Doing what some may consider the odd and unusual work has helped build Dick Isaacson’s farm management career.
“My business plan has always been to supplement my core business by doing the work that not everyone wants to do,” Isaacson says. “For example, in the ’80s, I did a lot of receivership work, which is one of the more challenging farm management situations you can have.”
Today, his firm, Agri Management Services, has more than 50 clients with farms in Iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Nebraska and North Carolina. Isaacson has been named the 2018 Farm Manager of the Year, sponsored by AgPro, ASFMRA and Syngenta.
His firm started in 1990, and then, it increased in size by one-third in 2003 with the purchase of Hocker Farm Management.
Isaacson has continued to build the business. Ten years ago, he was the only professional employee. His oldest son, Ben, joined the business five years ago, and today, the firm has eight professionals on staff. Its rural appraisal business has grown by 50% in the past three years, and it has launched a livestock facility management division.
He has also helped clients identify differentiation opportunities. One example is growing waxy corn on seven farms for a $0.40/bu. premium.
While he has focused on staying on top of emerging opportunities, his clients have been steadfast. The firm manages eight Iowa century farms—some of which he’s now worked with three generations.
Today, the firm’s portfolio includes seven organic farms, and some practices, such as cover crops, on these farms have been introduced on other managed farms.
And the firm doesn’t hesitate to customize services for specific client needs. It’s working with a family wanting to purchase land specific for pollinator habitat to foster populations of pollinator species.
“We’ve worked with an organic farming consultant for seven years, and he is helping us with this project as it requires substantial due diligence to meet the needs of the parties involved,” he explains.
Agri Management Services maintains personal contact on the phone or in person with every client. As clients age, the team focuses on transition plans—often including extended families—to make sure all stakeholders understand. Two to four written reports are sent to clients annually.
For landowners who are generations or geographically removed from the farm, Isaacson takes a hands-on approach.
“Each farm tour is designed to be an educational experience to grow their knowledge of the land they own and the opportunities for land improvement and income,” he says.
This in-person experience helped a client understand and approve a complex project Isaacson was proposing. This particular tract has water management challenges due to its location at the bottom of a watershed and has two large meandering drainage ways that cross from different directions.
“Historically, this farm suffered crop losses and erosion whenever rainfall was above 3". The farm has highly variable soils from high clay content to sandy loam,” he explains.
To conserve the soil, 60,000' of drainage tile and 8,000' of grass waterways were added.
“Yield maps document the increase in crop production. Since this farm has a crop share lease, the operator has benefited from these improvements,” he says.
Additionally, Isaacson oversaw enrolling 16.9 acres along the sides of the drainage ways in the Conservation Reserve Program.
The firm also has plans for its future. In 2016, Agri Management Services switched from a sole proprietorship to an LLC as part of its succession plan and to accommodate further growth.