Families farming together
As the new guy on the farm, Justin Martz has a singular goal: be a sponge. “I want to soak up as much knowledge as my partners are willing to share,” he says.
That knowledge base is substantial, considering he joined Larson Farms Partnership, an operation begun in 1953 by his grandparents, Ray and Carol Larson. Then in 1979, they formed a formal partnership and brought in each of their three children and their spouses: Mike and Lynn Martz, Barb and Norm Larson, and Dave and Robin Larson.
Today, Ray, Carol, Norm, Barb, Mike, Lynn, Justin and Justin’s wife, Jamie, all participate in day-to-day operations, managing 6,300 acres of corn and soybeans and feeding out 7,000 head of cattle annually near Maple Park. It is a feat of communication and organization, but they are united in purpose. “We all have the same goal,” says Justin’s dad, Mike, “to pass this thing on down the line, if we have family members who want to do it.”
• Larson Farms Partnership has integrated three generations.
• Mike Martz believes in working off the farm before returning.
• Each partner of Larson Farms has an area of expertise.
That’s where they found themselves in 2008, after Justin graduated from the University of Illinois. His dad had always encouraged him to work away from the farm for a while, so he worked two summers with Monsanto and then took a full-time position after his December 2007 graduation. By August ’08, the partners had unanimously agreed to bring Justin into the operation. He was an employee for the first year and a half; then in 2010, he rented 300 acres.
“I wanted him to do that because it got him to experience what it’s like to market on your own, make your crop plan and make all the decisions yourself,” Mike recalls.
Justin joined the formal partnership in 2011, bringing along his 300 acres, plus skills that rounded out the partnership: Specifically, he’s in charge of seed selection and all on-farm technology and electronics. Day to day, he works where he’s needed, on either the crops or the cattle side of the business.
It’s a model that’s worked for their farm. “When we started in ’79, every partner had something they were responsible for. You were in charge. You might have to explain your decision, but you were in charge,” Mike says.
He allows that bringing in the third generation has been harder than it was to bring in the second, mostly because at this point, there are more partners.
And Justin? He says the best things he did were getting off the farm and building a network. “I was able to work with farmers in Minnesota and in central Illinois, and I was able to see their ideas and bring them back here.
“You’ve got to get away from the farm. You have to do something to get outside perspective.”
This article published in the December, 2011 edition of PRAIRIE FARMER.