What Gordon does in the Winter: A week in the life of an Indiana farm owner

So, about a month and a half ago, Jeremy, our Turf Operations Manager, shared a behind-the-scenes look at the types of things he works on during our off-season months. If you missed his post, check it out by CLICKING HERE.

We got a lot of positive feedback about Jeremy’s post and thought you might enjoy a peek at what Red Hen Turf Farm’s Owner, Gordon Millar, accomplished during one week of our winter season.

Here goes … Take it from here, Gordon …

My morning started off at the office at 6:30. I took a quick glance at emails, and do some compiling and filing some of last week’s work. At 7, I spent some time talking with our 4 team members working this winter in the shop. This is the same team of people who plant, tend to, and harvest our crops of Turf Grass Sod, Tomatoes, Seed Corn. Corn and Soybeans.

Last winter, we built a new 10,000 sq ft repair facility and office, so this is our first year adjusting to the new facilities. I say “adjusting” because our old building was 1/4 the size with low ceilings. We stayed busy in winters past, but this year offers new opportunity to work on many pieces of our larger equipment. Rather than hurry to get machines ready outdoors on a windy, rainy and cold day in March or April, we spend these snowy days evaluating, inspecting, and fully servicing our machinery, big and small.  As you can see in the photos below, we still fill it up. The tomato planter is receiving a new set of wheel bearings, and we’re working on repairing some pinched electrical cabling, and getting variable rate fertilizer technology added.

Red Hen's New Shop

At 9 am, I received a call from Jim Walsh who heads up the North Central Indiana Business Assistance Center. We scheduled a time in a few weeks for our staff to experience a day-long training class – LEAN Manufacturing 101. I feel this is a great program to get everyone on our team thinking about conservation efforts and sustainability.

At 10 am, I headed south to Plymouth Indiana to the annual Monsanto Seed Corn Growers Meeting. This isn’t just a corn growers meeting. It is for farms who specifically contract with Monsanto to raise Seed Corn, which is the hybrid that commercial corn farmers purchase to plant their crops. This year we received information on contract changes and were presented information on Monsanto’s new initiative on sustainability, which is driven by end-users like General Mills or Kellogg.

Gordon's view at the Spring 2015 Monsanto Seed Corn Growers Meeting

Gordon’s view at the Spring 2015 Monsanto Seed Corn Growers Meeting

Some interesting water facts:

  • Only 3% of the worlds water supply is considered fresh water, but only 0.5% is readily accessible.
  • The largest irrigated crop in the United States is Turf Grass, which is installed on residential lawns, sports complexes, commercial property, and municipal property.
  • On the US agriculture side, it’s estimated that farms use 28 trillion gallons of water each year. Of that, 4 trillion is used on corn.
  • Monsanto is looking to reduce water usage by 25%.

One thing is clear — all customers of agriculture are asking for more sustainable measures. After the Growers Meeting I returned to the office and thought about what we are doing to be sustainable.  I came up with this as a short list:

  • GPS on all Semi’s to monitor idle times / determine the best travel routes
  • LEAN training our staff
  • GPS Soil testing, variable rate applying fertilizer, utilizing automated control of product application
  • Integrating Cover Crops
  • Converting outdated Diesel engines to electric as the source for power for our irrigation systems
  • Investing in new irrigation systems to better apply water accurately and efficiently
  • Utilizing technology and crop rotations to improve productivity of all of our crops

At then end of the day, I spoke with our Pik Rite dealer (the company that sells and services our tomato harvester) as they stopped by to pick up our Odenberg Optical Tomato Sorter. Every year, this item gets full service by the company reps to ensure proper operation during the season. Check out this Youtube video of how our tomato sorter works.



Gordon and Son

Gordon and Son


Tuesday started at 7:30. With a newborn at home, I’ll always take a few extra minutes of sleep anytime I can!

I spent a few minutes talking with the guys about the an issue we discovered with the sprayer. It required a call to the dealer for technical support — $45 for a new hub seal, and we are back in business.

At 8:30, I stopped at our local Greenmark John Deere to attend a corn planter clinic and technical training on some new technology they offer. I couldn’t stay for the whole session but was impressed to learn about how John Deere has remote monitoring and is integrating their systems to be more seamless in data management.

