It’s not a rare sight for the lights to be burning late as Quint Pottinger stacks another pallet of 50-pound bags of corn--filling, weighing and sewing each bag closed. From the modest-sized shop where Quint has installed a grain cleaner, bagger and certified floor scale, his Affinity Farms-labeled corn leaves for retailers who sell the corn to deer hunters all over Kentucky.
Quint may not be happy with the damage caused by local deer to his corn. But, he bagged and sold 15,000 bushels of deer corn to hunters last year at double the price for commodity corn.
“We decided if we were going to bag corn, we needed to develop a pretty good market to move a good portion of our crop. With mass quantities, you can make money,” says Quint, who farms outside New Haven, Kentucky, with his wife, Leah. She works full-time from home as an IT project manager for health insurer Humana. In addition, she owns a photography business.
Affinity Farms is 1,500 acres and growing. Selling bagged corn--more accurately, maximizing a value-added opportunity--is a significant part of Quint’s growth plan. Within three years, this 29-year-old plans to farm 1,800 acres, raise his overall farm yield by 5%, pay off his grain dryer and grain bin expansion note, and sell 30,000 bushels of deer corn into three states.
Selling Value. Seven years out, Quint looks to farm 2,500 acres, increase his overall farm yield by 11% and reduce his operating line of credit by 45%. As far as that bagged corn, he wants to sell half his corn crop in 50-pound bags to hunters in five states.
“With the commodity markets fighting off heavy supply, vertically integrating seem[s] to be the best option of becoming economically sustainable,” Quint says. “We measure success by profitability, debt reduction, production growth and creating new market opportunities through vertical integration.” Quint also sells value-added corn to bourbon distillers Maker’s Mark and Preservation Distillery. Willett Distillery, Jim Beam and Heaven Hill have purchased his corn in the past. Quint’s soybeans go to a biodiesel facility at Owensboro, Kentucky, or to a river port on the Ohio River at Brandenburg, Kentucky.
Quint has always wanted to land on such an operation as Affinity Farms. He farmed 38 acres in high school and worked for a large grower after graduating with a degree in ag economics from the University of Kentucky (UK). But, he found those few acres and a day job as a farm laborer were not sustainable.
“I remember going to my fiancé’s house after a long day and telling her, ‘If I am going to work 120 hours a week for little money to make someone else’s dream come true, then I might as well do it for myself,’ ” Quint says. He took the leap. He and Leah married, and she moved to the farm. They had $400 in the bank.
Eight Bushels And A Future. Quint owned an agricultural sales business begun while at UK. That helped pay some of the bills. He and Leah put in 80 acres of corn and soybeans that first year--which also happened to be their first drought year. The corn made 8 bushels per acre. The beans benefited from fall rain.
The Pottingers merely broke even.
Affinity Farms has grown quickly from 250 acres to 1,500 in four years. Rapid growth raised two important questions, Quint recalls. Buy more grain trucks and trailers? Invest in a grain facility? He went with grain storage and a dryer.
“That allows us to create a profitable marketing strategy,” Quint says. The dryer puts him into harvest a month earlier than before and outputs corn at the 14.5% moisture required by distillers. “It has dramatically improved our grain quality.”
Circle Of Advisers. Quint has not noodled through all this on his own. He is closely engaged with a circle of advisers.
Ryan Bivens, a DTN/The Progressive Farmer America’s Best Young Farmers and Rancher alumnus from 2012, talks with Quint once a week. They exchange ideas and discuss agronomic practices. Bivens offers a wealth of experience with landowners and leasing strategies.
Quint meets with a pair of business leaders managing multimillion-dollar operations. They discuss best business-management practices--working with lenders, managing multientity businesses, employment practices and leveraging risk. Most recently, Quint has taken on a financial mentor, his banker, T. Emerson Ballard, of Town and Country Bank and Trust Co. It is an important move. He admits that even five years into his business, one of his biggest obstacles continues to be lending.
Important Focus. Quint’s daily adviser is his father, Ramey, a farmer since 1968 and a survivor of the U.S. farm crises of the early 1980s. The two formally merged their businesses last year.
Quint leaned heavily on his father when prices took a tumble in 2013 and 2014. The farm was coming out of a drought, and Quint was uncertain how he would recover. Ramey offered experience and a steady hand. “He’s been such a good mentor through these hard times,” Quint says. “[He is] helping me keep my eyes focused on what’s important on the farm.”
Extra sets of eyes on the goal Quint has set for Affinity Farms is crucial. “You have to have a good solid base of people you can surround yourself with who have been through the worst, who will help you move forward,” Quint says. “Because when you fall down, when you fail, you just want to crawl up in a hole. You can’t do that. Especially in a business that requires as much capital as farming.”
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