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Ag Entrepreneur: The right mix

Molly Shick-Manns haas built a thriving crop consulting business while farming with her father on the family's farm.

Molly Shick-Manns never listed crop consultant as a career goal. She wasn't even on an agricultural track until her college business adviser steered her toward agriculture because of Shick-Manns' farm background.

"There was an excess of business majors, so she thought there would be more opportunities in ag. And there were even fewer women in ag then," says Shick-Manns, sporting a trendy jacket that dispels the farm-girl-in-coveralls stereotype.

The Kenton, Ohio, native interned two summers with the local fertilizer dealer and gained skills such as scouting fields and identifying weeds. Armed with an Ohio State University ag business degree, she started Shick Consulting Services in 1995. The business grew as she picked up projects ranging from water-quality improvement to setting up and troubleshooting yield monitors.

In 1996, her career took an unexpected turn. Her 18-year-old brother, Brady, who worked on the family's northern Ohio farm, died in a car accident. Since her grandfather was no longer able to help with the 1,300-acre farm, Shick-Manns stepped in to help her father.

Although Shick-Manns was in 4-H and FFA and had driven tractors while growing up, changing oil, greasing equipment, and adjusting drills were new challenges.

"I'd never drilled beans, but I told Dad, "If you want to show me, I'll give it a try,'" she says. "I went very slow at first and the rows were very crooked."

Her dad, Gary, is picky about straight rows. Soon, the rows straightened. Besides the rows, being particular has paid on the farm and in her business.

"It makes me strive to do my best," she says. "Farmers know when I go in their field, I'm not just walking in 10 or 20 yards and then walking back out."

Shick-Manns farms with her dad and drills all 650 acres of soybeans. She uses her dad's equipment on 80 acres she farms on shares and on 50 acres she owns.

Soil sampling, which comprises most of her consulting business, exploded in recent years when fertilizer prices skyrocketed. In 2009, she soil-sampled 15,000 acres for an Illinois soil-testing lab and an additional 3,000 for farmers. She doesn't advertise or have a website; her business has grown through referrals. Along with scouting her family's acreage, she walked 6,000 acres of tofu soybeans last year to ensure purity for the Japanese market.

She also creates artwork in the winter from sticks, twine, rusted junk parts, nails, and other medium for her online business,

"It actually started on old leftover boards that Dad had lying around the farm," she says. The art has sold nationally and internationally for as high as $1,500. Her in-home studio is right next to her 9-year-old twins' toy room.

Living on her grandfather's farm, she pulls the four-wheeler equipped with GPS from the implement building. "I never envisioned I'd be spending more time in a John Deere than in a car," she says. "But I like what I do. I don't have to sit behind a desk, and every day is different."

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