Shares offered without a price tag and daily coffee meetings keep farm humming along
BRIGHTON — When Kirby Hakkesteegt and his wife, Arlene, joined his parents’ egg farm in 1987, the smooth farm succession set the standard for the next generation. Kirby’s Dutch-immigrant parents, Henry and Rita, didn’t insist on a buyout, and neither did Kirby and Arlene when two of their own children — son Bryce and daughter Angela — became partners at Hakkesteegt’s Poultry Farm Ltd., along with their spouses, Dana and Ryan.
“Opie didn’t get bought out, and that trickled down to the generations here now,” Bryce says, referring to his late grandfather, Henry, who died March 16 at the age of 93. “We know other farms and farmers where their kids had to buy them out but that isn’t what Opie wanted.”
Instead of buying into the business, the upcoming generation is awarded shares valued on the operation’s assets at their time of entry, Kirby explained. As they put in sweat equity through the years, they draw good salaries while their shares increase in value relative to the increase in the value of the operation from the time they joined. In the event that one of the six partners wants to exit, that individual only collects on the increase in the value of their shares since their entry into the business, not on the total value of the farm. This arrangement ensures that everyone has an incentive to see the farm go up in value. The money paid out in the event of an individual’s exit is highly dependent on the amount of years put in. In short, a 16 % share in the enterprise doesn’t mean the shareholder can demand 16 % of the farm’s value after joining. It would mean collecting only a 16 % share in the increase in the value of the farm since joining.
For Kirby and Arlene, the arrangement means they get to continue doing what they love into retirement, while drawing an income and watching their grandchildren grow up.
The farm is the first in Eastern Canada outside Quebec to receive the Sollio fertilizer company’s Next Generation Award, which recognizes farm families with an inspiring farm-transfer success story. Two key attributes on this farm stand out: each new partner becomes a farm shareholder without paying for it and, secondly, communication is a twice-daily scheduled event. So, no one gets left out of a decision.
The Hakkesteegts have shown flexibility in the process. When Bryce joined the operation after graduating Kemptville College a dozen years ago, he wanted to switch from layers to broiler birds. He reasoned that egg birds’ smellier liquid manure was more likely to be a problem as residential development encroached on the farm. There’s also less downtime and opportunity to get away on an egg farm. His parents agreed to the switch, even as Kirby concedes feeling some sentimental attachment to the egg industry. He’s a former Egg Farmers of Ontario zone director.
“Let the next generation take a foothold,” Kirby advises. “I’ve seen too many people my age or older never want to let go of control, but Arlene and I realized that as we get older, we can’t do everything.”
All of the owning couples at the Hakkesteegt operation have an equal share in the business and all have distinct roles that keep them very busy. Kirby and Arlene run Charolais beef breeding operation with 40 to 50 cow-calf pairs. Bryce and Ryan assist with the beef but also take care of the broiler end of the operation. Arlene and Angela handle the book work. Dana helps clean barns and stays very busy with the six Hakkesteegt grandchildren who live on the farm.
A decades-long tradition of open communication keeps everyone on the same page. In good Dutch-farmer fashion, they meet twice daily over coffee at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.. They discuss their schedules (also shared via online calendar) and their personal lives. A lot of their off-farm activity is interwoven with Brighton Christian Reformed Church and Trenton Christian School. Of course, they also talk shop and make business decisions by consensus. Sometimes it’s the smaller decisions, like the purchase of a 25-hp tractor, that take longer to make than a major investment, such as the newly constructed broiler barn at the farm. As bookkeepers, Arlene and Angela have a major say over approved expenditures.
“Everybody has the opportunity to put their say in,” Kirby explains during a recent morning coffee session. “That’s one of the advantages of having these little get-togethers. You’ve got two ears and one mouth, so let’s use them in that way.”
While the players do strive to attend coffee time, it’s not unusual for the farm work to prevent a full house each time. Kirby estimates four out of the six adult family members make it at least once a day on average. “During cropping season, we may never leave the field,” he says.
Important discussions are scheduled to ensure everyone shows up at brew time.
Conflict isn’t common but isn’t avoided. In theory, “if push comes to shove,” says Kirby, he and his wife plus one other partner could outvote the others, but it’s never come to that. They stick with consensus.
“We’re all family, so we treat each other with respect,” says Ryan, the only member of the team not from a farming background. Ryan met wife Angela while they attended business school. He first visited the Hakkesteegt farm to interview his future in-laws as part of a business course project. Six years ago, they joined the farm as partners, after Angela tried out an international trade career in Toronto.
The farm continues to grow and expand, producing 120,000 broilers every 10 weeks. They buy neighbouring land whenever possible, to preserve it for agriculture instead of being lost to development, Bryce says.
With six grandchildren on the farm (out of 13 grandchildren in total), continued growth is a necessity. A new generation will one day join the coffee table.