What is a farm manager?

I have been asked literally a million times what my husband does. “He is a farm manager? “What is that?”, “Does he farm?”, “What does he manage?” I have a lot of confused looks and questions whenever I mention his career. So let me clear some of the myths behind farm management and what a farm manager actually does.

  1. He does not drive around in a pickup and look at fields. …well… he kind of does… but not really. He does own a pick up and he does look at fields, but he gets out of the pick up and ventures into fields. Just like a farmer, he has to check moisture, look for signs of pests and weeds, and check the progress of the crops he is responsible for.
  2. He does not work with the farmer. I think this is the biggest misconception. Yes, his job is to work for the land owner, (who is not always the farmer) but he works with the land owner and the farmer toward the best outcome.
  3.  Farm managers aren’t as busy as farmers. Actually this is completely false. My husband is gone just as much as the farmers he works with. When you are responsible for the production and outcome on over 50 fields, you are gone. ALOT. He is in the combine when they are combining, in the tractor when they are planting and out visiting fields when chemicals are being put on (or not). His family knows what it is like to have him hit a “busy season” and we experience his absence too.
  4. Not all agents that sell farm ground are farm managers. Yes. To manage ground you have to have a real estate license, even if you do not sell. (In other words you cannot manage real estate without a real estate license). This also enables you to list and sell farm ground. Some also carry insurance licenses to they can sell crop insurance. Depends on who you work for.
  5. Farm managers don’t understand how farming works. My husband grew up on a cattle feedlot, worked on a farm all the way through college, has managed more than one farm chemical outlet, has a degree in agronomy, and has earned sales awards in both chemical and land. He also was awarded an environmental service award and was in charge of a winter nursery in Puerto Rico… so he does know agriculture.

The best way for me to describe what my husband does is to set up a scenario- one he has seen time and time again… Imagine being an adult child of a farmer who has farmed his whole life. You grew up, moved away to the coast and upon the death of your dad you inherit 240 acres of farm ground back in the midwest. You have no idea how to farm, what land can make in rent, what an input is, what kinds of seed to plant and you have no idea who is currently farming this land and how does that rent work? You are established in your career, know nothing abut farming and have no desire to move back. How do you take care of this investment you were given?

This is where the farm manager comes in. He is hired with the responsibility of managing the land, rent, and depending on the contract, any leases, sales and upkeep of the ground. He meets with the seed and chemical companies, hires the sprayers, chooses the seed in some cases, hires the people who will put up new terraces, work on drainage issues, complete tiling etc. He works with managed ground, custom ground, and owners. The land owner who knows nothing about this or cannot or does not want to manage this all him/herself can rely on the farm manager to get the best return on his/her investment.

For many, it really is a blessing to have access to a farm manager if you have no idea what to do next once you inherit ground. He is utilized by adult children who have land, widows of farmers, and in some cases he is works for investment companies.

Bottom line is that farm managers are a very necessary part of the agricultural landscape. They are men and women who work hard to protect the farm ground that is such an important part of the agricultural foundation of our country. If you ever wonder just exactly what they do, just ask! They are proud of the profession they love.

Picture of my husbands dad and siblings by his tractor late 70’s

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