Member Focus: Family Affair

by Kristi Ruggles

Mark Hoffman is a mechanical engineer, a businessman, and a farmer. He is the son of the late Chase Hoffman, with whom he happily shared a farming, dairy, and general contracting office for 25 years. Mark is also father to Sam, Kat, and Drew, with whom he works today.

Hoffman is the owner and president of Tillage Management, Inc. Sons Sam and Drew Hoffman are also mechanical engineers. Sam works in the family’s manufacturing business. Drew runs the family’s farm. Kat Coombes, whose expertise is in environmental science, leads operations for the company.

Each family member brings his or her own career story. Mark was an automotive engineer, then a general engineering contractor and farmer. Kat worked in climate change education and environmental mediation. Sam worked for a company that designed and sold natural gas pipeline equipment all around the world. Drew earned his degree and returned to the family farm for what he intended to be a five-year stint. That was 10 years ago.

Today, they are working together to create tillage equipment that simplifies farming and improves efficiencies. Drew, while not in the office, is their go-to resource in their perpetual pursuit of identifying ways to make the equipment better. Working with him at the farm is foreman Carlos Gonzalez, who also supports the company by visiting customers’ farms to demonstrate the equipment. 

“Our equipment has always been fairly modular and had interchangeable parts,” Kat said. “We are increasing that modularity so every grower can pick the perfect length, width, and set-up for their operation.”

The design of the equipment is also intended to make it easier for the solo farmer to repair or adjust the equipment in the field or orchard.

“ Working together as a family is an experience unlike any other. This is full transparency. We trust one another and take risks together. It helps us develop products more quickly because we are so honest with one another.” — Kat Coombes

The Company’s Early Evolution

In 2006, Mark started a company to produce the OPTIMIZER, an 18-foot-wide one-pass tillage implement that reduced several field passes to one or two, with the objective of streamlining design and amplifying consistency in order to manufacture the equipment more efficiently. 

Sam joined the business in 2009 and further refined the design again for ease of manufacture. He also designed a smaller 12-foot version of the 18-foot OPTIMIZER. With the reduction of row crop farming in California due to the uncertainty of water, he then got to work creating a piece of equipment better suited for orchards. It was a natural next step.

The family has been farming in the San Joaquin Valley since 1958. They started with dairy feed crops, cotton, and wheat. In the late 1970s, the Hoffmans started to plant pistachio trees, and today, the farm is primarily orchards.

“I was just not satisfied with the equipment we had for orchards,” Mark said. “We were using the standard stuff that was available, and it would have issues from plugging to poor surface finish. It just never did what I wanted it to do in the field.”

So, he and Sam went about making something better. Their design used the lessons learned from the 50,000-pound open-field equipment to produce a 10,000-pound orchard unit. 

“The orchard equipment takes all of the components of the large machine and streamlines it,” said Kat, who joined the company in 2012. “The open field equipment has 10 or 11 rows of tillage parts. The orchard units have three to five. There are horsepower limitations in orchards and turning challenges. This equipment helps account for those.”

The engineers also designed for a smooth finish, clean dirt lines, and a just-so range that did not disturb herbicides under the trees but got as close as possible.

“It is not traditional orchard equipment,” Kat said. “People look at it and are curious.”

The Company Today

Business is good for Tillage Management, Inc. Mark said demand rises in tandem with fuel prices because their products are fuel-efficient.

“One of our customers told us his accountant came to him and said, ‘You missed something, because last year you spent $30,000 or $40,000 more on fuel,’ and the farmer said, ‘I didn’t miss anything, that’s my new tillage equipment,’” Mark said.

But, like every member company, finding the people to build the equipment is a challenge, and inflation is a threat.

“The higher material prices have been awful,” Kat said. “We have absorbed as many supply costs as we can, but that can only go so far before you have to pass it along. Despite that, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by our customer response.”

The company’s equipment has a higher price point compared to some competitors, Kat said, but farmers choose it because it saves them time in the field, which of course translates to dollars saved for the customers.

Looking Ahead

The engineers at Tillage Management, Inc., are continuing to tinker. They are working on a piece for particular orchards that will create a better finish. They are also exploring how to make products compatible with autonomous tractors.

“Tractors require input. We are figuring out how to read the status of a moving part on the implement, translate that status into some sort of message, and send that message to the tractor,” Mark said. “We are already in a good starting place with the equipment being so low-maintenance and easily adjustable.”

Regardless of what’s in store, the Hoffmans intend to pursue it together.

 “Working together as a family is an experience unlike any other,” Kat said. “This is full transparency. We trust one another and take risks together. It helps us develop products more quickly because we are so honest with one another.” 

About Tillage Management, Inc.

Founder: Mark Hoffman
Year Founded: 2006
Location: Tulare, Calif.
Number of employees: 20
Joined the Association: 2017