Today, I have the privilege of introducing you to Kip Tom. Kip is the CEO of Tom Farms, a family-owned business located in Northern Indiana. Tom Farms was established by Everett and Marie Tom in 1952 and is currently one of the largest suppliers of seed corn to Monsanto.
Kip kindly agreed to do an email interview with me discussing sustainability, agriculture in the 21st century, and family business. Enjoy the first part of the interview today, and check back for the rest of the interview on Thursday.
AM: Obviously, your family’s connection to agriculture is deep and important to you. How does your family’s farming history impact the way you think about the Ag industry?
KT: Our family settled in our community 176 years ago this summer, about seven generations before my children joined the business. Each of us who have a role in this business must take responsibility to assure that the business continues.
AM: Sound economics and business principles are key components of running an operation that can last for multiple generations. Why is it important to run a family farm using sound business principles? How does a sound business model contribute to the overall livelihood of an operation?
KT: Oftentimes financial decisions have been made on the farm in the past with little-to-no due diligence. A business can only survive through good and challenging times if the financial impact of all decisions is clearly understood prior to making the decision. It is critical that leaders understand where the income and cost centers are, and how the contribute to the business’s bottom line.
AM: As I listen to the conversation surrounding agriculture, I hear a lot of talk about sustainability. What does sustainability mean to you? How is an operation like yours sustainable?
KT: Sustainability is a word that can span many conversations, but to our business it means:
- Succession of the family business;
- Protection of all resources spanning generations; and,
- A systems approach to our manufacturing processes.
AM: You’ve spent many years on your family farm, and have also chosen to be actively involved in the national and international discussion about agriculture. In other words, you have the knowledge and experience of working on the farm while also understanding the various dynamics of national and international Ag concerns. From your perspective, what are the top three challenges farmers are facing in the 21st century?
KT: The first challenge I see is a failure to recognize that production agriculture is a manufacturing business and that we need to invest in developing a systems approach to producing the products that we “build” on our farms to feed the growing global demand. Farm structures will be much different in the future as they are in essence a “biological manufacturing plant” producing food, fiber and energy. Success in this endeavor will require extensive capital investments, coordinated supply chains, and talented management and staff.
Additionally, education will continue to be the differentiator in the future as it is now. The successful farm business will need to have qualified leaders in the management positions as well have educated technical staff to operate the complexity of the “manufacturing plant”.
Finally, agricultural advocacy will continue to be a challenge with less connectivity between consumers and the farm. It is the responsibility of our industry to step up from all levels and engage in local and global discussions. We also have the responsibility of engaging with policy makers to ensure we are helping the food insecure.
Check back here on Thursday to hear more from Kip!