Relationships mean everything when it comes to nurturing and expanding your land base. That’s according to three young producers who farm throughout the Corn Belt.
1. Take the opportunities
“Most of our land growth was opportunistic,” explains Albert Peterson, Peterson Farms of Loretto, Ky., who spoke on a panel during the 2016 Tomorrow’s Top Producer conference in Nashville. His operation grows corn, wheat and other crops. “We didn’t have a growth strategy. We didn’t go out and hand out fliers or anything.”
Instead, the family cultivated relationships with its 92 landowners and looked for purchasing opportunities to turn pastureland into cropland. The Petersons also own equipment to do bulldozing and excavating, which allowed them to make the land presentable and earned them a reputation as farmers who care about the land and good stewardship. Tracts in Kentucky tend to be smaller, so piecing together a farm operation is key.
2. Network outside of agriculture
For Matt Sims of State Line Farms in Indiana, many custom farming opportunities eventually led to rental opportunities.
“My largest landowner today decided as he was transitioning into retirement to have someone custom farm all his ground,” Sims says. “The very first thing we did for him was to put anhydrous on.” That same day, the landowner came to visit with Sims and told him he could farm it. He has 34 landowners and farms 5,000 acres.
“I try to go places where people that own the land are at,” Sims says. He thinks building relationships in the local business community is important. For him, that included joining a local young leaders group with business executives from banks, financial advisory companies and other institutions. Sims also is a member of the local country club. "Twenty five percent of what I farm I've developed from relationships there," he says. He also has a local boat club where he socializes with people.
3. Get involved in your community
Brandon Whitt of Batey Farms in Murfreesboro, Tenn., credits his wife and father-in-law with introducing him to farming and motivating him to preserve the past and embrace the future. They do so on a diversified operation that dates to 1807. He operates on the idea that the only thing you get to keep in life is his last name—in other words, his reputation.
“The operation has grown [in part] because of being involved in the local community, helping out with schools, development problems, immersing myself in my own community,” Whitt says.
As co-recipient of the 2014 Young Farmers and Ranchers Achievement Award from the American Farm Bureau Federation, Whitt says, he has had the opportunity to network extensively and make connections. At the same time, he’s the first to acknowledge he and his family don’t know everything about farming decisions.
“Often, we’re just taking a stab at it,” Whitt explains. “We live day to day, for the most part, and try to do that with very educated guesses. We’re taking risk every day.”