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Jack of All Trades: Crop and Pig Farming

The most recent Field Notes podcast highlighted an episode from the new AgBiz Cast podcast, which shares inspiring stories of young, beginning and small farmers. The interview was with Marlin Hartzler, a pig and crop farmer and AgBiz Masters graduate. Marlin shared his perspectives on the importance of wise investments, striving for growth and finding mentors. Listen to the full podcast episode with Marlin here:

Tell us about your operation, some of the history behind it and how you got started?

I bought my grandparents' dairy farm in 2007. I'm the fourth generation on the farm. It was dairy up until I bought it. We started milking 26 cows, that's what was here when we bought it. We raised corn and alfalfa and sold the milk. In 2016, by 2016, we had approximately doubled our herd size. We were milking 50 cows and we made the decision to sell the cows and get into hog farming. We put up a finisher barn and we started raising hogs in 2018. So that's what we're currently doing now, raising corn and beans and wheat as a cash crop. My wife and I and five children are the primary operators of the farm.

Why do you enjoy farming and what inspires you to stay in that business?

That's a tough question. It changes, it changes all the time. I enjoy working with family. I enjoy working with the kids and my wife. I think family operations are they're slowly getting phased out and I enjoy working with the family. I enjoy being part of this five, the food chain. I think it's important to have a sustainable food chain to feed the world and I enjoy being part of that.

Within that business, what was your biggest challenge in taking over your family business whenever you first got started with it?

Looking back on it, I just shake my head sometimes that how naive I was, what a kid I was when we started. If I had to pinpoint it, I would say management skills and finances were the two things that I was not prepared for when we took over.

What has been your favorite memory from your farm over the years?

I would have to say working with family and the kids, watching them interact with the animals, we do have some beef cows yet. So watching them interact with the animals, learning life skills and just being able to pass on my knowledge to them and being able to see the, not necessarily even a tradition, but just to see the next generation coming on and being able to take on the vision. I would say one of the most satisfying aspects of it is paying off a piece of equipment or something that you've, that you've had on payments. You know, you need a piece of equipment on the farm. And so you decide what you want and you put it on payments and then you're working on it. That final payment is a very satisfactory feeling.

How old are your kids? Are any of them interested in the farm?

There are still younger. The oldest is nine. The youngest is one. So it's some days it's more work than help, but it's enjoyable. I enjoy it. It's surprising how much they can help at this age and the interest they show and the questions they asked. It’s fun.

What do you envision for the future of your farm?

I would like to see my children take over the farm, but that is not my main goal. My goal is to invest wisely. That's something that I learned the hard way before AgBiz. Invest wisely when you have the opportunity to grow, but don't do it when it you're going to sacrifice your existing business plan growth is the ultimate goal, I think. But it's, you have to be smart about it in order to make it successful.

In your own words, what does AgBiz Masters teach young and beginning farmers?

It teaches good financial management and the importance of record keeping. That was the other thing that I had to learn the hard way. If you don't keep records at the end of the year, you don't know what you did and what you did wrong and what you did right, so that was one thing that helped us tremendously, was keeping detailed records of everything because you can go back and benchmark against yourself when you have that to go back to. But if you don't keep records, you don't know if you're going backwards or forwards.

How did AgBiz Masters help you improve your operations?

Being able to, to look at the operation from a numbers point of view, not necessarily, this is the way we always did it. Because that's actually a large, a large part of being able to sell the cows. We sold the cows in ‘16 when It pushed us out of our comfort zone, but being willing to look at the numbers and follow the numbers, you won't regret it because they don't lie. You have to follow the numbers.

What final piece of advice do you have for younger beginning farmers that are looking to start their own business?

Take advantage of the AgBiz class, if you can; that's definitely worth your while. Also your wife, if she is at all interested in the farm, two is definitely better than one. What you remember, your wife will forget and vice versa and you can round each other out.

The other thing that I found very helpful is building strategic business friendships. There are people who will pull you down and there are people who will build you up. Make sure that you associate with the people that build you up, because it will make a difference. And I have found that time and time again, make wise friends, not just in a personal life, but even in a business life, because it, it does definitely affect your outcome.

Do you have a mentor that you go to or others that you communicate with to get advice?

So as a farmer, you're a jack of all trades master of none, but there are people out there who specify in certain fields that you don't have much expertise in. Surround yourself with people who are experts in their field. Recognize your weaknesses and strengthen them by finding people who are better at it than you are.

I'm going to be right up front, I have a weakness with numbers. I had to find people who are willing to not invest a ton of time, but are willing to walk beside you and answer your questions. And it can go with, animal husbandry, it can go with business decisions as far as like purchases and things like that. But all throughout your business, there are things that you don't know that someone else does. Don't be afraid to ask because that's what makes you a better business person all around.


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