Serving Minnesota and Northern Iowa.
 Home > Iowa News 

Families share farm transition experiences

By Jean Caspers-Simmet

Date Modified: 07/02/2013 11:06 AM

E-mail article | Print version

INDEPENDENCE —Farm transitions change over time, said Lee Maassen, a Maurice dairy farmer.

He's been through three family transitions. The more people who get involved, the more complex the process.

Maassen was on a producer panel at last week's "Dairy Iowa: Transitioning Iowa Dairy into the Future" at the Henderson Event Center in Independence.

Maassen's grandfather started the operation. His father joined him after serving in World War II. Maassen and his older brother started a partnership with their father, and in 1982, his older brother sold his partnership to their younger brother.

Maassen's younger brother got out of the partnership in 2007, and Maassen's three sons came into the operation. Maassen's father, now 91, remains an investment partner in the limited liability partnership.

Maassen and his sons farm 1,000 acres, milk 600 cows and raise replacement heifers. They custom feed close to 1,000 head of beef. They sell 85-90 percent of their dairy bulls to commercial herds in the Southwest. They have completed the planning process to double their dairy herd within three years.

"The family transitions have gone well, but there were bumps in the road," Maassen said. "I credit my wife with urging our family to get a mediator to work through difficulties. We spent three days with Val Farmer (psychologist) with some brutal face to face times."


J Schanbacher, and his wife, Barb, farm with his parents Allan and Joyce Schanbacher. They milk 240 cows and raise 900 acres of crops at Atkins. When Schanbacher returned to the farm 18 years ago, his father and brother had separate dairy operations but farmed ground together. In 1999 his brother left farming.

Schanbacher Acres is structured as a corporation, and that was the vehicle they used to transfer ownership. Schanbacher purchased shares. The farm's accountant helped with the plan. Both generations are active in labor and management.

"It's been a slow process, but it worked well for us," Schanbacher said.

When he started, they milked 70 cows, and they've slowly grown to 240.

"My father and I decided to grow the dairy but weren't crazy about jumping into a big expansion," Schanbacher said. "We worked well together finding middle ground."

Moderator Leo Timms, an Iowa State University Extension dairy specialist, said the Schanbachers built a new barn when dairy prices were at a low point, but they knew they were going to do it all along and they were in a financial position to do it.


Ken Birker, of Vinton, operates Birker Incorporated with his wife, brother and sister-in-law, sons, and a nephew. They farm 3,000 acres, milk 300 cows, manage a 160-cow beef herd and finish nearly 1,000 beef and dairy steers. They also custom chop, and a nephew raises vegetables. He and his brother started farming with their father in the 1970s. Now, they're working on a transition plan for the next generation with Steve Bohr, of Farm Financial Strategies in Lisbon.

"My original plan was to retire when I expire, but that's not fair to my boys," Birker said. "I would have been disappointed if Dad hadn't transitioned to us. To be vibrant, you have to move ahead. This transition plan is more complex than I ever imagined."

While the dairy is an important part of the operation, Birker's children have interests in crops, the cow-calf herd, feeding cattle and raising vegetables. The 300-cow dairy is operated with mostly hired labor.

"I want to keep the dairy viable," Birker said. "I want to find someone to transition into a 50/50 partnership on the dairy, and I think I found a guy who will work into that."


Dave Bolin is the fourth generation to operate Beaver Creek Farm near Clarksville.

"With prices and family situations, my dad took a job as a postmaster when I was in elementary school, and he kept a few head of heifers for showing in 4-H," Dave said.

Dave started milking when he was 13 and had 20 cows to milk before school with help from his mother, father and younger sister. When he went to Iowa State University, his mother kept things going.

Dave and his wife, Pam, formed a partnership with Dave's parents, built a free-stall barn and parlor and milked 75 cows.

Their middle son, Dan, and his wife, Lynn, are working into the operation. Dave said it's time to update and expand. For quality of life, Dan and Lynn want to live where the cows are.

"We're not ready to build a big house, so we're living in a camper right now," Dan said.

That brings a sense of urgency to stay on track to find the right way to turn a profit to support two families.

"Those are the pieces we have to negotiate," Dan said. "If we're looking ahead 125 years, we may be the generation to move out of the valley where the creek gets really close to the farmstead and move up to the hill, which isn't such a great hayfield, anyway. We want to weigh our options. We want to manage cows; not people."