At 1:00 pm, I conducted a phone interview with a candidate for our farm operator job position. We are looking for another person to add to our team to help in the agronomy portion of our farm. After that, I received a call from Red Gold, whom we contract with for our tomato production. Red Gold was reaching to us after having been contacted by Congresswoman Jackie Walorski, who currently sits on the House Committee on Agriculture. Representative Walorski is planning an agriculture tour in March to talk to different sectors of agribusinesses in Indiana to hear our concerns in the ag sector. We at Red Hen, along with representatives from Red Gold and several of our close business partners will meet with her on Wednesday, March 11th.

I finished the day reviewing our costs associated with Trucking. We own 5 semis and a strait truck used for hauling sod, tomatoes, and grain. We rack up over 100,000 miles a year on deliveries, and the added expense of plates, insurance, fuel, repairs, and drivers’ labor represent a substantial portion of our cost of production. I spent some time focusing on when to replace equipment, and how to better manage these costs that affect the bottom line.

I spent several hours in the morning on creating projections for a business opportunity. It would involve adding a new specialty crop and specialized equipment, so I researched specialty equipment, contacted a few people in the industry, and put together some cash flow projections. While I had my financial hat on, I took the opportunity to evaluate our cost of production for each enterprise at Red Hen. We find the best way to evaluate is by looking at each step in the business as an independent enterprise. Here’s a short list of our enterprises:

  • trucking
  • turf and fertilizer sales and support
  • sod harvesting
  • tillage
  • seed corn
  • tomato harvest
  • irrigation
  • grain handling (drying, storage)

In the afternoon, I attended a monthly TAB board meeting (The Alternative Board). I have been a TAB member for over two years now, and for me it’s a chance to sit down with other businesses in non-competing industries to discuss ideas and present what our business is doing to get better. I always gain a great deal of motivation and ideas from these meetings. This month, I explained to the group our process for working through the machinery over the winter. We own over 125 pieces of equipment. Some of these are simple and require little maintenance, while more complex machines like planters and harvesters require days or even weeks of time to tear down, inspect, order parts and rebuild. While we now have the space to do all of this work, developing a system and a unit of measuring our progress is important. The peer group gave me some great ideas on a way to measure and benchmark this portion of our business.

Thursday started off well. I reached out to one of our suppliers regarding an issue with an irrigation well, which occurred last fall.  We had set a plan to fix the issue before spring starts.  At 9 am, I reviewed our year end tax information with the accountant in order to finish our 2014 books.  At 10 am, I contacted several of our land partners regarding the new Farm Service Agency / NRCS / USDA Farm Bill. There were some key decisions to be made by February 27th and I wanted to make sure everyone had returned their paperwork to our local USDA office.

Land Partners are very important to Red Hen. While we own a large percentage of the acreage we farm, crop rotation is paramount, so we work with neighboring farmers and landlords in order to use their property in crop rotation. Sometimes we cash rent a specific field, swap fields, or use flex rents that can be tied to the fields actual yield or commodity prices.

In the afternoon, I conducted another phone interview with a job candidate for our Farm Operator Position.

On Friday I spent some time focusing on Crop Rotations.  Each year we raise 5 crops over 1600 acres in 50 -70 management zones. After plans are finalized and we know the contracted acreage of each crop, fertility, planting, and harvest plans are laid out and information is uploaded into the tractor displays. This is an ongoing project but an important one.

In the afternoon, I spent time with our team cleaning up the shop.  Every Friday we clean the floors, put away tools, and organize. It makes for a Happy Monday.

Just a quick update about my entry for last Tuesday.  I had mentioned that Red Hen had been selected as a stop on Congresswoman Jackie Walorski’s ag tour. Yesterday, I, along with representatives of Red Hen and Red Gold, gave Representative Walorski  a tour of our new shop and had a nice conversation with her about some of the issues affecting Indiana farmers.  The photo below was taken during her tour of Red Hen.

Source:  Rep. Jackie Walorski's Flickr Photo Stream

Source: Rep. Jackie Walorski’s Flickr Photo Stream

For more photos taken throughout Rep. Jackie Walorski‘s two-day, district-wide, 11 Farm #WalorskiAgTour, check out her official Flickr feed at https://www.flickr.com/photos/126304652@N08/.


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