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Getting out and getting in

After spending 35 years building a farming operation almost from scratch, Roger and Lois Zeedyk are ready to retire. "I'd like to be done in one more year," says Roger, who is 59.

"I always thought I would just quit someday, but it isn't that simple," says the Hicksville, Ohio, farmer.

During the past year, Roger and Lois spent two days at a farm transition workshop sponsored by Ohio State University Extension. Plus, they went to a meeting sponsored by their bank and spent several more hours with a private consultant. More meetings are planned for this winter.

The challenges that Roger and Lois face are primarily good ones because they are dealing with a successful operation. But they are challenges nonetheless. They have adult children, landlords, and their own needs to consider.

Because they farm with two sons, and because a third son wants to become more involved, they don't want to do anything to disrupt the operation. Plus, they want to help their sons and their daughter, Laura, get established without jeopardizing their own financial future.

Neither Roger nor Lois had any intentions of farming when they graduated from high school in the mid-1960s. After a tour of army duty in Viet Nam, Roger started working at a nearby General Motors plant.

But while Roger was overseas, an elderly neighbor died and left him 40 acres of farm ground. A couple of years after he and Lois were married, they mortgaged that 40 to buy another 40 with a good set of buildings. Plus, they borrowed $325 to buy the Farmall H in the opening photo. With that, they were on their way.

By the time he quit working at GM in 1975, Roger and Lois were farming 700 acres. They were aggressive land buyers throughout the 1970s. Although they lost a lot of equity during the farm crises in the 1980s, they didn't lose any land. "But it was tough," says Lois, "We didn't spend anything on frills." And the house got remodeled after 20 years instead of after five years.

Meanwhile, their four children haven't been simply sitting around waiting for their parents to retire.

Their oldest son, also named Roger, is 33. He bought his first farm the year after he graduated from high school. Until last year, he had a full-time job, and his wife, Tracy, is a school secretary.

Last fall, he made a large investment in manure application equipment. He estimates he's spending about 800 hours a year applying 40 to 50 million gallons of liquid manure for area dairies.

Roger and Lois' second son, Mike, is 31. He completed a two-year program at the Agricultural Technical Institute in Wooster, Ohio, then worked in agronomy sales until 2005. He bought his first farm during his first year in college.

Several years ago, he purchased a self-propelled sprayer. He does all the spraying for the family operation on a custom basis, plus he does some other custom spraying.

He and his wife, Michele, were expecting the birth of their third child in October.

The youngest son, Adam, is 28. After graduating from Ohio State University, he worked as a grain merchandiser for ADM. He left there to get a master's degree in ag economics and is now a marketing consultant with Brock Associates in Milwaukee. He hopes to eventually establish a Brock office near the farm and become more involved in day-to-day operations.

Roger and Lois' daughter, Laura, is 22 and is working on a master's in speech pathology.

The family members have always looked for special niches that will augment the farm income. Roger and Lois raise seed beans for Pioneer. For several years, they have sold 1,200 to 1,300 acres of corn silage to a nearby dairy. Mike handles the manure management plans for that dairy, and the younger Roger pumps the manure through hoses and applies it on the Zeedyk fields.

The family members keep their farms separate but rely on one line of equipment, most of which is owned by Roger and Lois. One challenge is how to transfer machinery.

Land transfer is another challenge. The parents have worked with their landlords to pave the way for their sons to rent those farms. "We have landlords who have put their faith and trust in us, and I have a continued obligation to those people. We wouldn’t be where we are today without them," says Roger.

Beyond that, Roger and Lois are cash renting much of the ground they own to Roger and Mike.

Roger and Lois want to decide how their assets will be distributed before something happens to them.

"Our goal in estate planning is to be very open with our children," says Roger. "We want them to be informed, even on something as simple as who gets the H tractor."

After spending 35 years building a farming operation almost from scratch, Roger and Lois Zeedyk are ready to retire. "I'd like to be done in one more year," says Roger, who is 59.

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