The FamilyFarms LLC Summer Conference, with the theme “Back to the Future: Part II,” was held in Chesterfield, Missouri, on July 26-28, 2021. The conference focus emphasized building on the past to create a sustainable future with a strong foundation.
The conference is a highly anticipated event held each summer and winter, open to members of FamilyFarms Group and guests. FamilyFarms Group members are some of North America's top farming operations, representing over 700,000 acres of crop production. FamilyFarms Group is part of Family Farms, LLC, which represents 1.7 million acres.
2020 taught us to be flexible, so we offered both in-person and virtual attendance options at this conference, making it possible for more of our members around the country to attend. The conference theme emphasized learning from past struggles and successes and focusing on sustainability and agility to build a strong business that will survive and thrive long into the future.
Opening General Session
A general session kicks off every day of the FamilyFarms Group conference. On Tuesday, the opening general session’s first keynote speaker was Mary Shelman, an internationally recognized agribusiness consultant and speaker. The former director of Harvard Business School’s Agribusiness Program, today Mary focuses on helping agriculture professionals tackle the ag industry’s biggest challenges.
Our second keynote speaker in that session was Eric Snodgrass, principal atmospheric scientist for Nutrien Ag Solutions. Everyone has seen a weather report, but Eric’s take on the weather is unique! While most weather reports focus on the larger cities in a specific area, Eric updated our members about the weather forecast and how it can impact yields and markets around the world. The former Director of the University of Illinois Department of Atmospheric Sciences, Eric currently studies the weather - down to the field level - and what it means for ag producers around the world.
Tuesday Breakout Sessions
Understanding Market Trends with Bubba Horwitz – Trying to understand the markets can make your head feel like it will explode. Well, Bubba Horwitz breaks down trends in the market in a way you have never heard before. Bubba has been featured on RFD TV, CNBC, Fox News and more for his insight into market trends. The always-energetic Horwitz gave recommendations on navigating the world of hedging and investing, providing insight into the overall market while discussing grain markets and stocks.
Crop Conditions and the Market with John McGillicuddy - To say that the weather has been at the extreme ends of all spectrums is an understatement. 2021 is not shaping up to be much different. With extreme high temps in the Northeast and heavy rainfall with lower than average temperatures in other parts of the country, no matter where you are, it has probably been a weird weather year. John McGillicuddy broke down how some of these conditions are impacting crops at an agronomic level. McGillicuddy shared with attendees how to evaluate the risks of additional management and when to cut your losses, as well as market analysis of the crops and crop inputs and what is driving the current market climate.
Succession Planning: Debunking the Stigma of Trusts with KEB experts Steve Dumstorff and Jenny Zipprich – Trusts can be intimidating because of their complexity, and we all want to ensure that everything will be taken care of in our estate and succession planning. The experts at KEB (accounting firm Kerber, Eck and Braeckel, LLP) went over some basics about trusts, common myths and misconceptions about trusts, typical trust benefits, and an update on tax proposals and how they might impact succession planning overall.
Practical Planning Session: 2020 brought new challenges that have never been faced before. It left everyone thinking about how to plan for the unexpected. FamilyFarms Group’s ag consultants thought the same thing. How can we help producers prepare for the unexpected, the "that will never happen to us events," or the “pigs would fly first” events that no one sees coming? The Practical Planning session focused on making sure members have plans for sustainability into the future and the agility needed to make changes and adjustments as time moves forward, events unfold and, inevitably, crisis arrives.
Tuesday Closing General Session
Tuesday afternoon did not disappoint those seeking discussion of hot topics. Alliant Group’s Dean Zerbe & Eric Hylton shared their expertise in the tax sector and cryptocurrency, which is definitely coming to the ag industry. Zerbe, Alliant Group’s National Managing Director, formerly served as a senior counsel and tax counsel to the United States Senate Committee on Finance. During his time on the Finance Committee, he helped shape tax legislation that became law. Hylton, National Director of Compliance at Alliant Group, had worked in the IRS, including holding the position of Deputy of the Criminal Investigation Division and the CI’s Head of International Operations.
Wednesday Opening Session
Wednesday kicked off with Pete Nelson from AgLaunch. Pete introduced our attendees to AgLaunch and how they are helping bring new technology to the ag industry by providing a means for novel ideas to be tested by farmers and, with farmer input, for farmers.
Some conversations are more complicated to have than others; one of the most difficult concerns mental health in agriculture. Between 2014 and 2018, over 450 farmers were lost to suicide, leaving families to pick up the pieces and think about the “what if’s.” Sow Hope Grow Hope’s Adrienne DeSutter talked with our members about mental health struggles and how to approach those hard conversations that can help someone struggling with mental health issues. Depression and anxiety can be silent concerns, so knowing how to be the helping hand or being willing to reach out can be a game-changer for you or your friend’s mental health journey.
Wednesday Breakout Sessions
The 411 on Carbon Farming - Carbon farming, in a nutshell, is all the different tactics you already do on your farm, such as no-till. However, carbon farming and possible carbon credits are something that producers should consider looking into. This breakout session dove into the benefits of soil carbon sequestration and how to accelerate it, the basics of carbon credits, how carbon credits are generated and sold, how carbon programs work, and what you need to know about joining a carbon credit program.
Getting Real about Family Dynamics on the Farm with Adrienne DeSutter - Farming is an amazing industry to work in. Most family farms are operated by multiple members of the family. But with multiple generations having different views on doing things, it is not always butterflies and rainbows. DeSutter is a counselor whose specialty is helping farmers and farming families navigate the challenges they face in their industry and the unique challenge of working alongside family. This session helped break down the good, the bad, and the ugly of working with family and the best way to conquer and work with those family dynamics on the farm.
New venture planning – Adding a new line of business is a great way to add diversity to your operation, but make sure it is set up with a solid business model and adequate thought, financial analysis and planning. In this session, attendees broke down basic strategies on starting a new venture, a systematic approach to developing a solid business model, how to create a core value proposition for the new venture, and a deeper evaluation of customers, distribution channels, partners, revenue streams, and costs.
Closing General Session
Michelle Miller, also knows on social media as “The Farm Babe,” spoke to our members about the importance of sharing their stories. Miller has helped educate big corporations about how farmers are already using environmentally sustainable practices on their farms, as evidenced by her role in bringing change to a questionable Burger King commercial. Her conversation and “ag-ucation” inspired the restaurant chain to take a second look at an ad they had released. They removed that ag-negative ad and filmed a new ad on a farm, educating viewers about how farmers are already taking steps to care for natural recourses they rely on to provide safe food for the world while earning a living to support their families.