Congratulations to Lon Frahm, a farmer from Colby, Kan. He was named the 2009 Top Producer of the Year during the Top Producer Seminar in Chicago, Ill.
The official Top Producer of the Year ceremony (as presented by Greg Vincent, Top Producer Editor):
Applicants for the award submit their entries, and then the editors of Top Producer select the top three finalists. From those three, the top one is selected.
First is Andy and Beth Snider. It reminds me of the story of the phoenix and if that mythical bird rose from the ashes near Hart, Mich., it was probably a turkey.
Things looked good for Andy and Beth in the early 1990s, though they faced challenges that are common to most farm families.
But, they also had a great number of opportunities that were available to them. In 1994, the Sniders entered into a 10-year contract to produce turkeys for Sara Lee, and in 1995 they started on their own by purchasing the farm from Andy's parents.
Then the challenges really started. In July 1996, their milking parlor burnt and all but one of their registered Holstein milk cows. Two years later, four years into their contract, the subcontractor for Sara Lee announced it was pulling its contracts from all farmers in the state. Quitting would have been easy, but it wasn't an option.
Andy continued to make payments to his parents, despite these set backs. It was their only source of income and he stayed true to his commitment to them. But, he wasn't content with hanging on. He wanted to prosper.
Snider chose to concentrate on grain and pork production and specialized turkey production. He helped form Michigan Turkey Producers Cooperative and Michigan Turkey Producers (MTP) to develop their own turkey market focused on natural production and humane handling. Today Snider and two other MTP are certified organic.
That success in market development and financial management has resulted in a 13-year net worth increase of more than 1,400%. Andy and Beth, well done.
Next, we'll move west to the Minnesota prairie and take a look at the Duncanson Growers. Of course, you better look quick because these four equal partners are always on the move. Each of the Duncansons, Pat, Karl, Kris and Jackie, all take an active role in managing different aspects of the farm and they are equally dedicated to giving back to their community and industry.
They all seemingly run 1000 different directions each day, but they haven't done this all at the expense of their business.
Pat and Karl Duncanson's father taught them to always look for ways to better their operation.
Among the most challenging areas for their operation is managing environmental aspects with their land with the need to use manure from more than 5,000 hogs on feed and a 900-head beef feedlot. This includes tiling on 30' spacing in some fields to help increase drainage, which has resulted in increased yields on fewer inputs and lower nitrogen rates.
From the community perspective, all four Duncansons are involved and work hard to give back … something Pat and Karl's mother, Mary, is very proud of. She told me when we went out to shoot the video for the report that when Kris and Jackie joined the family, she told them if they wanted to be involved in the industry, she would always babysit for them. Something tells me Mary did a lot of babysitting for Pat and Kris' three kids and Karl and Jackie's four children. I'm only going to give you a brief rundown of their activities.
Pat is a leader in a regional Precision Ag Group and serves as a member of South Central College Foundation Board and is member of the board that selects regent candidates for the University of Minnesota. He is also a graduate of TEPAP, as is Karl.
Karl serves on the local school board and is a member of the University of Minnesota Outreach Center-Waseca Board.
Kris is a former chair of the Minnesota Soybean Association and is a past board member of the American Soybean Association. She currently serves on the Minnesota Governor's Biodiesel Task Force and is a Masterpiece Art Instructor.
Jackie serves on the Minnesota Horse Racing Commission and has previously served as a director on the Minnesota Beef Council and on the Minnesota Pollution Control Citizens Board.
Now, let's head to the Kansas high plains where Lon Frahm is the sixth generation to manage Frahm Farmland.
Lon, an accomplished pianist and tenor soloist, armed with a business degree from Kansas State University, he has succeeded at the last thing he ever wanted to do when he was a child. In fact, he was devastated – angry and insulted actually – when he received the results of his high school aptitude test. The career best suited for him: farmer.
This 2009 Top Producer of the Year finalist has willingly persevered and he's done that very well. He's built his family farm into a multi-million dollar business in the small town of Colby, Kan., by keeping a close eye on business details. Without question, Lon Frahm is the epitome of a top producer, but he stands out for superior management of employees, whom he credits for much of his success. Though none of his direct family members are involved in the operation on a daily basis, Frahm Farmland's employees are very much part of this family business.
Frahm keeps no secrets from his employees, which surprises many people in this small town and runs against conventional thinking of many in farm country. "I share my financials with all the employees,” Frahm says. "I don't show the actual tax returns, but everything else they know. It creates a lot of engagement and gives them a sense of ownership they wouldn't have otherwise. I think it's a great way to do business. Keeping secrets is a lot of work.”
Business responsibility is very important to Frahm and something he learned at this young age of 28 when his father died of a heart attack. As the oldest of three children, Frahm was charged with keeping the farm together and providing financial security for his mother and two siblings. No small task considering this happened right in the middle of the 1980s farm crisis. Today, his brother and sister are partners in the business, but Frahm is the on-site manager of the farm that has been in their family for six generations.
So, Lon, I believe your grandfathers are extremely proud.