By Brandelyn Martin
Before their years of higher education, Daniel, Mark and Michael Carpenter could each be found working and learning on the family farm. These brothers said their interest and participation in the farming operation started at a young age.
“Dad put a lot of trust in us,” Mark said. “Daniel and I were mowing hay by the age of 8 and 10. Dad would have us in the field mowing hay all day. There was a lot of responsibility on us.”
Now, almost twenty years later, the Carpenter brothers can be found in those same fields with some added responsibilities. The fourth generation to farm in their family, each brother decided to come back home to the family farm.
Carpenter Farms is a diversified row crop and livestock operation in Ray and Carroll counties producing corn and soybeans, as well as back-grounding feeder heifers. Their operation wouldn’t be complete without its support system and “head cook” Gaye, also known on the farm as “Mom.”
Daniel, Mark and Michael farm with their dad, David, and uncle, Doug.
“Something unique about our operation is that it’s diversified,” Mark said. “With crops and cattle, we are busy every day of the year.”
“Something else that is unique is the ability for all of us to help make decisions and kind of help take into consideration one another to make a final decision,” Daniel added.
David said he bought his first farm in 1985. He and his dad acted as the decision-makers until his sons came back home from college. Now, he includes them in the process and mostly helps them make the decisions.
Making the decision
Daniel, Mark and Michael each decided to explore educational opportunities outside of the farm and graduated with degrees from the University of Missouri College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources. Daniel holds a bachelor’s degree in agribusiness management, Mark a degree in agriculture and Michael in agricultural systems management. They graduated in 2013, 2014 and 2017, respectively.
The plan had always been for the Carpenter brothers to bring what they learned back home.
“When we were younger, we could all see it, but didn’t know if it would mature as it has,” Mark said.
The Carpenter brothers each remember why they decided they would want to work full time on the family farm.
“I can remember in fifth grade, I was cutting beans,” Mark said. “I had to stay in the combine instead of going to Daniel’s junior high football game, and it didn’t bother me. It was then that I thought, ‘Yeah, I could do this the rest of my life.’”
“I can remember one Sunday right before I was getting ready to go back to school,” Michael explained. “It was a good bean year and I was driving a combine all afternoon. It really made it hard for me to get in the car and go to school. That was kind of the time I knew I was taking the right path.”
Daniel added that his decision was made when everyone worked together.
“When all of us would get home on weekends, you could really see how everything clicked and ran really well when we were all here,” Daniel said. “But then we all had to, at some time or another, return to college. It was kind of like when we were all here and all the dust settled we operated pretty efficiently.”
Their decisions were made easier when they each realized there would be a place for them in the operation.
“Our dad instilled the fact that there was a need when we came home if we wanted to,” Daniel said. “I think we all saw the opportunity.”
This need became more apparent as the boys left for school.
“When we were in college, everything was done by Dad for many hours during the day,” Daniel said. “He did all the feeding, all the cropping, all of the livestock business. There was obviously the need that we saw when we all three graduated as we did come back and kind of help split the load.”
Their passion for agriculture and farming was also an incentive to come back home.
“When I was in school, I just really never found anything else that lit a fire in me,” Michael said. “We didn’t have any other passions.”
Finding their place
With Daniel, Mark and Michael back home, there are more decision-makers collaborating on the farm. This has led to each individual finding their niche.
“The boys started out driving the tractor and hauling hay,” Doug said. “Now, it’s full-blown. They run the sprayer and planter, do tillage work, and do anything that the grown-ups do.”
Mark and Michael focus more on operational work. They both run planters in the spring and combines in the fall, help with management decisions, work with the cattle and plant cover crops. Mark also operates the sprayer and works with the cattle trucking side of the operation.
With his siblings back home on the farm, Daniel has recently switched his attention more toward his Pioneer seed business, Rock Valley Ag. However, he still helps with planting and harvest and runs the grain cart when available.
