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Tim Kruithoff puts family at heart of farm business

Bringing in the next generation allows for new ideas and growth for this Michigan Master Farmer.

Jennifer Kiel

January 25, 2024

17 Slides

At a very young age, Tim Kruithoff thought he wanted to be a pilot. He enjoyed farming with his dad and four older brothers, but back then it was more like chores, rather than a career.

By the time he graduated high school, he had other ideas and went off to college to pursue a degree in the tool and die industry.

“Even though I was pretty good at it, I missed the farm. Dad needed help, and I came back home,” says Tim, 50, a second-generation hog farmer in Kent City, Mich.

It’s a decision he hasn’t regretted.

At that time, Kruithoff and his dad, Wilson, were farming 700 acres of seven kinds of crops and running a farrow-to-finish operation, putting out 4,500 hogs annually. Tim spent many years learning from his father, learning with his father, and later teaching his father new technologies while they helped each other build the business.

“At first, my dad made all the decisions, but it slowly transitioned to me making decisions and getting his approval,” Tim says.

They grew the crop operation, but honed their focus on corn, soybeans and some wheat. They eliminated the sows in the late 1990s in favor of purchasing weaned pigs and expanded production to 9,000 hogs, and then to 16,000 annually.

Expansion

Today, with his wife Christine, two sons, Justin, 30, and Colin, 27, and daughter Madelyn, 23, Tim has grown the operation to 2,800 acres, concentrating on corn, soybean and some wheat. Their adopted son John Sturdavent, 29, is a heavy equipment salesman, often found at the farm, as well as Madelyn, who helps in the office.

In a partnership with Justin, the operation added a 1,400-sow unit in Indiana two years ago. “We produce more piglets than we can currently utilize, so we’re working on buying another operation to fully absorb the production,” Tim says.

With 11 full-time and five part-time employees, the operation produces 25,000 market hogs annually, as well as about 40 freezer beef they sell privately. Three grain facilities provide 275,000 bushels of storage.

They also provide custom planting and baling. “We’ve had some opportunities with farms wanting to sell facilities,” Tim says. “We like controlled growth, and with each expansion, we make sure it’s a good fit that we can manage effectively.”

Along the way, he’s incorporated technology to better prescription-farm, while having a keen eye on conservation.

Katie Derks, who works for Michigan Agricultural Commodities, says the Kruithoffs are diligent and passionate about agriculture.

“Over the years, Tim has used innovation, equipment and technology to make changes and to maximize the farm’s potential,” she says in her 2024 Michigan Master Farmer nomination. “He is always willing to share his knowledge, resources and experiences — both successes and failures — with others.”

Tim has been involved and served in leadership positions with many organizations, including Michigan Farm Bureau, Michigan Pork Producers Association, the state and national corn and soybean grower associations, and many more.

Care of natural resources

Soil health is constantly analyzed. “We look at what we did right, what we did wrong and what can we change for next year to make soil healthier, not just next year but years ahead,” Tim says. “That can be more drainage tile, irrigation, more cover crops, or correcting nutrients through soil and tissue testing, and paying attention to how the crops are doing.”

On-the-go yield mapping has helped the team make better decisions on variable-rate fertilizer applications, as well as selecting seed varieties and hybrids to variable-rate seed. Technology has had a huge influence on the operation.

“Technology is all on our phones, and our kids are into it,” Tim says. “We control our grain dryer, our feed mill, barn ventilation and irrigation pivots, all off our phones.”

The farm has been planting cover crops for about 15 years on most acres. “As soon as we get something harvested, or even before we harvest, we’re trying to get something planted, whether it’s through aerial seeding or drilling after the crop comes off,” Tim says.

The goal is to increase conservation tillage. “We can’t no-till in every situation, but we’re going to no-till as much as we can when the soil and weather give us an opportunity,” Tim says.

In addition, the family has put in grass waterways and buffer strips, and water retention walls to prevent erosion.

Pigs give a complete fertilizer source for the crops, he says, but the challenge is getting out to spread when weather conditions are conducive. “There’s also a lot of cost that comes with spreading manure, but it has helped us to do very well with our crops,” Tim says. “And the cover crops are starting to really feed into that manure too, because that converts it for the next crop, making a whole, complete cycle.”

Tim has worked with Natural Resources Conservation Service staff, including Matt Soehnel and Katy Droscha, to take advantage of cover crop cost-share programs and other soil health programs. He buys his cover crop seed from Dennis Bosch, who also lines up aerial applications.

