Five Generations of Farmland Ownership
From left to right: Keith Smith, Michael & Cheryl McKitrick, Cal Dickson, and Ryan Lockhart
The Dickey Family Legacy
A feeling of legacy spreads throughout the acres of farmland owned by sisters Jennifer Dickey and Cheryl McKitrick. Their family’s bond with their land stretches back over 140 years to the pioneering days of their great grandfather.
“There’s just something about owning farmland that brings you a sense of pride and legacy,” reflected Jennifer.
This was evident during a recent visit with the sisters, along with Cheryl’s husband Michael. While touring the well-kept fields and observing the different farm improvements, their devotion to these farms was noticeable.
“Our great grandfather put roots down here generations ago,” said Cheryl. “It’s our responsibility to make sure that we continue to make the farms better for the next generation.”
The Early Days of the Dickey Family Farm
Though records are scarce, the family farm’s roots trace all the way back to the 1800s. “I believe it was our great grandfather, F.E. Dickey, who first came into ownership of the land,” explained Jennifer.
Frederick embodied the grit and determination of those times. Around 1876, he journeyed down to Iowa from Wisconsin by wagon. He spent the first year living under that wagon while building a small wooden building as a home. After he was married in Wisconsin in 1893, he returned to the farm with his wife, Carrie. Over time and through a couple generations of family, more acres were acquired, and the operation grew.
Today, over 140 years later, Frederick’s legacy lives on. The family now owns over 560 acres in Grundy County, Iowa and the farms remain as a testament to all the hopes and dreams first planted by Frederick and his wife over a century ago.
Improving the Farms Bit by Bit
In 2014, the family made the decision to work with Hertz to manage their farms, which is when Cal Dickson, AFM took over as farm manager. “They didn’t make it easy for me to get the job,” joked Cal. “We made sure to check out his references before committing,” quipped Michael. “All in all, it was good decision for us at this point in our lives.”
Prior to working with Hertz, Jennifer had a passion for farming and making improvements to the land. She helped implement projects like tiling, waterway installations, and building grain bins. When Cal took over as farm manager, he was excited to continue building on the foundation that Jennifer had laid for making ongoing enhancements.
Cal has implemented several farm enhancements, both big and small, to help make the farms as productive and profitable as possible. From widening driveways and installing drainage tile, to adding a grain bin and grain bin sensors, and negotiating seed deals, Cal is always looking for ways to incrementally improve operations.
“We try not to do too many big projects at once,” Cal explained. “The goal is steady, sustainable growth. I want to increase their income gradually over time, not see it spike up and down like a rollercoaster.”
Jennifer explained how she appreciates Cal’s measured approach. “You want profitability but also sustainability,” she said. “We don’t want the farms washing away. Improvements like waterways and drainage tile help on both fronts.”
One of the bigger projects that Cal helped the family work on was negotiating and implementing seed corn contracts on several of their farms. “A good farm is one of the pieces, but you also need a really good operator,” explained Cal. “We struck gold with Keith Smith and his son-in-law Ryan Lockhart.”
Even with seed corn’s demanding seasonal workload, Keith takes it all in stride. “He just rolls with the punches and is so well-respected by the seed companies,” said Cal. “Keith is patient yet meticulous, and does everything right. He’s a pleasure to work with.”
Seed corn surrounded by soybeans to prevent any cross-pollinization from nearby fields.
The family wholeheartedly agrees that adding Keith and Ryan has been tremendously valuable. After the devastating 2020 derecho flattened some farms, Michael recalled how Keith went and purchased a rake to put ahead of the combine to pick the crops up.
“When your farm operator treats the land like his own, there’s not much more you can ask for,” said Michael gratefully.
With Keith’s dedication and Cal’s leadership, the seed corn contracts have been a big success. The family is thrilled to have such an excellent operator caring for their farms and it just goes to show the magic that happens when everyone works together.
In addition to a fantastic farm operator, the family is also incredibly thankful to their farm manager. “You’re not planning on retiring anytime soon, right?” asked Michael to Cal. “He does great work and keeps us involved through good communication. We appreciate him and his expertise.”
Cal responded that he also really enjoys working with the Dickey family. “They’re very passionate about their farmland,” expressed Cal. “They’re willing and want to make the farms sustainable, which makes my job pretty easy. This family is a real joy to work with.”
From Generation to Generation
When discussing the future of the farms, Jennifer, Cheryl, and Michael were all smiles while they talked about passing the farms to the next generation. “Our son is especially interested in the farms, and our daughter will see the value too,” explained Cheryl.
“We can definitely see the farms staying in the family for generations.”
Jennifer fondly recalled her daughter Shennen spending time on the farm when they lived in Iowa. “She helped out growing up. I know she understands the legacy that she’ll inherit someday.”
Jennifer Dickey along with her Daughter Shennen and her grandkids.
“We’re the fourth generation owning this land,” said Cheryl proudly. “Our kids will be the fifth - how incredible is that?”
“And the sixth generation is already waiting in the wings with our grandkids!” Michael added with a chuckle.
Succession planning extends beyond the family too. Farm operator Keith Smith’s son-in-law Ryan is following in his footsteps. “Hopefully, that relationship continues into the future,” said Cal.
With the families’ shared passion and dedication, the farm’s future looks bright. The sisters have witnessed firsthand how farms can anchor families. Jennifer and Cheryl now hope to preserve the farm’s legacy while advancing it for the next generation. By honoring the past while embracing the future, the sisters are adding a new chapter to an enduring family legacy more than 140 years in the making.