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2020 Family Farms Group Winter Conference Recap

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David Prichard Speaking at FFG Winter ConferenceThe 2020 FamilyFarms Group Winter Conference, with the theme “Rooted in Success: Building a Strong Foundation,” was held in Chesterfield, Missouri, on January 20- 23, 2020. The conference focused on going “back to your roots” and challenged attendees to revisit, review and revive foundational pieces of their farm operations like business plans, financials, management skills, and sharing best practices.

The conference is a highly anticipated event open to members of Family Farms Group. Our members are some of North America's top farming operations and represent over 700,000 acres of crop production. In addition to strengthening foundational pieces of their businesses, members had the opportunity to get together to network, learn invaluable information from ag business leaders and peers, talk with vendors to learn about the latest technologies, innovations, services, and products in agriculture, and catch up with old friends and make new ones. 

Farm Owner Management Skills Building Blocks

To emphasize the importance of building a strong foundation, each day of the Rooted in Success Conference was kicked off by Jeff Hafferkamp, Family Farms CEO, as he led in-depth discussions about one of four key management principles that are essential for building a strong business: leadership/people, systems thinking, asset management, and business analysis/planning.  Haferkamp spoke about managing people like a maestro, breaking down silos to become a big picture thinking, protecting your farm’s assets, and implementing strategy through business analysis and planning.


Opening General Session on Tuesday

The opening general session marked the rollout of the new Family Farms Advantage, a group medical insurance program for Family Farms members, their families and employees. Mike Cassel, Vice President of Employee Benefits at USI, and Michelle Smith, Family Farms VP of Human Capital, spoke with attendees about the new program.

After learning about the Family Farms Advantage insurance program, we switched gears and focused on succession planning with David Prichard, Partner and Exit Planning Advisor at Kerber, Eck & Braeckel. Family Farms is partnering with Pritchard and the Ag Group at KEB for a complete estate and succession planning program tailored specifically for family farms. This new program pulls together all the pieces needed for a cohesive succession plan, with a focus on the people and implementation, ensuring the legacy farm owners have worked so hard for becomes a reality.

General Session – Tuesday Afternoon

To cap off the day, Aaron Whitesel, Nutrien’s Director of Government and Industry Affairs, delivered invaluable insights about what is going on in agriculture in Washington D.C. Whitesel’s message covered everything from upcoming bills to updates on the trade struggles with China, and he fielded questions from members.

FFGMike Cassel and Michelle Smith

Dierberg’s Markets’ COO, Andy Pauk and Tom Brindell, Director of Produce Operations, spoke about their commitment to local growers and customers as they continually drive the message of freshness from field to fork. The two gave unique insights into the importance of the link between family farms and consumers, how the company sources their produce products, their commitment to local growers, and consumer education.


General Session – Wednesday Morning

Do you know when to sell your crops? Is grain marketing like speaking a different language to you? Blue Reef Agri-Marketing’s Risk Management Consultant & Cash Grain Specialist, Chip Nellinger, helped break down tips and tricks for maximizing profitability and shed light on the art of crop sales. Chip even led an interactive session with a year overlook simulation to show just how tricky selling your crops at the right time can be.

You have all your accounting data, storage inventory, and input data, now what? How do you put all those things together to help you run your business efficiently? An enterprise resource planning (ERP) software like AgVero, developed by FamilyFarms with partner LinkFresh, helps tie all those pieces of the puzzle together. LinkFresh and Aptean’s Bryan Barness, VP of Sales, North America, spoke to farm members about linking data together with a purpose, an ERP system role in blockchain, and how the future of food is integrated.


General Session – Wednesday Afternoon

You collect important data all year long. From soil samples, to planting rates, to yield numbers, you have buckets of data, but what do you do with it and what does it all mean? Conservis’ CEO Sherman Black addressed the crowd about how they can take the data they are collecting and make it work best for them, enabling smarter future business decisions.

The always-popular Eric Snodgrass, Atmospheric Scientist for Nutrien Ag Solutions, provided weather updates that focus on how high-impact weather events influence global agriculture productivity. He isn’t your average “weatherman.” He delivered an interactive and fun weather forecast and update to what is going on with weather around the world. His current research uses machine learning to better understand field-level weather impacts on yields in the US and to increase confidence in long-range weather prediction.


Closing General Session

To say 2019 was a challenge for farmers across the country would be an understatement. When the rain started in the Fall of 2018, it caused flooding and unplantable fields. The unusual weather, paired with the trade struggles with China and the United States, made for a challenging 2019. “Sharks never swim backwards” is a motto that Rob Sharkey from Shark Farmer Radio lives by. He shared his own family’s challenges that they have faced over the years and reminded everyone to keep pushing forward. The agriculture industry has been through a lot before and with grit and determination these latest challenges will soon become another conquered mountain.


As the conference was nearing an end, participants were reminded that implementation is everything. You can set goals and make plans, but if you don’t also make a plan and iron out the tactics on how to achieve those goals and how to put those new practices in place, it will be much harder to achieve your goals. At the end of the closing general session, Family Farms Group coaches helped members build their implementation plans. These plans include detailed steps on how each operation can meet the goals.


Breakout Sessions: Building Blocks for a Strong Business

Transitioning to Organic Crops: Where to Start?

One way for a farm to diversify their operation’s crop mix is to add in organic crops. One of the primary concerns when considering adding organic grain production to your cropping plans is the dreaded transition crop years, during which crops aren’t yet eligible for organic premiums and are often not your top yielders. Attendees were able to hear from both sides of the spectrum - Pipeline Foods, a buyer of organic grains, and Wallendal Farms, a family farm which transitioned much of their operation to organic crops. The two businesses spoke with members about the challenges, first steps, and considerations of transitioning to organic.


Federal Tax Updates for Farmers

Tax laws are always changing. AgriSolutions Tax Accountant Amanda Newgent and Senior Tax Manager Mary-Karen Wittman covered a number of changes like qualified business income deduction, crop insurance proceed deferral, and 529 plans.


2019 Soil Challenges and 2020 Soil Prep


John McGillicuddy of McGillicuddy Corrigan Agronomics discussed some of the top issues that farmers dealt with in 2019. He has noticed yield loss from compaction layers restricting root mass and nutrient availability, 

impacts from late planting dates due to wet soils in spring, and variety selection. Growers in the session talked about what issues impacted yields and discussed solutions for the 2020 growing season.

Hemp: The “Wild West” of Industrial Hemp

Family Farms members shared with other session attendees about their experience with industrial hemp farming. They covered key areas for first year success: baseline and unexpected agronomic behaviors of cannabis, the economic trajectory of the crop, and what a processor will look for in purchasing hemp biomass from growers.

Summer Conference, Here We Come!  

The family farmers who attend our conferences are there for one goal: to keep their family’s farming legacy alive. So, mark your calendars for the 2020 summer conference! The conference will be held on July 20-22 in St. Charles, MO. The last day is open to the public, and forward-thinking family farms who are looking to advance and improve their operations are encouraged to attend!

To learn how farm families across North America are working together to keep their family farms alive, thriving and positioned for long-term success, subscribe to our blog! 

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