Dairy Twilight Tour at Falling Star Farm focuses on family, community and the state of the industry

For the young visitors to the Dairy Twilight Tour, the baby calves were a big attraction. Jim Dudte, who lives near Polk, visits a calf with his granddaughters, Faith and Hope Ernsberger.

POLK, Ohio – A lush field of alfalfa turned into a temporary parking lot July 19 when Falling Star Farm near Polk, Ohio hosted this year’s Dairy Twilight Tour and Summit.

The annual event, coordinated by the Wayne-Ashland Dairy Service Unit and The Ohio State University Extension, drew approximately 1,800 visitors, including dairy farmers, agriculture industry professionals and young families learning about the dairy industry .

In addition to presentations on industry trends and farm tours, the program has been expanded this year to include a benefit auction. The auction raised $6,430 through the sale of gift baskets, cheese wheels and a heifer from Falling Star Farm.

The money will help a Wayne County dairy farming couple, Joseph and Mary Besancon, who are facing unexpected medical expenses. For Dewey Meyer, who runs Falling Star Farm with his family, the auction was a highlight of the evening.

“You don’t have to be a nearby neighbor to help someone,” he said. “That’s what we did here tonight.”

family tradition

2022 Dairy Twilight Tour
Karen Meyer, surrounded by family members, talks about the growth of Meyer Hatchery during the Dairy Twilight Tour.

Falling Star Farm was started in 1962 by Phillip and Shirley Kerr, who moved to the current location of another farm a few miles away. It was December and the snow had piled up along County Road 620, so they just walked their cows down the road to the new location.

Shirley recalls the weather being so cold that her hands froze on the buckets as she carried milk to be poured through a strainer into the milk container. The couple raised four children on the farm as they worked to expand the herd and acreage.

“They set wonderful examples for all of us,” said Karen Meyer, Phil and Shirley’s daughter.

The farm continued to expand in 1979, when Karen married Dewey Meyer, and he joined the family farm, bringing in his own herd of dairy cows.

“My parents gave us a wonderful opportunity here,” Karen said.

Since then the dairy has grown to a dairy herd of 500 Holsteins. The family also grows corn on 500 acres and produces hay on another 400 acres.

In 1985, Karen started a chicken hatchery as a hobby, then turned the hatchery into a business, as she recognized the demand.

Early on, she received guidance that guided the hatchery’s growth, she said. “You can’t just give people what they need. You have to give them what they want. »

People want colored eggs and various breeds of chickens and other poultry, she explained. The hatchery therefore offers more than 160 poultry breeds. The hatchery now sells over a million birds a year, primarily for backyard flocks and 4-H projects.

The hatchery ships chicks across the country via the US Postal Service.

The Meyer family also entered the excavation business in 2012 by acquiring Branson Excavating. The family’s various businesses have helped him through the ups and downs of farming.

“Diversifying the dairy farm has been a good thing,” Karen said.

Having many good employees over the years has also been a big factor in the family’s success, she added.

Karen and Dewey raised their own children on the farm and several family members are now involved in the dairy, hatchery and excavation businesses. The fourth generation is currently raised on the farm.

2022 Dairy Twilight Tour
Dewey Meyer, who runs Falling Star Farm with his family, welcomes Dairy Twilight Tour participants along with Tom Stocksdale, President of Wayne-Ashland Dairy Service Unit. (photos by Gail Keck)

Industry Outlook

The challenges facing dairy farmers and the entire agricultural industry were the focus of the Dairy Summit, held as part of the farm tour.

Frank Burkett, general manager of Hill’s Supply and co-owner of Clardale Farms near Canal Fulton, described the problems he has seen on his farm, in the dairy supply industry and among customers. Supply chain issues lead to equipment shortages and inflation leads to price hikes, he said.

Sellers who traditionally only adjusted their prices once a year, if necessary, are already looking at their third price increase this year. Higher spending on salaries and benefits is also a concern, Burkett said.

On his own farm, wages have increased by 12% to retain employees and attract new ones.

“We work in a great industry, but there are a limited number of people in this industry,” he said.

Interest rate hikes are likely to reduce the amount of inventory dealerships can afford to keep on hand. For farmers, these interest rate increases will increase the cost of land, buildings and equipment. While older generations lived through a period of high interest rates in the 1970s and 1980s, this will be a new experience for many farmers, Burkett said.

Any cost increases will also affect farm insurance, said Burkett, who sits on the board of Nationwide Insurance. He suggested that farmers review their insurance coverage because reconstruction costs have increased so much.

“I know it’s a painful process sometimes, but take the time to consider the limits of your policy,” he said.

2022 Dairy Twilight Tour
Scott Higgins, CEO of the American Dairy Association Mideast, describes dairy check-funded programs during the Dairy Twilight Tour at Falling Star Farm.

Supply and demand

Lori Oswald, head of liquid milk market analysis and balancing for Dairy Farmers of America, pointed out that the rise in milk prices that dairy farmers have recently seen is likely to affect demand.

Global demand is weak and local demand is declining as prices rise, she said.

As prices rise, customers are looking for other choices, she said. “At this point, it may be too high for consumers to pay.”

On the other hand, a new cheese factory in Michigan is helping to absorb production from the surrounding region, including Ohio. Nationally, the outlook is good, Oswald said, though transportation costs are likely a concern. The same goes for the shortage of dairy heifers, caused in part by the increased use of sexed semen, she added.

Derek Reusser, Massey Ferguson marketing manager at AGCO in Wooster, said the past few years have brought pent-up demand for the machines. For 2023, he expects to see some improvement in the supply chain, but shortages persist for specific parts, such as rim bolts for tractor tires.

Land values

Haley Zynda, an agricultural educator at Ohio State University Extension in Wayne County, said farmland sales in the county have reached $35,000 and even $40,000 per acre.

“For new and beginning farmers, it’s almost impossible,” she said.

Part of the increase in farmland prices comes from the sale of land for non-farm use, Zynda said. For example, Wayne County promotes the use of Farm Safety Zones to encourage landowners to keep their land in agriculture. She also pointed out that a bill recently passed by the Ohio Legislature, House Bill 95, provides tax breaks to help beginning farmers.

In Holmes County, land prices hit $60,000 an acre, according to Tom Stocksdale, a Farmers National Bank agricultural lender and chairman of the Wayne-Ashland Dairy Service Unit. These prices generally cannot be supported by income from the land.

“We’re saying if you pay more than $8,500 per acre, that acre won’t pay for itself,” he said.

Instead, farmers use income from land they already own or land they buy at lower prices to help pay for high-priced land. Non-farm investors currently view land as an alternative to underperforming stocks and bonds, Stocksdale said. This contributes to the rise in land prices.

Even so, farmers continue to invest in land. And when farmers borrow money, they find ways to make the payments, even if they “eat beans to make it work”, he said. “It’s amazing how agriculture fulfills its obligations.

2022 Dairy Twilight Tour
Creston’s Kris, Macy, Mindy and Jackson Gerber attempt to befriend a calf during the Dairy Twilight Tour.

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