WHITE CREEK, N.Y. — Three dozen dairy farmers and Extension agents from four counties and two states turned out July 24 to learn how Land View Farms has protected its long-term interests by undergoing a recent expansion.
The dairy tour, sponsored by Cornell Cooperative Extension of Washington County, also had farmers from Rensselaer, Saratoga and Columbia counties, a New York Farm Bureau representative, and agents from the University of Vermont’s Extension program.
Since 2007, the farm has purchased 600 acres that it previously rented, acquired a nearby satellite farm, expanded its milk cows from 800 to 1,250, and just last year, built a new $1 million, 400-foot-long heifer barn where 650 animals are housed.
“We did this to protect ourselves,” said Roland Walker, who owns the farm with his wife, Jane; son, Randy; and Mark Anderson, a former Cooperative Extension agent. “We didn’t see any alternative. We had a choice to make; acquire land and expand revenues or continue with the same process. It does leverage us. It also makes it possible in years to come for the younger generation to farm,” Roland Walker said.
Randy Walker manages the dairy herd, while Anderson is the farm’s agronomist in charge of field crops. The family works 2,400 acres, including 1,400 that it still rents within a 15-mile radius of the main farm.
Roland and Jane Walker are primarily responsible for the business end of things. Roland Walker’s father, a former railroad man, started the fledgling operation in 1952 and built the first barn a decade later.
“He’d come home at night to work on the farm,” Roland Walker said. “All of us family members, my mother, my sisters and I would help out.”
Today, Land View ships 31 million pounds of milk annually, two truckloads per day, to a Dairy Farmers of America plant in Connecticut.
As the herd and production grew, it became apparent that the farm’s milk tank wasn’t large enough. A new one would have cost $100,000. Instead, milk is fed directly onto large trucks equipped with insulated tanks, which Land View delivers itself.
“There’s a fair amount of risk,” Randy Walker said. “It can be tricky during a snow or ice storm. You still own that milk until it’s delivered to the plant.”
Like all facets of the operation, however, the owners have decided that doing things themselves makes it easier to control their own destiny. That’s one of the main reasons behind their recent land acquisitions.
The surrounding area is faced with increasing development pressure. Quite simply, there’s no guarantee the land that’s currently rented will be available a year from now if someone offers the right price for it.
By purchasing land outright, the Walkers and Anderson eliminate such threats.
Wherever possible, they also try to minimize labor expense. As the farm’s crop expert, Anderson has introduced a minimal tillage system in which tilling, planting and spraying is all done by the same piece of apparatus.
“It only does six rows at a time instead of 16, but it saves a lot of time,” said Joseph Peck of Peckhaven Farm in Saratoga, N.Y. “I’m sure that big farms around here will seriously consider it.”
Anderson added: “Before, we would have had to pay someone $2,400 to side dress a growing corn crop. Now we do that ourselves. We do our own herbicide applications, our own fertilizer spreading. We try to keep as many dollars on the farm as we can.”
The new heifer barn, set up on a hill with plenty of ventilation, was designed to minimize manure removal duties.
“There’s lots of air, so it’s drier,” Randy Walker said. “We only clean the barn once a week. It’s almost like a fill-in job. If someone’s got a few minutes, they go in and clean out manure.”
The new barn was built with a long-term view of saving money, too. Previously, Land View was paying an outside party $60,000 a month to care for and raise its heifers. Now that’s no longer an expense and Land View is directly responsible for the animals’ care.
“Farmers come to events like this to see what we can learn and try to do back home at our own farms,” Peck said. He left Land View with plenty of new ideas.
“These guys have a pretty progressive setup here,” said Rico Balzano, a University of Vermont Extension agent. “I’m impressed.”