Farm Progress

Promoting understanding is an increasingly essential task of farm management professionals.

March 30, 2018

6 Min Read
FARM TEAM: Meeting at the Vilsack farm are Jim Snyder (left), Bob Petrazelka, Darrell Limkeman, Christie and Tom Vilsack, and Ray and Dee Lehn.

By Lori Leonard Reyman

Iowa’s 40th governor and the 30th USDA secretary says he never would have been able to enter public service without someone he could trust running his southeast Iowa farm.

Tom Vilsack, who currently serves as president of the U.S. Dairy Export Council, was honored in 2017 with the Carl F. Hertz Distinguished Service to Agriculture Award at the 88th convention of the American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers.

In accepting the ASFMRA’s highest award this past November, Vilsack praised the farm management profession based on firsthand experience: “Farm managers make possible the hopes and dreams and aspirations of so many people. What a difference they make.”

Long before his career in politics, Vilsack grew up in Pennsylvania and went to law school in New York, where he met his wife, Christie. After earning their degrees, the couple moved to Christie’s hometown of Mount Pleasant, Iowa, where Vilsack began practicing law.

Farming roots run generations deep
Vilsack’s clients didn’t always pay their attorney fees in cash. “As a result of a case I won, my client paid me by giving me a good-sized farm,” Vilsack recalls. “Absent a farm manager, the smart thing for me would have been to sell the farm and convert the fee into cash.”

But like so many Iowa families, farming roots run generations deep. “My father-in-law was a child of the Great Depression when he witnessed farms being sold. His family farm survived during the Depression, but over time, the farm was eventually sold. He always longed to have farmland in the family again,” Vilsack explains.

The farm with which one of Vilsack’s clients paid his bill in the 1990s was located close to the family farm once owned by Christie’s family. And so, the future U.S. secretary of agriculture, one of the longest-serving in the nation’s history, was determined to keep the land.

But how best to manage it while running for and serving in public office? Enter Darrell Limkeman — an ASFMRA-accredited farm manager — and Vilsack’s long-standing respect for farm managers is born. Vilsack’s initial contact with Limkeman was as expert witness for the opposition. However, the future governor recognized expertise and integrity when he saw it and went on to engage Limkeman’s services.

Farm manager provides valuable help
With Limkeman on board, Vilsack’s career path, from an Iowa courtroom to the Iowa governor’s office and eventually the top post at USDA, was cleared. And for Vilsack’s sons, so was the path to whatever colleges they would choose. A knowledgeable farm manager afforded the Vilsacks the peace of mind of having farmland back in the family, as well as the profitability of a well-run operation.


COMMUNICATE: Tom Vilsack (right) and wife Christie say they greatly appreciate the advice they get from farm manager Darrell Limkeman (center) of Ottumwa.

“Having a great farm manager, as we do, allowed us to enjoy the benefits of the farm without the challenge of seeking out good folks to farm the land,” Vilsack says. “Land ownership enabled me to consider running for office without worrying about whether my family would have enough to live on, as I spent time away from the income-producing law practice. And the farm allowed me to tell my children we would pay for any college they decided to attend, and their lives have benefited from the great education they both received at top-tier colleges.”

“None of these benefits would have been possible without the peace of mind and security of having someone honest and knowledgeable managing the farm and working with the operator,” he says.

Keeping landowners informed
When Limkeman, owner of Mid States Farm Management Co. in Ottumwa, took over management of Vilsack’s farm, he started making a difference right away, implementing improvements necessary to realize the full potential of the land.

“We installed tile outlet terraces to inhibit soil erosion and continue that to this day with the last system of tile outlet terraces installed in the spring of 2017,” Limkeman says. “We also cleared a pasture in the west-central section of the farm to make it more productive. And another portion of the farm was put into the Conservation Reserve Program that should generate at least as much revenue in the CRP as it would if it were being farmed.”

Limkeman adds, “It has proven to be a good investment for Mr. Vilsack, as I have appraised the farm on three occasions and each time the value was higher. I've always valued the input placed forth by Mr. Vilsack for his farm property, and I feel that it is a better farm for his involvement in the management process.”

Meeting with his clients and their farm operators regularly, Limkeman says, “We encourage communication regarding how the farmland is being managed.”


Managing the farm and the expectations

An ASFMRA accredited farm manager and appraiser from eastern Iowa asserts that promoting understanding is an increasingly essential task of farm management professionals. It’s not just about managing the farm, says Richard Isaacson, majority owner of Agri-Management Services in Marion, Iowa. It’s also about managing information and expectations.


BACKGROUND: Richard Isaacson has 40 years’ experience in farm management, real estate and appraisal. He also served as the president of the ASFMRA’s Iowa Chapter.

“We help those who are removed from farming to understand what’s involved,” Isaacson says. “People are increasingly removed, which makes our job even more important.

“The distance between the people who own land and who actually grew up on the farm is getting further and further away. At one time, it was just a generation or two away. But the legacy and the fond memories of being on the parents’ farm, or grandma and grandpa’s farm, those images and memories are fading away,” he explains. “We need to help people see that farm management is a way to continue to own the farm and keep it in the family.

"And we need to educate those who are several generations removed on the best way to produce food on that farm, so that they understand that some things are just not possible, or practical or productive.”

Lori Leonard Reyman writes from Holstein.


Growing need for farm managers

With over 2,100 members across the country, the American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers is the largest professional association for rural property land experts in the U.S.

Headquartered in Glendale, Colo., ASFMRA was founded in 1929. Its members earn designations as accredited farm manager (AFM), accredited rural appraiser (ARA), real property review appraiser (RPRA) and accredited agricultural consultant (ACC). Of the 2,100 members about 60% are appraisers and 35% are farm managers and consultants.

With over 40% of U.S. farmland being rented, farm managers and ag consultants are in strong demand. In the Midwest the average ASFMRA member or farm manager is involved with 55 to 75 farms and 14,000 to 20,000 acres, helping manage $90 million to $110 million in assets.

Each ASFMRA farm manager works with, on average, 50 to 70 landowners, family members and beneficiaries, and 40 to 50 farm operators, on a regular basis.

Source: ASFMRA

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