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Farmers for the Future: Second-shift transition

Agriculture.com Staff 01/30/2008 @ 10:41am

Paul Hargus is a second-shift farmer and enthusiastic about the opportunity that provides him.

"That's my boss's description for folks who hold down a full-time job and farm as well," he explains. "He's a second-shift farmer, too."

But Paul is quick to point out that he doesn't farm on the side. "I put in as many hours as any full-time farmer," he says with pride.

The Jackson, Minnesotan's situation is certainly not unique. On the rise are sons or daughters holding down full-time jobs to cover living expenses or to purchase land or machinery. The second-shift of their lives -- afternoons, evenings, and weekends -- are dedicated to farming.

The endgame for enterprising young men like 29-year-old Paul is to eventually turn the first shift of their career entirely over to farming. Reaching that goal, Paul testifies, takes a well-devised plan supported by optimism. That latter requirement he delivers in semitrailer truckloads. Paul's enthusiasm for whatever chores he tackles -- from maintaining manufacturing equipment at his job to growing crops -- seems boundless.

"I enjoy my job and love to farm. It's the best of both worlds because many of the skills I learn working off the farm can be used to farm," Paul says.

The planning part by which Dwayne Hargus's corn and soybean operation transitions over to son Paul is currently being defined. "It's not like he decided to farm just yesterday. He told me that was his goal back in high school," Dwayne says. "My wife (who passed away in 1999) and I encouraged him to get a college education. Economic reality required he get a job. He succeeded at both, and he is now well-prepared to take over the operation."

The father and son are making arrangements to hire an estate planner to help them craft a plan, which may utilize a limited partnership as a transition tool. "Our plans are general right now. Professional help will make them more specific and realistic," Dwayne says.

The general concept is that Dwayne will start the transition into retirement by having Paul take ownership of a portion of the farm's machinery line. "It may end up with him buying, say, 50% of my machinery to begin with. Then, he'd eventually acquire what is left or buy his own equipment to replace older machinery I own," he says.

That plan is already in play. Paul is buying a tractor with his father. "As equipment needs to be replaced, I will buy it," Paul says. "Right now I don’t have any debt, so I'm in good shape to secure financing."

In the near future, Paul will work with his father's landlords to assume responsibility for rented land. "They know me well and see me out there farming with my dad. That provides proof of my abilities. And I've gone with Dad when it comes time to renew leases, so landlords have gotten to know me," Paul says. "Plus I'm already renting land myself and am looking to buy land when the right piece comes along."

Dwayne will also begin renting the land he owns to Paul as he transitions into retirement. "I'm not going to just suddenly leave, as that would put too much burden on him," Dwayne says. "Besides, one of the biggest assets I can give him is my experience. That's a crucial part of making the transition work."

Helping to make this transition proceed smoothly is the fact that Dwayne's other son, Scott, is kept aware of what the plan is. "He just finished up student teaching and will graduate from Minnesota State University this spring," Dwayne explains. "He wants to teach. But Scott still comes back to help if needed."

Paul plans to continue his job as a plant maintenance and information technician for Kozy Heat Fireplaces in Lakefield, Minnesota. "Plant maintenance means I get to fix everything from plumbing to $2 million steel cutters," he says. "I also assist keep the company's computer system operational. I picked up those duties because I had an interest in computers and knowledge of such systems gained in college."

That education was obtained from South Central College in Mankato, Minnesota, where Paul graduated with a degree in ag business and production technology. "Education opened up the opportunity to get a great job. I'm doubly fortunate to find a job close to home," Paul says, explaining that the factory is located about a 20-minute drive away from the farm. "I start work at 6:00 a.m. and get off at 3:00 p.m., which gives me a lot of time in the afternoon and at night to farm."

Paul has found he applies much of what he has learned on the job to the farm, particularly when it comes to machinery maintenance and fabrication. "I've learned how to repair a wide variety of machines," he says. "My ability to do most of the machinery repair and maintenance is going to have a big impact on keeping my farming costs down."

Paul Hargus is a second-shift farmer and enthusiastic about the opportunity that provides him.

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