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Partnership for the future

Agriculture.com Staff 03/04/2009 @ 9:21am

Functioning within multigenerational family businesses can pose challenges. But the McNeelys' history tells their successful track record in dealing with these.

Grandparents Bob and Pat McNeely bought the home farm in 1973, eventually running Rollin' Green Dairy Farm of Brooklyn, Wisconsin, in partnership with son Jim and his wife, Jennifer, and daughter Brenda and her husband, Abel Schultz. As the first generation of McNeelys and Schultzes phase out of the business, doors are now opening for Jim and Jennifer's sons, Jeff and Jamison, to take over.

Jeff, 23, became a partner in the operation in June 2007. Jamison, 19, plans to do the same in the future. Modest future expansions will contribute to the economic base needed for Jamison to become a full partner.

The McNeelys currently milk 150 dairy cows and crop 1,400 acres, producing corn, soybeans, alfalfa, and winter wheat. Most of that crop is sold for cash, and some is used to feed the cows as well as the dairy steers being finished in a feedlot. The McNeelys also sell some alfalfa hay to local horse owners.

Key strategies breathe life into Jeff and Jamison's aspirations to farm. For example, the ownership of the farm is structured to minimize debt for the younger operators. Grandparents Bob and Pat continue to own the home farm. A limited liability partnership owns the business property, such as cattle and machinery, and land purchased after 1973. A portion of this equity is being transferred to Jeff. A family corporation rents the business property, receives income from enterprise production, and pays wages for labor.

Enterprise diversity has strengthened the economy of the farm making the transition easier. "Because we're diversified, our eggs aren't all in one basket," says Jeff. "When milk prices are low, prices in the other commodities may be higher. Our feed costs are cheaper because we don't have to buy most of the feed for the cows and steers. We sell some of our corn and buy back lower-cost corn gluten and distillers' grains."

Investment costs are controlled to reduce the debt the boys would have to acquire in the future. "We haven't invested in top-of-the-line facilities or machinery," Jeff explains.

Functioning within multigenerational family businesses can pose challenges. But the McNeelys' history tells their successful track record in dealing with these.

The farm's partners specialize in the enterprise areas of their expertise. Jim manages the crops and the feeding of the steers and heifers. Jeff is in charge of the dairy, and Jamison handles the mixing of feeds. Grandmother Pat handles the farm's bookkeeping. Granddaughter Jillian, 17, helps out with calf-feeding and other farm work. As Jamison works his way into the operation, he will assume growing responsibilities for maintaining and fixing equipment.

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