Eric Tipton and Gene Baumgardner each benefitted from unique farm transitions between generations on the farm.

Two farm boys’ dreams come true: A farm transition success story

By Matt Reese

Two opportunities of two lifetimes have connected two hopeful farm boys, a generation apart, in a unique way for a mutual dream fulfilled. Here’s their story.

Gene Baumgardner

Gene Baumgardner grew up in northern Summit County in the late 60s with a love for farming.

“Dad milked 25 cows and farmed a couple of hundred acres. I was active in 4-H and enjoyed hogs. I had a purebred Duroc herd in the suburbs of northern Summit County on 6 acres. I loved being with dad on the farm but I realized even before I got out of high school that there was not enough there to go home to. I went to OSU in ag econ and did not take production ag courses, thinking I could go into sales,” Baumgardner said. “I met Johnita Ricketts and we were married in 1977 after I graduated from OSU in ’76. I went to work for Ohio Farmers Grain Corp. in Fostoria. I started out in the elevator and learned a lot. I was a year there and moved into the office as grain buyer and accountant and worked there for a year. Jo and I lived between the railroad tracks of Fostoria across the street from Union Carbide. It was flat up there. Too flat.”

Jo’s father, John Ricketts, had built up a successful farm operation in central Ohio near the small town of Pickerington, east of Columbus in Fairfield County — just to the north of southern Ohio’s Appalachian foothills. 

“The first time I drove into Fairfield County there were three store fronts in Pickerington. That was the only thing between I-70 and downtown Pickerington,” Baumgardner said. “John Ricketts and I had talked some and he asked me if I was interested in coming to farm. The next year he offered me a position on the north end of Fairfield County. He’d gotten a new farm on Refugee Road with a dairy barn built in the 60s. We debated whether to milk cows, but my mother-in-law said, ‘No cows.’ Instead, we went into the hog business and converted the old free-stall barn to farrowing hogs and the milking parlor became a nursery. It was at the beginning of total confinement. I took care of hogs there for 17 years and we raised beef cattle too.”

As the farm grew, so did Ricketts’ Pioneer dealership, selling seed, fertilizer and chemicals. Baumgardner’s time working at Fostoria served him well in this role. In the following years, though, development in Pickerington boomed so rapidly that it became clear the future of farming in the area would be limited. 

“Pickerington was growing fast and we were feeding hogs and cattle near downtown,” Baumgardner said. “It was evident that if I wanted to continue to farm, we needed to do something else. We got up to farming over 3,000 acres, including around the air base at Rickenbacker. We started in the late 80s looking for other farms. In 1993, we got out of the hog business just before the prices dropped.” 

By the early 2000s, land prices in Pickerington were skyrocketing when a nice opportunity to buy a Fayette County farm came up. 

“John bought it in 2002 or 2003 and rented it out the first year. Then we started farming in Pickerington and Jeffersonville. It is three hours in a combine from Pickerington to Jeffersonville. We did that for three years,” he said. “In the meantime, Jo and I moved down to Fayette County around 2006, but we still had the Pioneer seed dealership in Fairfield County. I traveled back and forth for quite a few years selling fertilizer, chemical and seed from up there. It was getting to be a lot travelling back and forth.”

The commute was a challenge, but the growing Fayette County operation was worth the effort. 

“We went from farming in subdivisions in fields of 15 or 18 acres to 90-acre fields down here. It was like I died and went to heaven,” Baumgardner said. “John originally got 1,250 contiguous acres purchased and then bought additional acres in southern Madison County. Over the years Jo and I added more acreage. In Fairfield County, it is clay loam. In Fayette County it is a silt loam. It’s some of the same soil types, Crosby and Brookston, but it is just different down here.” 

Between owned land and custom farming for a local dairy, the farm covers around 3,000 acres of systematically tiled, no-till, cover-cropped, extremely productive southern Ohio fields, plus the seed dealership. Now, at the tail-end of his initially unexpected, and successful, career as a farmer, Baumgardner faced a problem entirely opposite of the one he started out with — a strong farming operation without a next generation to take it over. The Baumgardner children all chose off farm careers. Baumgardner’s nephew had been helping quite a bit with the farm, but the details just didn’t work for him to continue. Baumgardner was 65 with no prospects for a farm transition.

Eric Tipton

Eric Tipton loved farming, but as a boy he did not see much future in it.

“My grandpa had a dairy farm in Pickerington on Allen Road with 25 cows. I had always hoped to farm but I knew that grandpa’s farm would probably not continue. There were decisions made, and it was probably not going to be on the horizon for me to continue that operation,” Tipton said. 

Tipton grew up in Pickerington with a keen interest in agriculture, particularly in the area of technology. His grandpa was good friends with John Ricketts and Eric was able to get a job working for that farm, baling straw at first. 

“When I went to college the last thing on my mind was agriculture. Grandpa said, ‘Get into ag if you want to starve the rest of your life.’ Then I saw there are so many things you can do in this industry and be successful,” Tipton said. “I went to Ohio State and ended up focusing on precision agriculture technology.”

Tipton a graduated from OSU in 2011 where he majored in ag systems management. Soon after, Baumgardner was looking to step back from the seed dealership in Pickerington to stay closer to home in Jeffersonville.

“I told Eric when I hired him, ‘I cannot pay you what you are probably worth. You’ll get farm wages and then commission based on whatever you can generate,’” Baumgardner said. “When I hired Eric, Jo asked me why I hired a college grad. It was because I knew the technical part was going to get bigger and bigger.” 

