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Bottom-Line Business

CHERYL TEVIS 03/15/2011 @ 10:29am Cheryl has been an editor at Successful Farming since 1979.

Lynn and Ed Lambert often start their day headed in opposite directions. But despite their busy schedules and the one-hour time zone separating their workdays, the North Judson, Indiana, farm couple share a common vision for their business.

They met in 1980 when Ed saw Lynn driving an antique tractor at an event. They married in 1982 and began farming with his dad, Ed Sr., and brother, Dave. "Our first year was a drought," Ed says.

Today they also farm with Ed's younger brother, Chris, 31. They grow about 3,000 acres of corn, soybeans, and mint. Each family member has his own operation, but they all share equipment and labor.

The mint is grown on contract. They harvest and distill the oil. "The leftover hay is spread back on the field," Ed says.

After she married, Lynn went to college and majored in accounting. Within a few years, she earned a Certified Public Accountant license. Lynn handles the bookkeeping and helps with the summer mint harvest. In 2009, she opened a certified public accounting firm, Lambert, Lanoue & Smoker LLC, in Monticello and LaPorte.

On the home front, she focuses on long-range planning and marketing.

"Our crop rotations don't vary much, so we estimate how many bushels we'll harvest and our input costs for the next year," she says. "It gives us an entire year and a few months to market. If we wait for a break-even cost, we lose marketing leverage."

In 2006, Ed, Lynn, and their daughter, Theresa, 27, began implementing an estate and transition plan. Theresa, who works as a registered dietician in Downer's Grove, Illinois, wanted to remain active in the farm. "We decided to form a limited liability company to buy Ed's grandma's farm, with Theresa as a third partner," Lynn says.

They chose an LLC because it's a flexible transition tool, and it removes appreciating land values from their estate. The Lamberts began making annual gifts to Theresa for the farm down payment.

They farm it 50-50 to give her an understanding of the risks and decisions. "Rarely do farms like ours survive to the fourth generation," Lynn says. "It's up to us to teach her the business of agriculture -- crop production, marketing, and working with bankers, attorneys, and FSA.

"Each September, we have a meeting to work on a monthly cash flow for the next year, using average production figures, estimated input costs, and marketing goals," Lynn says. "This is our road map as we work toward making a profit and paying down the mortgage."

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