Family discovers new way to keep farm in the family
Thulls ready to pass KT Organic Farms to next generation

By GAY GRIESBACH - For The Daily News

August 15, 2017

Eli Guell, left, and Kevin Thull, owner of KT Organic Farms near St. Michaels,
pose outside the farm Monday.

Gay Griesbach/For the Daily News


ST. MICHAELS — When Brent Schultz was killed in a car accident three years ago, Kevin and Lynn Thull lost a son and a way to pass on their organic dairy to another generation.

Thull, who owns KT Organic Farms near St. Michaels, was the first operation outside of the LaFarge Organic Valley core to be accepted into the organization. The transition plan they had in place with Brent would have kept the farm organic.

Five or six years ago, the Thulls hired two high school kids to help milk.

Today, Eli and Matt Guell are working toward their own future on the farm using a transition plan that will gradually turn over control starting Jan. 1, 2020.

Matt Guell said he and his brother are banking sweat equity that will go toward the price of the cattle. At first, the Guells will rent the equipment and land, which will gradually be phased over to the brothers.

“It’s a long progression, but we wanted to make it affordable,” Kevin said. “At the end of that time, I keep saying, ‘I’ll retire, but I’ll probably work for them.’” To put the transition plan together, Thull worked with Frank Friar, an economic specialist in the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection’s Wisconsin Farm Center.

The Farm Center has been around since the 1980s. It was initially formed to help farmers work through financial situations during a farm crisis. Friar said over time, the agency expanded its scope to include farm viability analysis and transition planning.

For the past five or six years, transition plans have come to the forefront. Friar said they help about 150 operations per year with transitions that can take as much as two or three years to put a plan together.

Kevin Thull power washes the wall of a calf hutch Monday at KT Organic Farms in St. Michaels.
Gay Griesbach/For the Daily News

While they don’t pretend to be attorneys, Friar said the Farm Center addresses practices they see out in the field.

Kevin rented the farm for seven months before his father died and for another three years from his mother before he could afford to buy it.

He worked hard to ensure the 225 heads of cattle and 450 acres he farms stayed organic.

Matt and Eli, now 24 and 21, worked on their uncle and grandfather’s farm since they were in elementary school, but knew taking over the family farm wasn’t possible.

While the family farm used conventional practices, the Guells found themselves drawn toward Thull’s way of doing things, especially organically.

“Kevin always said there were opportunities here,” Matt said.

One night he called a meeting with the Guells and asked if they still wanted to farm.

“We always knew we wanted to farm together,” Matt said. “We never talked about anything else.”

Thull presented the transition offer and the Guells agreed to it.

“He’s treating us as if we were his own kids,” Matt said.

They are now transitioning from farm hands to owners.

“It’s like an apprenticeship — we’re learning all the tricks in his book, but it’s a big learning curve,” Eli said.

“They’re still young, but they’re learning. If I can help them, maybe won’t make same mistakes I made,” Kevin said. “They’re good listeners, ambitious, and not afraid to do anything.”

For more on the Wisconsin Farm Center, visit https://datcp.wi.gov/Pages/Growing_WI/FarmCenterOverview.aspx or call the Wisconsin Farm Center hotline at 1-800-9422474.