educator, Michigan State University Extension.

“Normally, if they’ve been involved in the farm for at least five to 10 years and they’re in their mid-30s, it is a great place to attain part-ownership or at least to start owning some shares in the business,” Stein says. 

Common mistakes in ownership transfers include shifting too many responsibilities too quickly.

For Dohlman, who grew up on a farm, the conversation about part-ownership began at the job interview. He previously spent two and a half years as an ag retailer. 

“My passion was in production agriculture, and I knew I was going to be as committed as anybody,” Dohlman recalls.

Begin The Transition. Then came the opportunity to join Saratoga Partnership, which now includes grain farms in Iowa and Missouri and a hog operation in Iowa. 

Today, Dohlman manages crop plans, input purchases and production decisions for both crop farms, as well as human resources for the partnership. He says young producers interested in becoming part-owners should be aware their job description will likely change considerably.

“You’re going to sacrifice some time and [experience] the risk that comes with it,” Dohlman explains.

Discussions about transfer of ownership really must begin with young producers, Stein adds. He recommends creating a 20-year business plan to review with existing owners before the process moves forward.

“It’s really important that the younger generation have at least compatible goals about the operation and where the operation is going,” Stein points out.

Also find a mentor, Dohlman says. His is Tim Richter, the Saratoga partner who hired him. Learn from others’ experiences and insights. 

Tips for Aspiring Part-Owners

Young farmers who seek to become part-owners of a farm operation or who have recently assumed that role should do three things, says Jackson Dohlman, partner, Saratoga Partnership based out of northeast Iowa.

1.) Be grateful for the opportunity
2.) Make the most of it 
3.) Pay it forward