3 Farm Women Share 3 Business Tips

Owning and managing farms in today’s business environment is not easy. The need for rock-solid business plans is great.

Illinois farmer Katie Danner (left), Indiana farmer Kerry Dull and North Dakota farmer Jennifer Holle speak at Top Producer's 2014 Executive Women in Agriculture conference. 

That’s what the more than 300 farm women from across the country are learning this week in Chicago at the 2014 Executive Women in Agriculture conference, which is hosted by Top Producer.

Here are three great tips from three farm women:

Hire out your weaknesses.

Two minds are better than one, and a group of smart and specialized advisors is smarter than any one farmer. That’s the mantra Jennifer Holle of Northern Lights Dairy in Mandan, N.D., has been employing.

While older generations tend to be hesitant about asking for help or sharing business details, Holle says she does the exact opposite. “When my husband and I came back to join the family operation, our attitude was that we don’t know everything, but there are people out there who do,” she says.

Now they have a team of around eight professionals who advise them on everything from nutrition to estate planning to financial issues. “Our farm made a big turnaround at that time,” she says. “You should run your business like a business and get that team together that you trust.”

Shadow other successful businesses.

When Kerry Dull and her husband joined his family operation, they needed and wanted to add a new enterprise to the family business so the operation could support two families. Their solution was a Christmas tree farm. Now, Dull Tree Farms in Thorntown, Ind., is a booming business.

But, that wasn’t the case from day one. “With a tree farm, it takes eight years before you make any profit,” Dull says, as you wait for the trees to grow to harvest size. What Dull wished she would have done during those eight years was to visit and learn about other Christmas tree farms. “We made a lot of mistakes by not being mentored,” she says.

Now, as an established business, Dull invites others to visit, volunteer and learn about their operation. While these visitors gain a lot of valuable insight, she also gets new ideas. Dull also tries to shadow other businesses, both within and outside of agriculture. “We get caught up in our own businesses that we forget to go visit other businesses,” she says.

Set a transition timeline.

Kate Danner is two and half years into her career. She has joined her father and her family farming operation, Longley Farms in Aledo, Ill. Her farm duties include everything from planting to trucking to marketing.

Danner and her father agreed on a 15-year farm transition timeline. Currently is an employee of the farm and will remain one for a total of five years. For the next five years, the two will be in a partnership and she can buy into the operation. During the final five years, Danner’s father will choose what farm work he does.

“My husband and I are the true future of the farm,” Danner says. “I repeatedly tell my parents that they built this farm and I want to grow it into the future and I can’t do that without them. We need their mentoring and support.”


More than 300 farm women from across the country are in Chicago this week for the 2014 Executive Women in Agriculture conference, which is hosted by Top Producer. Follow along on Twitter with #EWA14

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