“In 2014, my son Andy called me and said, ‘I want to come home and farm,’” says Dave Baldus. For Dave, it was essential that Andy kept his day job until they had a plan. “I needed Andy to know what he was coming home to.”
Since that pivotal phone call, the Balduses have embraced one-on-one transition planning sessions, learned to communicate better as a family, and created a working partnership to set up B4 Sunrise for the future.
Today, B4 Sunrise Farms LLC is a 4000-acre farm producing soft white wheat, bluegrass seed, canola, and legumes in the rolling fields of Idaho’s panhandle – right where Dave grew up.
“My dad was a farmer,” he says. “His dad was also a farmer, but he died when my dad was in the service and all his equipment got sold. So, my dad had to start by renting 420 acres.” The farm has grown steadily since Dave took over in 1984.
The Balduses applied that same steady fortitude to transition planning. Dave and Andy, along with their wives, Janice and Terra, worked with succession planner Michael Stolp from Northwest Farm Credit Services. Things kicked off with an unexpected personality test. Dave says, “At first I thought it was going to be some sort of trivial get-to-know-you kind of thing.
I didn’t realize how important it is to be open, to understand everyone’s strengths and weaknesses, to share what you want.”
Both Andy and his dad point to communication as key. Dave says, “We air our frustrations. If something is bothering us, we talk about it, accept it and move on.”
Through the transition planning process, they came to agreement on a vision—as Dave says, “the backbone of what a successful business and life looks like.” Then, they moved into strategic planning and estate planning. They ultimately set up a 10-year transition plan with a working partnership at its heart.
Invaluable for Andy is the process of laying out all the responsibilities on the farm and a timeline for transitioning them. Each week during the busy season they have an operational meeting, Andy brings his list of things to do in order of priority to his Dad, “He’ll crush all my plans! But he also tells me why I’ve got it wrong.” Dave adds, “If we didn’t do all the preparation – the personality tests, the goals, etc. – before setting up the partnership we wouldn’t have the working relationship we have today.
Once they had the transition plan figured out, the final step was to bring in the rest of the family: two other sons and their wives. Dave says, “No secrets. I was nervous at the time, but it went really well. The first five years, any of my other sons can step up and it’s up to Janice and me to decide if they can come on the farm. The second five years, it’s up to Andy and Terra.”
Andy kept his day job as a mining geologist in Elko until the plan was in place, and no one took pay from the LLC until after their first harvest. Financially, this was not easy, but it helped build the working capital crucial to the success of the business. That off-farm experience is also central to Andy’s management style. “It gave me perspective of how the world works,” he says. “Having different experiences and working with different kinds of people, the more diversified you can be as a manager.”
Every year in the off season, they review where they are. Andy says, “I can’t tell you how important it is to revisit the plan. Perspectives change as you learn more.”
A big shift in perspective came a year and a half ago, when Andy broke his back in an accident. “They didn’t think I was going to walk again. I had no idea how I was going to be a farmer—a few nights in the hospital were spent dreaming up pulley systems to get into the equipment. But, I’m up and walking today. It gave us a chance to take a step back and realize what’s really important in life.”
For both Dave and Andy, having a life outside the farm is one of those essentials. As Andy says, “It’s really important for me to stay married to my wife! I couldn’t do this without Terra. I have a lot of respect for her.”
Terra’s also important to the business’s success. Dave says, “She’s been a good asset to the business. It’s nice to have a fresh, a non-farming perspective. She’s a really good outside-the-box thinker. She’s our secretary and is learning to do the bookkeeping. She keeps us in line. She’s not afraid to ask questions. It can be pretty tough when someone asks you why you do something, and your answer is: that’s the way I’ve done it for 25 years! You have to rethink, why do we do it that way?”
They’re now in year four of the transition. Dave says, “By year seven I might be able to leave for a while. I’ll always be around. I’ll be out of the decision-making, but I’ll be out driving combines. I love driving combines.”
“I tell Dad, it will be hard to find a combine driver with that much experience,” Andy says, “And, I’ll make sure to treat him good!”