Innovation is not a typical word used to describe a North Dakota family farm that was passed down since the 1930s, but Adams Family Farm should be described as just that. Speaking with Chris Adams, his enthusiasm shines through as he talks about the new technologies, exporting, new crops, and what’s next for Adams Family Farms.
Currently, the operation straddles the North Dakota/Minnesota border with more than 6500 acres of land specializing in six varieties of edible beans, sugarbeets, soybeans, hemp, and wheat. The farm started in 1935 with Ralph Adams and has been passed down through the generations to Chris Adams. He attributes much of the success to having a good foundation and a successful operation already. “I was able to help out with this already successful business with my dad, and now I can put my own touches on it (the farm).” Those touches have consistently increased visibility of the farm as it has expanded into exporting, taken on more technology, and continues to network and share their knowledge within the farming community.
Many of the vital lessons Adams spoke about were inspired by attending the TEPAP (The Executive Program for Agricultural Producers) from Texas A&M. Adams says, “the program was very influential for me! It’s a week-long in-depth program that goes into all business themes, from accounting, human resources, business management, all with a farming lens.” The key takeaway was running a family farm like a main street business, how to grow and become even more successful for future generations. Keeping the farm going is a genuine aspiration, as one of Adams’ young daughters has already expressed interest in farming.
With a bigger toolbox and plenty of ideas, Adams started talking to people in the farming industry and connected with Roger Gussiaas of Healthy Oilseed. Adams says, “He (Gussiaas) was very helpful with his export experience. He told me that’s what would help move the business forward.” Exporting and researching opportunities to expand globally, Adams Family Farms found an excellent market for their niche variety of cranberry beans and made many connections in South America. Adams describes a few critical tips for exporting: taking the time to visit the country, share ideas, talk about your family, talk about their family, break some bread together, and then maybe start talking business.
When they started exporting beans, they were not yet processing and cleaning their products. Now, they upgraded to running their processing operation. “This gives us complete control, we get our products from the field, through our own cleaning and processing then directly on to shipping containers,” which has been a great selling point for many buyers, says Adams.
We spoke about the pandemic and doing business as Adams Family Farms recently participated in NDTO’s South American Virtual Trade Mission in July 2020. He said that the ‘virtual thing’ is an excellent opportunity to reconnect with some contacts and learn more about their experiences and would be open to more types of virtual missions in the future. There is no real substitute for one-on-one contact with buyers; the virtual mission setup is an excellent opportunity to check in and keep communication open as travel is not yet possible.
On Adams Family Farm, technology has always been an interest. “My dad has always been that type of guy to splurge on tech, GPS and tracking systems were installed 20 plus years ago,” says Adams, continuing the tradition. Traceability is the new trend for consumers, and they are working on all the technology for them to know exactly which section of land our crops came. Because we have full control over our land, processing, and directly exporting, we have complete control over everything to be able to provide this information accurately. They are working on the geo-location to have the data to report back to our website for consumer availability. “Full transparency will be the farming of the future,” Adams says. In the long term, they would also like to increase their processing efforts, being able to do our processing, but also have the ability to take on other processing projects as well.
Trying new things is Adams’s approach to farming; they recently introduced hemp into their production. Hemp is still in its infancy, and there is so much to learn as Adams describes some of the phone calls of others starting with hemp and looking for advice. He provides advice freely and believes that any information shared will make the industry better, and the good karma will always come back around. “Taking away some of the ‘old-school’ secrecy behind family farms, and just helping out, passing on knowledge and hope it is returned in the future,” is why Adams is happy to help others. There is so much learning happening in the hemp industry, making connections and understanding what information to trust can only make it better for everyone.
What advice does he have for farmers or anyone getting into exporting? Network and ask questions! “Talk, ask questions, this whole agriculture thing and baby boomer lifestyle to not share any secrets is the old way. I believe in sharing knowledge, gaining knowledge, and it all comes back around. ” plus, he adds jokingly, “ the older I get, the more cliché I sound, but you have to swing the bat to hit the ball! It’s okay to take some risks and try new things.” Having a great network of people to connect with, call on, and bounce ideas off of is an invaluable part of the business. He also is one to share information when asked, he says, “It’s only going to make everyone better to share the wealth of knowledge with others. It will make the industry better.”
As the company continues to grow, instead of planting more, their philosophy is to do more with what they already have. The dynamics of this farm show innovation through technology, exporting, and diversity of crops as they continue to reach new goals with this ever-changing way of life.
Adams Family Farms has been a member of NDTO since 2017 and has participated in several trade missions, received funding through both Specialty Crop block grants and STEP ND.