To get a good foothold in the farming business, you must be frugal, dedicated, committed and willing to sacrifice for 20 or more years, says Alan Thompson, 61, a corn and soybean farmer in southwest Ohio.
Alan comes from a long lineage of farmers, but he’s keenly aware that coming from a farm family doesn’t necessarily make you a good farmer, no matter how much the previous generation wants and wills it.
“If you don’t love it, you shouldn’t do it,” he says.
Since his earliest years, Alan has always wanted to be a farmer, but not just a farmer — a good farmer. One that is economically successful, environmentally minded and entrepreneurially driven.
Today, Alan has built a family farm that spans Clark, Madison, Fayette, Greene and Champaign counties, and includes 8,400 acres of owned and rented ground. He is recognized by his peers and is being honored by Ohio Farmer magazine as a 2017 Ohio Master Farmer.
Bill Richards, a farmer from Circleville, nominated Alan for the award and says he got to know him better through Premium Ag Commodities Cooperative, where they are both members. “I knew his dad [Roger] quite well,” Richards says. “He was a guy that was always attending meetings, looking for ideas and opportunities. Alan is like that. He’s a solid farmer and has a solid farm family. He’s the kind of farmer that is going to be successful in today’s competitive market. He’s expanding, but yet sound financially. He is a farmer that everyone in the neighborhood looks up to.”
Alan, along with wife Theresa, farms with sons Bryan and Roark. Daughters Samantha, Jennifer and Taylor, who are all off-farm professionals, also own farmland and raise their own crops. Taylor’s husband, Jeremy, a firefighter, is also heavily involved in the farm.
Alan and Theresa married in 1995. Alan says, “She’s been in just about every role there is on the farm — from office work and spreading lime to combining and being a sounding board for business decisions.
She and my daughter-in-law Kaci bring meals to the fields, which keeps us going, and that’s a tremendous job as scattered out as we are. Whatever needs to be done, she’s there.”
FAMILY UNIT: The Thompson family breaks down the work load so
that everyone has certain responsibilities within certain areas.
Pictured with Alan and Theresa Thompson are sons Bryan (left)
Alan farmed his first 80 acres in 1971 while in the 10th grade. He farmed in Madison and Clark counties with his dad and brother Dan until he went out on his own at age 25. “That’s until the kids came along,” he says.
Now, Bryan farms about 30% of the entire farm and takes on a lot of the responsibilities. Roark also works on-farm full time. “We break it down where everyone has responsibilities in their own areas. Our employees are part of that, and they are a key to the farm’s success,” Alan says.
Alan focused on growing the farm through the years, but as all farmers can attest, the 1980s were rough. “We had to auction off some ground, but we survived and kept focused on moving forward,” he says.
The farm has always been solely focused on growing corn and soybeans. “We just concentrate on doing that better and more efficiently each year,” Alan says.
Advice from the Master
When thinking about young and beginning farmers coming into the industry, Alan says, he encourages them to buy land at every opportunity. “You can only spend your dollar once. Land is always going to be too high, but if you can kind of see yourself clear, I think you should buy land,” he says. “You should try to control as many operations on your farm as you can. We do our own spraying, our own fertilizing, grain storage and trucking. It’s been a benefit to us. Identify mentors, get all the advice you can, but ultimately make your own decisions, including seed corn, fertility and agronomy.”
Alan credits his dad as being a real visionary in farming and one of his mentors. “He was a very intelligent and successful guy that I always relied on him,” he says. “Mark Guess from Jamestown is another. He has answered every question I’ve ever asked of him since I was 17 years old. Warren Long, who passed away in 2011 at age of 91, was a very good farmer from South Charleston.”
Alan says he remembers just about everything these men ever advised. “With Mark, it was on the marketing side. He’s very good at that. My dad had agronomy ideas, and Warren Long just had a common sense about farming.”
Thompson doesn’t characterize himself as a Master Farmer, but merely someone who tries to grab all the knowledge he can and from as many places as he can, and apply it to his own farm. “It’s important that a farm be like a continuing education,” he says. “You have to stay up with the times and not be afraid of technology or new ideas. We don’t want to be a first adopter, but we do want to be an early adopter.”
Profile of Alan Thompson
FAMILY: Wife Theresa, children Samantha (Chris) Cook, Jennifer (Ben) Crawford, Taylor (Jeremy) Renner, Bryan (Kaci) Thompson and Roark (Courtney) Thompson, and 10 grandchildren.
ACTIVITIES: Past member of the South Charleston United Methodist Church and former Sunday School superintendent; member of the First United Church of Christ in Springfield, past member and board chairman of the West Central Ohio Port Authority, past board member of the Clark County Ohio Transportation Coordinating Committee, member and president of the Top Farmer of Ohio and Ohio Farm Bureau member