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”.