5 farmers, 1 farm

The tradi­tional free­hold is no longer the only form of owner­ship in Danish agri­cul­ture. One alter­na­tive consists of the Go-Gris I/S part­ner­ship in eastern Jutland, which is owned in equal shares by three young and two senior farmers.

When Martin Mogensen takes his dinner with his wife Wanja and their three chil­dren in the stately farm­house of the old gentleman farm Lillerup north of Horsens, he can liter­ally take owner­ship of what he sees. And when his eyes contem­plate the large and luxu­riant wheat field growing behind the farm, he is looking at his own land, and it is he who is respon­sible for farming the field. But the crop doesn’t actu­ally belong to him.

The wheat and all the other crops that grow on the 156 hectares of arable land on Lillerup belong to GoGris I/S, a part­ner­ship that Martin Mogensen and four other farmers, each with their own free­hold, formed on January 1, 2008. This was two years after he had purchased Lillerup at market condi­tions.

The basis of the agree­ment between the five owners of Go-Gris is that they each continue to own their own land and build­ings, while the part­ner­ship owns the agri­cul­tural machinery, the exten­sive swine herd and all stocks of grain and other crops, fertil­izer etc. The five farmers hold an equal share in the part­ner­ship, which is respon­sible for all oper­a­tion of the pens as well as the farmed land and then pays the owners a farm rent for the land. In this way, Martin has become a tenant-farmer of its own land as well as co-tenant-farmer of the more than 500 hectares that belong to the four others in the part­ner­ship.

Full-line produc­tion with 1,000 sows

All in all, Go-Gris has 670 hectares, which are primarily used to grow feed for the swine herd consisting of 1,000 sows, piglets and pigs for slaughter. The entire thing consists of eight build­ings, where swine occupy seven of them. “Because of the part­ner­ship we have a much larger turnover and stronger finan­cial clout, than we could have had on our own,” explains Martin.

But because of the part­ner­ship, he is now a full-time farmer, busy working as oper­a­tional field manager of all the prop­er­ties, as well as 30 acres of forest land plus being respon­sible for all exte­rior main­te­nance.

It is worth its weight in gold to include the know-how of our parent’s gener­a­tion.

Martin Mogensen

Simi­larly, the others in the part­ner­ship have their areas of respon­si­bility, depending on what has their special interest. One of them is his brother Mads Bie Mogensen, who is respon­sible for piglets and pigs for slaughter as well as milling. A third is Jonas Würtz Midt­gård, Martin’s close friend ever since they met at Bygholm Agri­cul­tural College. Jonas is respon­sible for keeping the sows. The remaining two are Martin’s and Mads’ father Poul-Erik Mogensen and his brother Hans-Jørgen Mogensen. Hans-Jørgen does the accounts while Poul-Erik lends a helping hand when there is a need for it.

“My father and uncle have reduced their work load. They want the right to work, but not the oblig­a­tion,” says Martin with a smile. The two senior co-owners are full members of the part­ner­ship and partic­i­pate along with the three young ones in the monthly Go-Gris meeting where all major deci­sions are taken. “It is worth its weight in gold to include the know-how of our parent’s gener­a­tion”, thinks Martin. In addi­tion to the owners, there are nine perma­nent employees of Go-Gris.

Yield in a normal year

  • Wheat: 9,0 tons/hectare
  • Rye: 7,8 tons/hectare
  • Spring barley: 6,2 tons/hectare
  • Rape: 4,5 tons/hectare

Growth in the number of I/S part­ner­ships

According to Statis­tics Denmark, the number of single-owner­ship farms fell by almost 14,000 from 2006 to 2016, while the number of part­ner­ships increased by more than 1,000 in the same period. Other forms of company owner­ship grew by nearly 1,100. I/S part­ner­ships and other types of company forma­tion are partic­u­larly wide­spread among large farms. Poul-Erik Mogensen thinks it’s great to have gone from being a free­hold farmer to becoming part of a commu­nity.

“This is really good, because we are now five to exchange ideas with each other. Until we founded Go-Gris, I ran my own farm by myself. My brother also had a farm near by, and we shared machinery and bandied ideas about with each other and that was good too. But it is even better to be five as opposed to two when it comes to exchanging ideas,” he thinks. Exam­ples are often seen of part­ner­ships created as a frame­work to manage succes­sion, where it doesn’t work out the way it was intended to and where the parties sepa­rate. “I think that it goes wrong some­times, because seniors hang onto the idea that it’s prob­ably for the best that they make the deci­sions. But I am fine with pushing deci­sions over to the young guys,” says Poul-Erik.

Of course the deci­sion-making process takes a bit longer when you are several people doing it. On the other hand, deci­sions will be more balanced when you have to present them to the others first.

Poul-Erik Mogensen

His son Martin also doesn’t miss the freedom to decide every­thing for himself that he would have had as a free­hold owner. “Of course the deci­sion-making process surrounding major deci­sions takes a bit longer when you are several people doing it. I can’t just decide for myself that I’ll go out and buy a new combine. On the other hand, deci­sions will be more balanced when you have to present them to the others first. There won’t be very many ill-advised deci­sions. And I am in charge of field oper­a­tion on a daily basis. For example, the others don’t butt into how I do the field plan. And I don’t butt into how they do the day-to-day running of the pens when I am in there helping out.

The totality is most impor­tant

If Martin had been an inde­pen­dent feed grower, he would prob­ably have gone for more high-value crops in his field plan. But because it is the pigs that must generate the money for Go-Gris, it is his first priority to deliver cheap feed grain to the pens. On the other hand he is also careful not to exhaust the soil with one-sided crop rota­tion focused only on grain. That is why some­thing between one quarter and one fifth of the total area is seeded with cash crops such as – seed grass, rape and spinach. “Maybe we could be self-suffi­cient in feed grain in a few years, but at some point it would go wrong in the field. So I would rather take in some other crops that we can sell for a good price, and then use the money to buy some grain from our neigh­bors,” he explains.

Confi­dence is absolutely crucial

Poul-Erik Mogensen

If others want to create a similar I/S part­ner­ship, it is absolutely crucial that prepa­ra­tions are thor­ough and done with the right people, is the advice of Go-Gris. “We spent all of 2007 getting all agree­ments and formal­i­ties in place and at the same time we made sure that we could work together. We had a great many talks and we got a head-hunting company to create personal profiles on us. Fortu­nately they confirmed that we comple­ment each other very well,” says Martin. Poul Erik notes: “The most impor­tant thing is that we can rely on the fact that what the others do is for the part­ner­ship and not for their own benefit. Confi­dence is absolutely crucial”.