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Family first

Five generations of O'Hairs find success diversifying their farming business

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013 3:43 p.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013 4:26 p.m. CDT
Contributed photo Jim O'Hair, center, poses with members of his family in front of his combine and Caterpillar farm machinery. Pictured, from left, are Jesse O'Hair, holding Lane O'Hair, 6, Jim holding Kiera O'Hair, 5, and Patrick O'Hair, holding Liam O'Hair, 1.

The O'Hair family is in its fifth generation of being in the farming business.

The family runs O'Hair Family Farms in Van Wert, which encompasses about 3,000 acres in a 25-mile radius covering parts of Missouri and Decatur and Clarke counties in Iowa. Their farm is nearly into Wayne County.

Jim O'Hair, 63, is the fourth-generation farmer. His great-grandfather arrived in 1902 and, 10 years later, bought land to farm. When he got out of college, he bought land from his grandmother. He's now been farming more than 40 years.

"We've just added to it and added to it over the years to where we're at now," said Jim, the current patriarch of the family.

He and his wife, Phyllis, have four children. Their daughter Sara and son Patrick are directly involved in the family business. Patrick's wife, Mackenzie, also helps out.

Jim and Phyllis have a daughter in California who owns farming land with her siblings. They also have a son who isn't involved in farming; he works for Casey's in Ankeny, Iowa.

Phyllis said she married into the O'Hair farming business, but she also grew up on a farm. Still, hers was a smaller farm, so she said she had a lot to learn at first.

"It's challenging, but enjoyable," she said. "I don't have to get up and go to work every day away from home."

Coming home

When Sara was growing up, she said, she didn't like farming and wanted to get out of the area as soon as possible.

"After I graduated college, I was out of here," Sara said. "Then, as you get older, family becomes more important to you, and you get tired of working for someone else. You are able to come home, and they were gracious enough to let us come in and start learning how to do this, and start working. It's perfect."

The O'Hairs grow corn and soybeans. They also have other business ventures, including automotive sales, real estate, custom tilling, farm drainage, and mini-storage.

"The bulk of our bread and butter, so to speak, is farming corn and soybeans," Sara said.


Since it is a family business, each family member has an area of expertise.

Patrick deals with the technology of the new equipment, such as computers and GPS.

"He knows how to talk to techies and keep it running," Jim said.

Patrick is also an all-around combine operator and sprayer.

"We share those operations," Jim said.

Phyllis and Sara are in charge of the bookwork, and, Jim said, "chasing after everybody."

Making it work

As for working with his family on a daily basis, Patrick said the key to success is to have open lines of communication.

"There's always disagreements between everything, but luckily, we're a pretty tight family," he said. "Our main goal is to have open communication. I mean, that's what makes everything work."

The family tries to have a main business meeting at least once a month, but they keep in touch with each other every day.

In winter, their main work is dealing with the bookwork, records, cash flow, taxes and getting ready for spring.

There is a potential for a sixth-generation for the O'Hair family business.

Jim and Phyllis have two grandsons and a granddaughter who enjoy being around farming, and if they take over the business someday, that would be all right with Jim.

They already love to help out and have fun getting dirty around the farm and machinery, and "we try to force as many farm toys on them as we can," Patrick joked.

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