From there Tipton worked other jobs, including work with Precision Agri Services and eventually started his own Progressive Edge Ag Service, LLC helping farms with precision technology buying, selling, installing, and service from Coshocton to Cincinnati.  

“With that work I have gotten to see so many kinds of farms,” Tipton said. “You get to build a vision in your mind of what could be a successful operation and what you can do.”

With Baumgardner’s situation on the farm, he decided it may worth talking to Tipton more about the future. In 2018, there was a memorable phone call. 

“We were going to advertise about finding someone for the farm, but we decided to ask Eric first. Eric had been helping down here quite a bit planting corn and spraying. He was working here to help him be a better salesman. I called him up and asked if he’d be interested in coming down and taking over the farm,” Baumgardner said. “There was dead silence on the other end of the phone.” 

Tipton needed some time to discuss the opportunity with his wife, Lauryn, who was a teacher. 

“My wife initially said definitely not, but once she started to see this as a once in a lifetime opportunity, she has been with me every step of the way,” Tipton said.

The transition

With two very young children, the Tiptons decided to move from Canal Winchester to Jeffersonville to begin the transition of taking over the farming operation. Lauryn decided to stay home with the children and run the books for the farm. 

“We all went to dinner in Pickerington in November of ‘18 and by March of ‘19 we were moved down here. Our house sold in less than 48 hours and it was amazing how everything fell into place,” Tipton said. “We were able to buy and move into a nice house right next door to Gene.”

 Things were going well when the Tiptons found out their 3-year-old daughter had kidney cancer.

“We found out right before harvest in September. She had 6 months of chemo and rang the bell in April of 2022,” Tipton said. “We were newcomers to this community and people we barely knew were going way out of their way to take care of us. We had a tremendous amount of support to help us through that rough patch.” 

Beyond that challenge, the transition has not always been easy, though there were several important aspects leading to success.

“It helps to learn from the older generation,” Tipton said. “There are things that I think all age groups can learn from this. People who are my age and younger look at an opportunity like this, it can look so big but it is doable. The older generation can learn how to make it a smoother transition.”

From the very beginning — back at his time starting with the seed dealership — Baumgardner has employed an open book policy with Tipton.

“We have tried to run everything open book,” Baumgardner said. “Me letting go has been a big thing, but this was the tone my father-in-law initially set with me. He let me take over the hogs, but I only got to go on the performance of the hogs. I did not get to see the profit/loss. I’ve taken it another step with open books. There have been parts of this that have been hard for me, but my management style is to not try to be a dictator. I had to come to the realization that each of us does things in different ways. As long as an employee is not hurting themselves, not wasting time and getting the job done, let them do their job. I am not a micromanager. Realizing that was an important step in my development. Eric is not going to do things the way I have done them, I need to let that go. He has to be willing to take over. I just had to get things in position so that everyone else on the farm could get things done to their potential.”

Another key part of the transition has been clearly stated goals and expectations.

“Gene set goals and benchmarks and made it clear what he wanted me to take responsibility on and I made it clear to help what I needed help on.  It was a fast transition, but a healthy pace. It goes back to the open book policy. They were very open about all of the ins and outs,” Tipton said. “I can only imagine how difficult it was for them to be that open, but that made it work. A lot of people do not appreciate the amount of balls that are floating in the air in any given farming operations: taxes, employees, equipment, inputs — one of my challenges has been keeping them all in the air. From my seat, from the time I started working here, I have always had great respect from Gene and Jo. With the right guidance, we’d analyze things as a group and they gave me a lot of latitude which gave me a lot of opportunity.”

For example, Baumgardner intentionally handed over some very specific duties.

“I told Eric that I wanted to be out of people management by the time I was 70 and he beat it by a year,” Baumgardner said. “I love to farm, but managing people was getting more difficult. Eric asked me to help with the marketing. Now he is the decision maker and I run everything past him on the marketing end.”

By the end of 2022, biggest part of the transition was completed. 

“Eric and Lauryn purchased Ricketts Farm, Inc. and he bought 10 acres around the grain system in Dec. 31 of last year — that is when he officially took over. He rented half the farm last year and rented several hundred acres the year before that. His first full year, we told him where we were going and what we were doing. The transition has been 10 years in the making. This was not overnight,” Baumgardner said. “I sold the farm and signed a 10-year employment contract to work here. Eric bought the contract. He is now Ricketts Farm, Inc. It is his corporation now and he can do with it what he wants. Ricketts Farm is a C-CORP and it made it easier. With that, comes the ease of transfer. We got an appraisal of everything. There was number we both agreed on. We had a lawyer draw up all the goodies.” 

The land is in a trust for the Baumgardner family. For the future, Tipton will rent and potentially buy ground together with Bumgardner as it comes up for sale. Throughout the process, there was a vital need for all parties to keep a focus on the big picture, and not fret about the details.

“It is about giving people opportunities if they have a passion. We need those passionate people in agriculture. It was important for me to pass on the opportunity that I was given. The other thing that have worked well is that Eric has really bought in to our management of our farm, working with the dairy, using the manure, cover crops, and no-till,” Baumgardner said. “We are not pinching every penny we can get with this. You have to keep focused on the goals and the big picture. We also try not to get hung up on the small details that can cause challenges. This is not about dollars and cents; it’s about setting up all your work for more success in the next generation.”   

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