David’s role has transitioned to more of a mentor for his sons, and Doug said he mostly works feeding cattle and helping with the daily cattle chores.
Each operator has found their place on the farm so quickly because of the gradual learning process David has facilitated for his sons.
“Dad putting trust in us at a young age has helped us navigate having multiple operators on the farm,” Daniel said. “They do some things that I don’t do, but each of us is equally as capable of doing a lot of stuff at any given time.”
David added that it helps they each have good decision-making skills.
“We have a pretty good idea which way to go,” he said. “We make decisions with merit to it. No single one of us is saying we have to do it a certain way.”
Planning for the future
The Carpenters’ succession planning process stems from David’s new role and the equal-parts approach toward their operation.
“Dad has kind of moved from a boss role to a mentor role,” Michael said.
The boys said he was still just as important in the operation, but he has started putting a lot of faith in them. Including Daniel, Mark and Michael in making operational decisions has brought some changes to the farm, as well as how the Carpenter family operates on a day-to-day basis.
“Most of the time, Michael and I discuss something, think on it for a day or two, and then go discuss it with Dad,” Mark said. “For most decisions, it’s good to wait and think on it.”
They explained their slow but steady decision-making process has proved to be beneficial. It has allowed them to make some adjustments to the farm.
“I think it’s just like Dad saw in the ‘80s when he was in our position, the ag industry as awhole is changing,” Daniel said. “There are a lot of things I think you could say we’re doing today that weren’t done 20 years ago because he knows and trusts that we have a good grasp on what that entails.”
“We bring a new perspective, without losing the old perspective,” Mark added.
These adjustments are due partly to the education they received throughout their degree programs and partly to the opportunities having multiple farm operators creates.
“It helps us from getting stuck in a rut,” Michael said. “He is letting us help more on decisions based on what we’ve learned recently.”
Updates to the farm have included utilizing more precision technology, changing the way cattle are monitored and handled on the farm and implementing a cover cropping system of cereal rye the past few years. The Carpenter brothers said they are appreciative that their dad is accepting of their wanting to make change where it makes sense.
“More stuff was at the bottom of the list when it was just Dad,” Daniel said. “Now we’re spreading the work load, especially on the livestock side, and diving into more full-scale production.”
In addition to more hands-on roles, Daniel, Mark and Michael have also started getting involved in the back side of the operation to better prepare for the future.
“I am letting them do inputs and expenses on ground I own,” David said. “That really gets them started.”
“When we were younger, we saw the operational side of things and had no idea about the budgeting or financial side,” Mark said.
“We learned more when we started to have more skin in the game,” Daniel added. “You can’t teach or tell someone how it’s going to work until they have skin in the game. I think the best move was for Dad to gradually give us more trust like he did.”
While forward progress is being made on Carpenter Farms, the transition hasn’t always been easy.
“Some things we weren’t given the reins to when we thought we needed them,” Daniel said. “But, over time, we were. There might have been a slight period of butting heads, but, eventually, everyone figured out their role.”
Mark added that there may have been more challenges if they weren’t included in the operation at such a young age.
The Carpenter brothers said there have been a lot of takeaways throughout these past few years of succession planning and transition.
“It’s not easy, but we don’t come back to the farm because it’s easy,” Daniel said. “Be patient and understand why you’re doing it.”
The three agreed that if the succession planning conversation isn’t coming up on its own, younger producers should make an effort to get on the same page with their family and start working toward a mutual understanding.
After reaching their own understanding with their family, the Carpenter brothers said they have learned more in the past few years than they ever could in a classroom or working on the farm without the responsibilities they have today. Taking what they’ve learned, the three said they look forward to the future of their operation.
“My dad says in school, you learn the lesson and then take the test,” Michael said. “After you graduate and work with row crops and cows, you take the test first and then learn the lesson from it all.
We want to take what we’ve learned and hopefully we can grow, stay profitable and expand.”
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