For some, farming is a profession of faith that is sustained by a belief that even when the short term looks grim, the future will be bright.
That outlook may be especially helpful in today’s dairy economy, which has producers worried about milk markets, negative margins and tightening credit lines.
Despite such challenges, Brian and Rachel Detwiler of Altoona, Pennsylvania, continue to believe in their future in dairy farming.
The Detwilers were recently named the outstanding young cooperators for Maryland & Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative Association.
They farm in partnership with her parents, Joe and Veve McCutcheon, at Maple Kraft Farm, where they milk 200 cows, raise 140 replacement heifers and grow crops on 180 acres.
“We lean on faith and on the Lord really hard, and find every positive,” Brian Detwiler said during a phone interview when asked how his family copes with current economic conditions.
“With every negative there is a positive,” he said. “If all you see is negative, negative, negative, you are never going to see those positives.”
The positives might not be large, but it’s those little silver linings that keep the family motivated. One positive — since January, the farm has had a run of heifer calves. Of the 40 cows that freshened, there are 38 heifers.
Rachel Detwiler said she remains focused on why they farm.
“It’s the lifestyle we want to raise our kids in. We don’t do this to get rich,” she said. “At the end of the day, the kids are happy, healthy and enjoying the farm as much as we are. That’s our main focus.”
They have four sons — A.J., 13, Aiden, 10, Andrew, 8, and Abram, 5.
The couple became acquainted at a dairy meeting as high schoolers. Their families were seated across the table from each other, and the rest is history.
Both grew up on dairy farms, but his parents decided to sell out while he was in high school and he worked at a nearby farm until that farmer decided to exit the business in 2004.
The Detwilers returned to Maple Kroft that year and expanded the herd from the original 35 cows to its current size. Their annual rolling herd average is 26,000 pounds of milk, and they try to keep the somatic cell count below 100,000.
They do that by focusing on cow comfort, efficiency and cow management.
“We are trying to do everything right as best as we can,” Brian Detwiler said.
They joined the dairy cooperative four years ago after evaluating their marketing options and deciding to leave the processor the family had shipped to for more than 40 years.
At the time, Rachel Detwiler said, it made sense financially because it would cover the costs of their farm expansion.
On the farm, Brian Detwiler is the herd manager, crop manager and employee manager, plus he milks and feeds cows.
Rachel Detwiler also milks, and she handles the office side of the enterprise, from payroll and taxes to accounting and banking.
The Detwilers are members of the Blair County Farm Bureau and the Grace Baptist Church of Tyrone.
As the cooperative’s new young cooperators, the Detwilers will attend board and other meetings of the National Milk Producers Federation, including its annual meeting and legislative day.
Brian Detwiler is a member of Maryland & Virginia’s leadership council and believes this experience will help him better understand the inner workings of the organization.
Rachel Detwiler said she is looking forward to speaking to other people, especially consumers, about the dairy industry.
“I think it’s really important to talk to consumers and give them a positive image of the farm and of dairy,” she said.
There is a time commitment away from the farm, but that’s OK, they said. The family has been able to travel to different parts of the country and experience things that might not have been possible otherwise.
They were last year’s runner-up couple and took their boys with them when they attended the federation’s annual meeting in Anaheim, California.
“Our children get to meet their peers and realize they are not the only ones growing up on a farm,” Rachel Detwiler said.
And the networking is valuable for the parents.
“I think it’s great to hear what other farmers are doing, to get their ideas — things we have done wrong and that someone else does better,” she said.