BACON HILL, N.Y. — Edgar King’s pride and joy is the fifth-generation dairy he’s seen grow from 30 cows to a milking herd with nearly 1,000 animals.
It wouldn’t have been possible without his wife, Carolyn, and their four sons, all major contributors to the operation’s success and prosperity.
In addition to milk production, Kings-Ransom Farm has a thriving genomics business with international clientele from Europe to Japan and a related retail firm, King Brothers Dairy, which includes home delivery and a spacious, newly opened farm-based store.
“Farmers are eternal optimists, we all think things are going to turn better,” Edgar King said. “It’s part of our DNA. Plus there’s a lot of pride in agriculture among people in the dairy industry. That’s what keeps most of us going.”
“We’ve had a lot of ups and downs,” Carolyn King said. “But it’s been fun. We’ve just had a good time. I wish more people were able to live and grow up on a family farm.”
The Kings grew up only two miles apart in rural eastern Saratoga County’s rich farm country bordering the Hudson River. But they went to different one-room schoolhouses.
“I tell everybody I fell in love with her at age 5 in Sunday school class,” Edgar King said, smiling. “It took me 10 or 12 years to break the ice. She succumbed to my marketing pressures.”
The farm was established by Edgar’s grandfather, Andrew King, in 1901. He started out as a tenant farmer for an absentee landlord before purchasing a 300-acre tract where he and his sons milked cows, raised hogs, boarded mules and grew crops for the family and livestock.
They did everything possible to make ends meet, from threshing grain to raising potatoes, a profitable cash crop sold in nearby Saratoga Springs, a popular upstate New York resort town. The enterprising family also bought standing timber and used a portable sawmill to make lumber, which provided an income during the lean winter months.
In 1932, Edgar’s father, William King and William’s three brothers, launched King Brothers’ Colebrook Dairy, and ran it with two of their four sisters. This business, which delivered milk to homes and grocery stores throughout the area, continued into the early 1960s.
Edgar, who turns 80 on Sept. 21, married Carolyn while still in school at Cornell University. They purchased the farm in 1963, started out with 30 Guernseys, and by 1972 had a milking herd of 120 Holsteins.
Edgar, with characteristic good humor, renamed the growing business Kings-Ransom Farm.
Carolyn, who went to Albany Business College, was its accountant and payroll clerk for 40 years.
“Every time we had more children I did less and the boys would do more,” she said. “We have four boys and we are so lucky. They’re all doing great.”
David is a dairy cow nutritionist and has a dairy business of his own, called Midas Touch Genetics, in northern New York. Larry owns King Wealth Management, a financial services firm in Saratoga Springs.
Jeff and Jan own and operate King Brothers Dairy, a revival of their late grandfather’s business model with milk and food delivery service. It includes a farm-based bottling plant and the newly-opened retail store, featuring a wide variety of products including fresh ice cream with names such as Heaven, Good Karma’l, Lemon Dream and Bacon Buzz (maple bourbon ice cream with candied bacon).
They’re also in charge of overall farm operations, giving Edgar more time to enjoy his new role as partner emeritus.
Edgar and Carolyn King have nine grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
When not involved with farm operations, Edgar King has been an ardent advocate for agriculture at the local, state and national level. He was deputy state agriculture commissioner from 1976-87, was named by President Bill Clinton to the National Dairy Promotion and Research Board in 2000, chaired the state Farm Service Agency Committee, is a past Saratoga County Farm Bureau president and chaired the county Board of Supervisors’ Farmland Preservation Committee during 12 years as Town of Northumberland supervisor.
At present, he’s greatly concerned about the impact of Trump Administration trade policies on agriculture.
“It seems like with each passing generation, people in government who make decisions about ag and ag policy are either ill-advised or they just don’t know a damn thing,” Edgar King said. “We have a president who’s decided to levy tariffs on countries that are the biggest consumers of our dairy exports. Our biggest customers are China, Mexico and Canada and we’ve gotten in a fight with them. It’s not that they’ve all been fair. But we’ve got to learn how to get along with countries. We can’t bully them around. That’s what’s going on. Our president seems to be good at that.”
Similarly, Edgar King is an outspoken critic of dairy substitutes that are hurting the industry.
“We’re experiencing (in the) past few years a rapidly decreasing fluid milk market,” he said. “A lot of other products are available. Consumers are wonderful people, but sometimes they’re poorly informed. None of these substitutes, whether it’s soy milk or almond milk, have the nutrition package that dairy does.”
“People in the medical community are poorly informed, too,” he said. “Most doctors are not trained nutritionists, so they really don’t know any more than consumers. Sometimes, however, they give advice to their patients and why wouldn’t you take the advice of a doctor? So it’s just a continuous struggle for the dairy industry.”
Edgar King encourages farmers to be more involved in government policy-making. But at the same time, he realizes how difficult this is when most dairy people are struggling to survive in this extremely tough era of low milk prices.
“We’re so stretched in our daily lives, you just don’t have the time,” he said. “You’re applying more of your talent trying to produce food, stay in business and cut costs.”