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Changing hands

Agriculture.com Staff 02/23/2006 @ 2:14pm

After graduating from Iowa State University in 1998, Dave Hommel wanted to go back to Eldora, Iowa, and farm in partnership with his dad, Tim, then just 50 years old. But questions loomed.

Was the farm business strong enough to support two operators? Could his father accept him as a part-owner -- not just an employee? And the final test: Could Tim accept Dave emotionally as a full partner and not just as a son when it came to decision-making?

After attending seminars for two years about planning for farm succession, the Hommels crafted a partnership that is working. Learning how to communicate better was their first step. They began holding meetings once a week involving all family members, including Dave and his wife, Laura, and his parents, Tim and Jane. Their schedule evolved to monthly meetings after they'd ironed the initial kinks out of their partnership and learned the daily process of working together as partners.

A meeting agenda is prepared in advance. Each person is free to contribute to the list and talk about personal issues at the meeting. For instance, each person discusses the timing of tasks for which they are responsible. This lets everyone know what tasks are coming up, who is responsible for them, and when the work will be done.

More personal issues are addressed, too. "Everyone is free to share what they think and feel," Dave says. "The meetings involve everyone and help us each to feel like our concerns are being addressed. Improving our communications has made the partnership work more smoothly.

"That doesn't mean relationships are always rosy between us," he adds. "Making money and solving problems on a farm are difficult processes, and troubling issues and disagreements arise. But holding family meetings gives us a way to work out disagreements without somebody stomping off and not speaking for three days."

After graduating from Iowa State University in 1998, Dave Hommel wanted to go back to Eldora, Iowa, and farm in partnership with his dad, Tim, then just 50 years old. But questions loomed.

Learning to communicate better helped the Hommels express and work out key differences in expectations. They've been able to develop a working partnership built on middle ground.

Making room for his son emotionally -- without feeling threatened by his ideas, energy, and youthful enthusiasm -- was a matter of facing the simple truth that Dave is indeed better at some things than he is. "Dealing with people is just one," Tim says. "He's better at record keeping, too."

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