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Reduce a young farmer's risk

Agriculture.com Staff 01/10/2006 @ 10:18am

Alan Thompson vividly remembers being an eager 20-year-old with a passion for farming. He also instantly recalls the risk.

The 49-year-old producer owned 1,000 acres by the time he was 24, without a cosigner. At 30, he got caught in the wave of rising interest rates and falling land values and had to sell most of the land. The Springfield, Ohio, farmer has wanted to help his son start farming but also reduce the risk.

Alan and his wife, Theresa, believed the best way to help then 19-year-old Bryan was to give responsibility instead of greenbacks. "We will provide opportunities, not money," says Alan about their five children.

The first opportunity for Bryan was farming 32 acres on his own in high school. Bryan recounted the experience while harvesting soybeans last fall.

"When you're 16 or 17, you don't realize how much is involved -- the paperwork, book work, going to the bank -- there's just so much to learn."

By farming a smaller acreage, it was a slow and easy process, he says. "If I messed up marketing, it wouldn't bankrupt me. It was not that big of a risk."

Today, Bryan farms 480 acres. After saving wages earned on the Thompsons' farm and profit from the corn and soybean crop, he bought a $21,000 Terra Gator sprayer. Alan and Theresa farm 4,820 acres (900 owned) and lease the sprayer from Bryan. Bryan, in turn, pays his dad custom combining and planting rates for using the equipment on his own acreage. Bryan gets a paycheck every two weeks as a salaried employee of the farm.

Alan Thompson vividly remembers being an eager 20-year-old with a passion for farming. He also instantly recalls the risk.

Exchanging labor and management for the use of machinery is a low-risk way to help young people get started, says Michael Duffy, director of the Beginning Farmer Center in Ames, Iowa. "The young person can build up equity without building up debt."

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