2017 Farm Managers of the Year: Allen Hatley and Tim Cobb

The principal partners at a Washington state farm-management firm mix tradition with innovation to make a positive difference in agriculture.
Business partners Allen Hatley (left) and Tim Cobb (right) are the 2017 Professional Farm Managers of the Year.

Allen Hatley and Tim Cobb are two professional farm managers whose steadfast commitment to agriculture and top-notch client service recently earned them the title 2017 Professional Farm Managers of the Year. Sponsored by AgProfessional magazine, the American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers (ASFMRA), and Syngenta, this award has recognized outstanding leadership for 31 years.

A Winning Partnership

Raised on farms, Hatley and Cobb share a passion for agriculture and a lifelong desire to work in farming.

“Allen and I come from farm families, so we understand the success that comes from a productive, stable and well-maintained farm,” Cobb says.

Along with a passion for farming, both men also have notable academic backgrounds. Hatley earned a bachelor’s degree in agronomy and a master’s degree in agricultural economics at Washington State University. Cobb also attended the same university, where he studied agronomy, soil science and agricultural economics as an undergraduate. He then went on to earn an MBA at Northwest Nazarene University in Idaho.

Today, Hatley and Cobb are the principal partners in Hatley/Cobb Farmland Management, a firm that specializes in farm-lease agreements, custom farming operations, grain and crop marketing, farm property appraisals, long-term farm planning, and other related services. They manage more than 100,000 acres of farmland in the Pacific Northwest and currently work with 75 clients. Over the last three years, they have earned an impressive 100 percent client retention rate, largely because of their dynamic partnership, which allows them to mix tradition with innovation and provide a unique perspective to help their clients succeed.

Sticking With Tradition

While growing up, Hatley dreamed of farming with his father. However, after realizing his dad’s farm was not large enough to support two families, he took a job as a farm property manager with the Seattle First National Bank Trust Department in 1974.

“When I found out about this job, I had never been in a bank and didn’t know what a trust was,” Hatley says. “I didn’t have a suit or even a tie. But I interviewed for the job, was hired and never looked back.”

Seven years later, Hatley decided to go out on his own in the farm management and agriculture appraisal business. He teamed up with John Sharp, one of his associates at Seattle First, to form Sharp & Hatley. Eventually, Sharp retired, and Hatley asked Cobb to become his new partner.

While Cobb is the more tech-savvy of the two, Hatley brings a strong sense of tradition to the partnership, including his connections within the community that span four decades.

“Those who work with us often joke that Tim prefers an iPad, while I stick with my legal pad,” says Hatley with a laugh. “I think that describes our professional relationship perfectly.”

“I’m grateful I get to work with someone like Allen who brings his own strengths and abilities to the table.”

Tim Cobb
Hatley’s deep-rooted connections to the community are a crucial part of the firm’s success. Clients trust him and appreciate the time he takes to build and maintain relationships with landowners and tenants.

Over the past 40 years, Hatley has found that building relationships goes beyond just putting clients at ease. It’s also the best way to further new business development and retain existing clients.

“I don’t think I could put a number on the things I’ve learned from Allen,” Cobb says. “From his help balancing time to his stability and candor, he’s been an instrumental part of getting the firm to where it is today.”

Moving to Innovation

After college, Cobb decided to venture beyond agriculture and work in the real estate business. But after a few years, his agricultural roots started calling him back to the industry he loved. That’s when he discovered Sharp & Hatley online.

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“Funny, I essentially stalked them on the internet for a few months before gaining the courage to call them,” Cobb says with a smile. “I wanted to be a part of their business and felt that with my farming background, relevant licenses and level of energy, I would be a great fit.”

Following an interview, the company agreed that Cobb was a great fit and hired him in 2011 to begin his training to become a principal partner after Sharp retired. As a young partner, Cobb brought a new, innovative way of thinking to the firm. Seven years later, he firmly believes there is a huge opportunity for technology in the farm-management industry.

“We are on the cusp of utilizing technologies that will help us manage our business more efficiently, communicate with our clients better and become more viable as asset managers,” Cobb says.

One of the firm’s most recent innovations is a tool used to improve communication with clients. Known as AcreTrac, this system puts property management in a virtual sphere and adds an additional layer of transparency to the business.

“This tool allows us to communicate via a secure portal with each client,” Cobb says. “We can communicate all the important details of the land we manage—from leases to photos and reports—so clients are able to understand more quickly what is going on throughout their farms.”

Cobb and Hatley are also working together to create innovative crop production practices to implement on the land they manage. One of their goals is to reduce the amount of tillage and chemicals needed on farms across all the cropland they manage. On irrigated cropland, for example, they use GPS and other variable-rate, fertigation and chemigation technologies to make sure plants are receiving only what they need at the specific time required.

Looking Ahead

While Hatley is winding down for retirement, Cobb is gearing up for a long career ahead.

“As for our legacy, Tim wants us to be known for our integrity, honesty, hard work and innovation,” says Hatley. “I agree, but I also want to maintain and continue to build the relationships we’ve established with landowners and tenants.”

Both men are grateful to have supportive families. Hatley credits his wife, Karen, and adult children, Reid and Jennifer, for playing a huge role in his success over the years. Cobb and his wife, Janelle, are busy raising four children: Jarrett (6), Tacen (10), Jarom (13) and Taylor (15). Their families speak to the hard work these men put into their personal and professional lives, including their involvement in ASFMRA.

While Cobb is the president-elect of the Washington state ASFMRA chapter, Hatley has been past president of the chapter and has moved through all of the chair positions on a local level more than once. Both are ASFMRA accredited farm managers.

“I’m thankful every day to have the support of my family and co-workers,” says Cobb. “I’m grateful I get to work with someone like Allen who brings his own strengths and abilities to the table. Although he is headed for retirement soon, he has been a great friend, mentor and business partner, whose incredible career should be celebrated.”