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Farming for the Generations

posted on Wednesday, December 19, 2018 in Business

Image of the Thompson FamilyPicture this: a fourth-generation family farm run by high school sweethearts deep in the heart of Iowa. This may sound like the premise for a movie, but for Dan Thompson and his family, it’s reality.

“Farming was always in my future,” said Thompson, who manages T&T Farms near Badger, Iowa. “During the last 18 years, I’ve come full circle from helping out on the family farm to becoming the person who handles the management decisions.”

Thompson’s parents ran the farm together for years, but as his parents aged, he and his siblings worked with them to develop a plan for transitioning the farm into the hands of the next generation. When Thompson’s father passed away a few years back, that plan was put into action and Thompson stepped up to continue his family’s legacy.

Now, as he’s starting to handle things on his own, he recognizes the value of his mom’s decades of experience. “The farm is moving forward into the next generation of family members,” he said. “We’re in the middle of a transition. My mom gives me the flexibility to make decisions, but I gut-check them with her.”

Life on the Farm

Thompson and his wife, Amy, who he describes as a “city girl from Fort Dodge,” have embraced the farm life together. “Much of the farming operation has been a learning experience for her,” said Thompson. “From the beginning, she took an active role in learning about farm life, and we work as a team to make important decisions.”

The couple have two children, a high-school age son and a daughter in middle school. Both help out around the farm in different ways with things like planting and fall tillage. “It’s a unique way to grow up, I think. Not many people get to experience this life,” said Thompson.

Alongside managing the farm, Thompson puts his bachelor’s degree in ag studies (agronomy minor) from Iowa State University to work at a seed and chemical business he co-owns in Humboldt, Iowa. For the past six years, he’s struck a balance between managing the farm and selling seed to his neighbors and other local farmers. “A few weeks in the spring and fall it seems like everything is happening at once,” he said. “You have to be able to service anything your customer needs on the seed and chemicals side, but also don’t want to give up valuable days of harvest.”

Thompson relies on his supportive family during those busy times, as everyone wants to see the farm succeed. “I’ll call up my siblings, and they come help out for a day or two — they’re always willing to help when they can,” he said.

Farm Financials

As any farmer knows, your harvest is never guaranteed. There are many things out of your control — from the weather to the fluctuating markets when it’s time to sell your crop. Keeping the farm financials in-line can help mitigate difficult harvests or a bad market.

“We focus on keeping our input costs down when it makes sense,” said Thompson. “When we are spending money, we ensure it’s a high-value product purchased from someone we trust. We also keep our eye on farm liquidity. Are we able to service debt timely? Are we putting too many eggs in one basket? Those types of concerns are always top of mind.”

As a legacy family farm, it’s only fitting that Thompson and his family have worked with the same banker for the majority of their operation. John Taets, regional president at Northwest Bank, has served three generations of Thompson family members. “John worked with my grandpa and grandma, dad and mom and now Amy and I on the farm financials,” said Thompson.

With such a long-term relationship, John has a full understanding of the farm’s operating costs, which means Thompson turns to him when making financial decisions. “I call John to discuss the pros and cons of all our major decisions,” said Thompson. “He’s like a sounding board, and I trust his opinion.” 

The Fifth-Generation

A fourth-generation family-run farm is nothing to bat an eye at these days. As farms grow larger and become more spread out, fewer and fewer families are sticking it out.

Thompson hopes someone in his family, perhaps his children or a niece or nephew, will continue on as the fifth-generation of Thompson farmers. “Getting the chance to do something your parents or your grandparents did, or even your great grandparents, is a great opportunity,” said Thompson. “It’s important to be a part of that farm family story.”

So, just like Thompson’s parents helped him and his siblings establish a plan to transition the farm to their generation, he’s working to put a new plan in place for the next one. “When we make decisions, in the back of my mind, I think about how this will impact the next generation,” he said. “The choices we’re making now will impact them in the long term.”

Having a bank he trusts and relies on — and that his grandparents and parents also trusted and relied on — provides Thompson peace of mind for the next generation. “I think Northwest Bank has my best interest in mind — because if I’m asking to borrow money they need to be confident I can cover that, which means they feel confident that I’m making a sound financial decision,” said Thompson.

“I look back on our family farm and I think its humbling that someday my name will be associated with family members before me that operated T&T farms.” Four generations of hard work, strong values and farm land will be passed down to the next Thompson generation — along with the relationship at Northwest Bank — ensuring T&T Farms can operate for many years to come.

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