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Ensuring Generational Sustainability

Golden field with black cattle and mountains in the background

Sustainability at Jorgensen Land and Cattle starts with profitability and generational transfer of knowledge, skills and assets. The specific practices and procedures on the operation are natural outgrowths – part of each generation’s commitment to leave something better to the next.

“Everyone defines sustainability a little bit differently,” Nick Jorgensen said. “This business is 113 years old. My definition of sustainability is the fact that it has been here for that long, and that we do everything we can to make sure it’s here 113 years from now.”

His grandfather, Martin Jorgensen Jr., provided a roadmap that still serves the family. In the prime of his career, Nick recounted, he put his sons in decision-making positions: “He told them, ‘I owe it to you because you need the experience to get to where I am today. You also know things that I don’t.’ ”

Nick’s father, Bryan, and uncle have done the same for their sons, the operation’s fourth generation. Nick is CEO and CFO. His cousin Cody is COO for livestock.

“I’m 30, and I’m in the thick of it,” Nick said. “The sustainability of a business, in my view, depends on letting that next generation learn and gain experience.”

To address financial sustainability, Martin Jr. gifted most of the operations’ assets and established a generational skipping trust. Families will devise succession plans unique to their goals and circumstances, Bryan said, but whatever the plan, it is critical to sustainability.

“We think about generational transfer in economic terms,” he said. “It is important from the environmental side, too, because it keeps good operations operating and good practices in place.”

Improving Soil Health, Advancing Livestock Genetics

In his day, Martin Jr. earned a name for the operation with performance-based breeding practices that were pioneering at the time. The Jorgensens also have been recognized for their early adoption of no-till and conservation practices.

Bryan became interested in no-till practices for water conservation reasons. The changes he saw in the soil itself led him to further explore no-till practices. By 1991, the operation was 100% no-till.

“My dad found that we’ve got healthier soil when we don’t disturb it. What else can we make better?” Nick said. “We started talking about things like a diverse crop rotation along with no-till. Then we extended that to minimum inputs so we’re not adding any more synthetic chemicals than we need.

“My dad says we’re just leasing the land from the next generation. If he’s leasing the land from me, then I’m leasing the land from my children. So, are we doing the things that make the land better?”

On the livestock side, improvement means building on the genetic legacy left by Martin to continually advance the quality of their animals. The management team, which consists of the four family partners, is structured to focus on growth, with day-to-day responsibilities entrusted to employees. Competitive benefits, regular hours and a shared vision contribute to longevity on the job.

Every aspect of the business is measured and analyzed, Nick said. “You can’t study anything that you don’t measure. One benefit we have on our operation is we’re extremely good record keepers, and the mentality of always improving and studying what we do is so consistent through our family and our business that we’ve accepted that, at a certain point, we have to ground-truth this and make sure it’s the right thing for our business and doesn’t just feel right.”

Generally, this approach provides clarity and consensus. When it doesn’t, Nick said, there is room to tweak practices: “We tried 60-inch corn for three years and every year we looked at it and said, hey, this doesn’t work, let’s tweak this and see if it makes a difference. We tried several iterations and just never got there. There have been other instances where we made modifications and got to a good spot.” 



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