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Farm Manager Checklist for Non-Operating Owners

Looking to hire a farm manager? This checklist will help you cover the bases and make sure you choose the right partner for your farming operation.
November 1, 2023

Farmland can be a valuable asset. But if you want to function as a liquid, cash-flowing asset, that land must be productive. If you’re a non-operating landowner, this means bringing on a tenant farmer or farm manager.

There are a number of benefits to hiring a farm manager. However, you can’t think of farm management as a “set it and forget it” exercise. Finding the right partner and maintaining the partnership is an ongoing, involved process. 

Here are some tips for choosing and maintaining a relationship with farm managers—as well as a checklist to keep in your back pocket. 

The benefits of hiring a farm manager

Farm management is in active decline. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), we should expect to see a 3% decrease in farm managers in the U.S. by 2031. 

There are a number of reasons why many landowners are abandoning farm managers:

  • Lack of alignment on values, ethics, and goals
  • Lower profit margins which require reduced overhead
  • A “do it yourself” mentality and direct hiring of tenant farmers

While online marketplaces and farm management software make it easier to handle a lot of the details yourself, there are still several benefits to bringing on a farm manager. Here are three of the most common. 

Administrative & business management

Even before you hire a tenant, owning a farm operation carries with it a host of administrative challenges. After all, the farm is a business, and businesses create paperwork.

Some of these administrative tasks include:

  • Accounting, bookkeeping, and short- and long-term financial projections
  • Tracking, coordinating, and paying utilities
  • Managing and paying taxes
  • Monitoring assets for routine maintenance
  • Managing input costs & capital expenditures

When you add onto that pile the load of hiring a farmer, leasing the land, managing contracts, maintaining accountability by continuous monitoring of the land, and ensuring that your farm is able to support your costs, it can get tedious. 

Farm managers can step in and handle all of these areas so you don’t have to spend too much time in the weeds—but can enjoy the benefits of owning farmland. 

Farm operation & marketing

Your farm manager also manages farm performance. This can benefit both you and any tenant farmers you bring on board, as it enables them to focus on the task and season at hand.

Farm managers can handle a variety of tasks:

  • Lease negotiation and tenant selection
  • Crop planning, consultation, and input acquisition
  • Project management and seasonal planning
  • Commodity marketing strategy and execution
  • Investment analysis
  • Climate, environment, and sustainability decisioning

Running a farm operation requires numerous active decisions on a day-to-day basis. You could leave all of that to the farmer—but they may not have the business acumen to make some of the tougher judgment calls. 

A farm manager brings business expertise to your operation, ensuring that everyone stays in their lane and brings the best combinations of strengths to the table. 

Governmental compliance

If you’re involved in any USDA programs (and most farmers are), you’ll need to remain compliant with relevant deadlines and requirements. This can be a hassle. A farm manager can take that hassle off your plate. 

Additionally, all landowners and farmers have to meet certain environmental requirements, depending on the profile of the land itself. These requirements can fall under a number of programs, including: 

Because these programs are subject to legislative and regulatory change, farm managers should always seek professional development opportunities to expand their knowledge. Otherwise, you risk working with someone who’s behind the times.

What’s more, you should never set it and forget it when it comes to compliance. Ignorance is no excuse, and you should make sure you’re up to speed and fully invested in the decisions your farm manager is making. 

Note: This blog is for purely educational purposes, and should not be construed as legal or financial advice. Please consult your attorney or financial planner for recommendations in these areas. 

What should you look for in a farm manager relationship?

So you’re looking at the farm manager’s resumé. You’re wondering: which of these qualifications is the most important? You can boil it down to three things you should look for in a farm manager relationship. Let’s walk through each, then include some questions you can ask to gauge their expertise.  

1. Knowledge & expertise

If you’re hiring someone to manage your farm, they’ve got to know their stuff. As such, make sure you vet their expertise to ensure they’re bringing the right body of knowledge to the table. 

One key factor to look for: does the farm manager engage in continual education and professional development? These can include courses, reading, podcasts, blogs, YouTube videos—the medium doesn’t matter so long as the information is credible. 

Every farm manager should have an almost instinctive understanding of the following areas:

  • Production strategies
  • Input sourcing and pricing
  • Potential supply limitations & market disruptions
  • Grain marketing & diversification of your buyer pool
  • Finance, accounting, and compliance
  • Technology advancements and potential benefits to the farm

2. Experience & previous successes

If you want to maximize your farming operation’s success, you can’t work with a beginner. You need someone with experience and a track record of success.

There are two ways to look for experience: longevity and success. Longevity is simply how long someone’s been in the industry or job. Success shows how much they were able to get done while in those jobs.

For instance, you could have a farm manager with 30+ years longevity, but they only turn a profit once every five years. On the other hand, someone could have six years longevity, but have turned a profit for every one of those years—either through diversification, innovation, or a combination of both.

Don’t just look for a time span. Look for what the farm manager has accomplished with the time they’ve had.

3. Collaboration & partnership

When you bring on a farm manager, you shouldn’t be simply handing them the keys to the kingdom and walking away. Although, yes, they’ll be making the day-to-day decisions, at the end of the day it’s your farm.

On the other hand, you don’t want a farm manager who won’t proactively strategize and make decisions to improve the operation without prompting from you. 

The key is to find a farm manager who takes collaboration seriously, and sees themselves as a joint partner in the operation. This can include:

  • Openness to criticism & suggestions
  • Willingness to innovate, but also respect boundaries
  • Offering improved strategies and inviting feedback
  • Ability to push back on landowners’ generally conservative nature and maximize profitability

Farm management checklist for non-operating owners

Here are the questions you should ask when considering a farm manager for your operation: 

  • Is the farm manager serious about continuous education and improvement?
  • Can they demonstrate competency in the areas mentioned above? 
  • Can they manage daily business operations across the desired number of acres?
  • Can they manage farm labor schedules, payroll, benefits, and conflict resolution?
  • Can they train and supervise workers in all aspects of farm operations?
  • Can they manage farm equipment and schedule routine management?
  • Can they procure necessary parts for farm equipment repairs and maintenance?
  • Can they develop & implement plant, maintain, and harvest strategies?
  • Can they maintain and follow the harvest schedule? 
  • Can they operate equipment during planting and harvest seasons? 
  • Can they deliver, market, and sell commodities after harvest?
  • Will they maintain full compliance with environmental, health, and safety regulations?
  • Do you believe this farm manager will be a trustworthy partner for your operation? 

Are you looking for a farm manager for your operation? Set them up for success with GroundOS—which enables them to monitor and manage all aspects of your operation from one central location. Learn more about GroundOS today

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