Peer group provides support, invaluable insight

Peer group meetings within the farming industry have been taking place for more than 50 years as a means of sharing best practices, technological approaches and even management styles. 

One such meeting was hosted by Lon Frahm at Frahm Farmland Headquarters and Event Center on January 7, 2021. Of the more than 20 attendees included were owners and employees of Kastens Inc. and Quad K Farms, Atwood; Brian Vulgamore owner of Vulgamore Family Farms, Scott City; and Frahm Farmland employees.

Both Vulgamore and Frahm are part of a larger peer group comprised of eight total entities spanning Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Nebraska, South Dakota and Kansas. Each farm takes turns hosting a bi-annual conference. But, for the past 10 years, the the three local farms have been meeting in the interim—often with all employees present—as a means of ongoing collaboration, but also, to connect with old acquaintances. 

“I would have come even if it wasn’t a peer group meeting because it’s an opportunity to see friends,” said Vulgamore. 

The group convened in the morning for an impromptu meeting to discuss everything from the logistics of organizing employee meals to wind farms, grain bins and high-speed planters. After a catered lunch, the group toured the farm and the office in town, which gave attendees the opportunity to make inquiries into each other’s operations and the reasons behind them.

There’s value in discussing differences, said Vulgamore. “You can go to school to learn agronomy, but there’s no book you can read that tells you how to operate a farm efficiently and successfully.” 

The only way to improve is to share differences and ferret out what could potentially be adapted to someone else’s farm, said Terry Kastens. An additional benefit is allowing an outsider to assess another’s underlying philosophy. “Leaders don’t often question themselves enough,” he said. “Peer groups are important for this reason.” 

Even though Kastens isn’t officially a member of the larger group, he has spoken at their meetings and other events hosted by Frahm. “We still view ourselves as peers, communicating and sharing information as peers would,” he said. 

One such aspect that has helped everyone improve their individual operations is sharing financial data. 

“When we meet, we open our books to each other,” said Frahm. “These meetings don’t work unless everyone is willing to be completely transparent.” 

Each farm presents a complete set of financial information that includes acreage and the goals of the individual farms. Within this framework, attendees pursue honest discussions about business management, the newest technologies and even service providers, said Kastens. 

The three leaders concur that participating in a peer group has been tremendously beneficial both for their farms and as individuals. 

“Both Lon and Terry have been important mentors and friends to me,” said Vulgamore. “Regardless of how informal the meeting, I always learn something.”

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Helo Fun For All

In conjunction with the peer group meeting was the opportunity for all attendees to ride in a R-44, Raven II helicopter owned by Brian Vulgamore and operated by career pilot, Adam Zabel, Seattle, Washington. “Most people find their first ride both exciting and exhilarating,” said Zabel, who is presently Vulgamore’s flight instructor. Zabel has worked as both a helicopter instructor and tour pilot for glacier excursions in Alaska and Grand Canyon excursions from Las Vegas.