LYNN CLARKSON, farm manager and president of Clarkson Grain Company, knows how to spot a good custom farmer. “We contract with farmers to raise specific varieties and hybrids in 20 states and three countries,” Clarkson says. His company, located in Cerro Gordo, IL, provides food ingredients for products sold on grocery store shelves across the country. He also owns his own farm and uses two custom farming operations to do the work.

He advises producers to look for people with the following qualifications when hiring custom work:

  1. Someone who will be with you for the long term.

  2. Someone who takes an interest in your land and recommends improvements when needed. “If the land needs tile, you'll be told about it,” Clarkson says. “If there's a problem, you'll become aware of it.”

  3. Good managers that ensure crops get planted, tended and harvested in timely fashion. “If I pass a field in the middle of the night and see someone organizing tractors and crews at three o'clock in the morning, my compliments,” he says. “It takes effort and skills to organize those resources. And I am appreciative seeing they are working for me.”

  4. A person who is capable of making rational economic decisions about when to invest in new machinery, when to upgrade and how to stay current.

  5. Someone who runs an efficient operation. “For example, when thinking about upgrading, I like to see someone who is focused not on having the newest equipment but having the most efficient operation,” Clarkson says. “Sometimes that means new, sometimes it doesn't.”

  6. People who are constantly learning and stay current with today's technology.

  7. An operation with well-maintained machinery. It is a hallmark of an efficient operation.

  8. Someone with a good curriculum vitae (CV). The CV should outline the person's background; jobs he has done; how many acres he owns himself; how many other people he contract farms for; his openness to growing other crops; and the limitations of his resources, including his machinery inventory and number of employees.

  9. Good people involved in a profitable operation.

  10. Bright people.

  11. A custom farmer who hires workers of different ages.

  12. Someone located nearby. “If a custom operator was trying to cover farms in a 100-mile radius and do 20,000 acres, I'd have serious doubts whether my farm would be well tended. So I want people who are close by so they can view the fields on a regular basis, be available if I have a question, and who come by and visit with me with some frequency,” Clarkson says.

  13. Someone open to growing other crops.

  14. A contract farmer who understands his client's objectives. “I am here to please a client,” Clarkson says. “And my client may not want me to just produce tons per acre. So I am looking for people who understand that the job of ag is not to produce. The job of agriculture is to satisfy a client.”

  15. A person with integrity. “There can't be the slightest hint of lack of integrity, because so many results depend on the integrity of the people you are dealing with,” Clarkson says.

  16. A farmer with a good reputation in the community. It helps to establish credibility.

  17. A custom farmer with good references. Clarkson advises that anyone hiring a custom operator should check his references.

  18. An operator with equipment that is well maintained and well sized to match the acres to be worked.

  19. Good machinery managers. “What happens if your operator's combine breaks down?” Clarkson asks. “Does he have two? Does he have ties to machinery providers who keep used machines around if machines break down?”

  20. Someone who doesn't take on so much that he does a bad job. Clarkson says it doesn't take too many years of a bad job before an operator's reputation is gone. He advises operators not to take on more burden than they can handle.