BYRON CENTER, Mich. — In December, Dave Miedema and his brother Ken, co-owners of E. Miedema & Sons, hired a consultant who specializes in helping agricultural companies in transition.

After a lifetime in the family business, Dave, 64, and Ken, 61, decided to begin the transition from the third generation of Miedemas to the fourth.

Little did they know how crucial that timing would turn out to be.

Earlier this year, Ken, who had always been the healthier of the two, Dave said — “he was always telling me not to smoke” — was vacationing in Florida when he noticed a pain in his back.

E. Miedema passes reins to next generationX-rays revealed a football-sized tumor, and a cancer diagnosis. Ken Miedema passed away in April.

The only silver lining, Dave said, is that Ken was able to work with his brother, the consultant and the next generation on the company’s transition plan.

By May, the process was mostly done.

Jeremy Miedema, Dave’s son, will likely become the company’s president. Another son, Joel, will oversee food safety and finances; and a third son, Tim, will be in charge of maintenance.

Ken’s sons Ryan and Jeff also will have leadership roles in the reorganized company. Ryan will handle field operations and corn planting, and Jeff will oversee agronomy and spray operations.

Another nephew, Kurt Miedema, also works for the company, handling the greenhouses and cabbage harvest and shipping. Miedema & Sons employs four other full-time workers.

Steve Haaksma will remain as sales manager.

So far, Dave Miedema said, so good.

“Day to day, I’m amazed at how these guys have stepped up,” he said.

Dave said he’s happy that the company started by his grandfather in the 1930s will be in family hands for the foreseeable future.

“It’s fantastic that (the business) has been able to support them all.”

As for Dave, his “official” title is now something like director of special projects. He’s still working as many hours, he just doesn’t have to worry as much about the day-to-day operations.

“I feel kind of guilty — I can just enjoy what I’m doing. A lot of responsibility has been lifted off.”

A group of friends has already put him on notice that when they go on their next big motorcycling trip, Dave will be going with them.