“We’re putting different cover crop cocktails in and trying new things out,” Tim says.

Family business

At the heart of it all, family is the foundation. Tim and Christine got to know each other in high school and married in 1993. Tim bought his father out of the operation in 2012. “It was unforeseen, but he was ready to be done, but not entirely,” Tim says.

As Justin was returning home from Michigan State University with an ag tech degree, the plan was for him to learn and work with his grandpa. “But he passed away shortly after Justin came home in 2014,” Tim says. “My dad had a big impact on my life and many others, and we certainly didn’t plan on him leaving us that soon.”

Troy Johnson of Johnson Ag Service and Johnson Grain Farms, who supported the Master Farmer nomination, says, “As a farmer, Tim has followed in his father’s footsteps, understanding the importance of innovation and change. Tim has allowed his boys to make important decisions, setting the family business up for future success.”

Tim and Christine’s son, Colin, went off to college with his best friend, Zach Widener, both to study engineering. After graduating, Colin came back to the farm after working in engineering for nine months, while Zach lasted 15 months before deciding the farm was where he wanted to be, too.

“Zach is like one of our sons — our fourth son,” says Christine, while noting that he also lives next door.

A succession plan is ongoing, as Tim is transitioning different sectors of the farm to his sons. He is also looking for opportunities to bring Zach into ownership on the farm.

“We don’t want to be the largest farm of any commodity, but we want to do the best job with the resources we have,” Tim says.

But it’s not all work. This family, which now includes seven grandchildren, also likes to spend time at the family cottage on the Muskegon River in Newaygo, just 35 minutes from the farm. It’s far enough to be a destination, but close enough should there be an urgent demand at the farm. 

Loosening the reins

Tim doesn’t mind relinquishing some responsibilities and decision-making. In fact, he sees it as a necessity. He says he’s proud that his kids have had the ability to return to the farm and to make it a multifamily operation. “I wish they could have farmed with my dad,” Tim says. “He knew so much about agronomy and livestock and a desire for farming. But he did pass that on to me, and now I’m sharing it with my kids.”

They have excelled and taken on leadership roles, he adds. “There are farmers much older than them asking my sons how they are doing things,” Tim says. “I take great pride in that because they are making an impact. They are not necessarily doing the things I’ve done because that’s what I’ve always done. Instead, they are doing their own research and making their own decisions. I’m learning from them. It’s about growth.”

New to the farm are two drones, used for dropping fertility, pesticides and cover crop seed. “Justin is leading that charge and is now a drone dealer for AgriDrone,” Tim says. “Instead of me going out and taking on that next endeavor, my sons are doing it.”

It’s clear that the future of the farm will collectively be forged. For Tim, he says, “I still plan on getting my pilot’s license.”

Tim Kruithoff at a glance

Farm: Kruithoff Farms, 2,800 acres, corn, soybeans and wheat; 25,000-head hog operation annually

Nominator: Katie Derks with Michigan Agriculture Commodities

Leadership: Served on Kent County Farm Bureau board; served on local school board for 16 years; went through Michigan Farm Bureau profile program, served on the MFB young farmer committee, served on the MFB livestock advisory council and MFB legal defense committee.

Currently serves on Kent County FSA committee, Tyrone Township Planning Commission, Michigan Pork Producers Association’s state board and MFB Rural Community task force. Member of Michigan Soybean Association, Michigan Pork Producers Association and Michigan Corn Growers Association.

Awards: Kent County Conservation Farmer of the Year 2021

Read more about:

Master Farmers

About the Author(s)

Jennifer Kiel

Editor, Michigan Farmer

While Jennifer is not a farmer and did not grow up on a farm, "I think you'd be hard pressed to find someone with more appreciation for the people who grow our food and fiber, live the lifestyles and practice the morals that bind many farm families," she says.

Before taking over as editor of Michigan Farmer in 2003, she served three years as the manager of communications and development for the American Farmland Trust Central Great Lakes Regional Office in Michigan and as director of communications with Michigan Agri-Business Association. Previously, she was the communications manager at Michigan Farm Bureau's state headquarters. She also lists 10 years of experience at six different daily and weekly Michigan newspapers on her impressive resume.

Jennifer lives in St. Johns with her two daughters, Elizabeth, 19, and Emily 16.

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