To the father and son team of Craig and Christian Yunker, soil health and profitability go together.
The second- and third-generation farmers from Elba, New York, have transitioned their family’s 20th-century 25-head dairy to a diversified 21st-century farming operation that still includes dairy.
The Yunkers focus on growing crops, raising 2,500 heifer replacements and producing commercial turf. They rotate 6,200 acres of corn, wheat and soybeans with processing peas, snap peas and spinach. They also grow fresh-market onions and 800 acres of alfalfa.
Craig had helped to grow the dairy to 350 cows by the mid-1980s. The Yunkers also lay claim to the first bunker silo in New York.
In 1998, an Agway Cooperative was built on the farm with a forage and nutrient management agreement. Six years later, the Yunkers formed CY Heifer Farm, which can house 4,000 dairy replacements and raises calves for 10 neighboring farms.
The manure is applied to the agronomic and specialty crop fields, as well as at Batavia Turf, the Yunkers’ 300-acres turfgrass operation.
“We could provide forages and have alfalfa rotation with our more intensive vegetable crops and have the benefits of the manure back into our soils,” Yunker said.
The Yunkers use GPS guidance paired with historical yield maps to manage fertilizer and seeding rates. Seed placement is accurate to within less than 1 inch.
The farm sells grain at market, processing vegetables to Seneca Food and Farm Fresh First, and fresh onions to local grocers and wholesalers.
The turf business serves landscapers, municipalities, schools and homeowners. It also sells mound clay, sod and infield mixture for baseball fields.
“The diversity we have has kept us viable,” Yunker said. “We have a diverse customer mix and crop mix. We have diversity geographically, in three counties.”
Having operations spread out reduces risk, with some areas getting more rain than others some years.
The farm employs 45 people, including local and H-2A foreign workers. Given the short supply of ag labor, Yunker has tried to mechanize where possible.
“There’s still a lot of crops we need a labor force for, running equipment and some manual labor,” he said. “It’s a balance. We have to treat them right and pay them more in this day and age.”