The agriculture industry is changing too rapidly to wait for the next big thing. So operator Kip Tom of Tom Farms in Leesburg, Ind., has made it a priority to push the envelope after becoming a Top Producer of the Year in 2007.
Since that time, the operation has doubled its acreage, added close to 3.8 million bushels of on-farm storage, built extensive fertilizer and chemical infrastructure, and invested in a number of agtech startups.
“Agriculture doesn’t lack the ability to innovate because of a lack of access to technology,” Tom explains. “We only lack that access because we don’t dream enough.”
Public Service. That’s to say nothing of Tom’s impressive accomplishments in policymaking circles. He served for 12 years on the Indiana Economic Development Corporation’s board of directors. During that time, the state added 12 ethanol plants and the world’s largest integrated biodiesel plant, along with pork and poultry expansions.
Two years ago, he jumped into a five-person race for the U.S. House of Representatives and came in second. In January, President-elect Donald Trump summoned Tom to Trump Tower for an interview for the position of U.S. agriculture secretary. Today, Tom says, he is under consideration for a role that would have a “major impact on food security and agriculture globally.”
As Tom’s focus has shifted to the public sector, his children and trusted team members have stepped into leadership roles.
His son Kris became CEO two years ago, while his son Kyle serves as chief operating officer. His daughter, Kassi Rowland, oversees landlord relationships and contracts. Her husband, Greg, is the manager of CereServ overseeing grain trading and handling operation. Tom’s sister, Melissa Gerber, is the company’s office manager and controller. Derrick Deardorff is the farm’s chief financial officer. The operation continues to craft its succession plan with consultant Lance Woodbury.
Future Mindset. The new team will preserve and amplify the farm’s culture of innovation, hard work, giving back and thinking generationally, Tom says. Technology will further those objects. Production at the farm has benefited from over-the-counter technologies as well as numerous beta systems and alliances with startup tech companies. It also uses data science and farm-management software. It remains essential to appreciate which technologies will bring utility to the farm.
“I think the future holds many farm-model structural changes due to the application of data science and sensors,” he says. Tech will “create connectivity between the field and the end user, whether it is a biofuels plant or the dinner plate.”