Farm Managers of the Year: Plans To Succeed And For Succession

Continuity during change is a goal at Hatley/Cobb Farmland Management. That’s true for both their business and their clients.

“We are on the third generation with some of our clients, and over time, we’ve wanted every one of them to know that we are rooted in agriculture, and we want to take care of their needs in the future,” says Allen Hatley.

The partnership Hatley/Cobb is based in Spokane, Wash., and Hatley and Tim Cobb have been named the 2017 Farm Managers of the Year. The business started in 1993 as Sharp & Hatley, but it was renamed after John Sharp retired and Cobb entered the business in 2011.

Today, 80% of the company’s portfolio is in Washington, but it also serves other acreage in Oregon and Idaho. The firm manages more than 100,000 acres and works with 75 clients. It specializes in farm-lease agreements, custom farming operations, grain and crop marketing, farm appraisals and long-term farm planning. 

Both farm managers are graduates of Washington State University and say the firm’s partners are required to have been raised on a farm.

“When we meet a new client, we always tell them our story, and it starts with our farming backgrounds,” Cobb says. “Our job is to relay the challenges of farming to the absentee landlord who may not understand the circumstances. We can provide assurance in a literal way so that the landowner knows someone who has been there before.”

Geography Yields Diversity. Farming in the Pacific Northwest brings a unique set of challenges and opportunities. The crops are diverse, and the geographic spread is far.

“Our cropping patterns and rotation vary within just 10 miles,” Hatley says. “Our clients are so diverse. Every client has different needs and demands.”

As Cobb explains, they put in a lot of miles to build their book of business. And the variance in their portfolio demands that they stay up to date and sharp on a variety of production practices.

“Our topographies, soil types and moisture levels vary greatly. We have to have working knowledge of yields, budgets and rent,” he says. “We have ground worth $500 per acre that we use to raise a small grain crop every other year, and then we have ground worth $50,000 an acre that grows the best fresh vegetables in the country.” 

Coupling ag knowledge with a focus on relationships, the firm has had a 100% retention rate in the past three years.

“I’ve been doing this for 40 years, and the common theme is that this…

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