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How a Pennsylvania grazing dairy couple is passing the farm on

Ann Adams Published on 09 May 2013

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This article was #23 of the Top 25 most well-read articles on www.progressivedairy.com in 2013. It was published in the May 13, 2013 Extra e-newsletter.

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Click here for the full list of the Top 25.

Holistic Management helped Kress and Tammy Simpson of KTS Farm in Tioga County, Pennsylvania, transition their 180-acre grass-based dairy to employee Mike Geiser. Simpson has begun focusing on growing the feed for the herd, while Geiser has starting purchasing the herd and is responsible for the milkings.

We asked author Ann Adams,
Q: One of the goals in transitioning the farm to Mike Geiser was for the Simpsons to be able to start taking off weekends and going on vacation. Has that happened?

Kress and Tammy Simpson now enjoy talking vacations to the local lakes in Pennsylvania and New York, where they camp in their fifth-wheel. They also enjoy supporting their son, Alec, as he races his four-wheeler in the Western New York Off Road Association’s races.

Kress has also helped Alec set up his own dairy so that he has time off to enjoy other pursuits as well as earn a living dairying. PD

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Ann J. Adams, director of community services, Holistic Management International

ARTICLE:

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For the last 34 years, Kress and Tammy Simpson have run KTS Farm, a small 180-acre seasonal grass-based dairy in the Elk Run Watershed of Rutland Township in Tioga County, Pennsylvania.

Through the vagaries of weather and markets, they have built a successful business that they are now ready to transition.

While their son and daughter have helped with milking chores growing up, they are now exploring other learning opportunities, so Kress took steps to transition the farm business to a younger farmer that has been involved in the business.

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Kress explains how Holistic Management , a farm and ranch planning system, has helped him make the decisions about the type of dairy that works for him, with benefits such as quality of life, profit and animal/land performance.

“With a seasonal dairy, the spring can be very stressful with a fluctuating market,” Kress says. “I had originally chosen not to be certified organic because it didn’t pay to do so.

"But about three years ago, we decided to become certified organic and sell our milk through Organic Valley because the conventional market was fluctuating so much you couldn’t plan your income. I knew it was time to make the switch to certified organic and work with a company that could offer me a steady contract.”

That focus on the whole farm was critical to help Kress set up the farm for a successful transition.

Kress admits the dairy business can take its toll. Even with a seasonal dairy, nine months can be a long time without a vacation or weekend off. So Kress began to invest in the next step – an employee.

Mike Geiser “Three years ago we hired our first full-time employee, Mike Geiser. He didn’t know anything about seasonal dairying but he was eager to learn. The first day he came to work, we pulled out a grazing chart and explained how we grazed and why.

"One of the main reasons we hired Mike was so we could start taking weekends off and going on vacation. So that first day, we sat down and planned around our families for the upcoming grazing chart. We mapped it all out on the chart.

"Mike loved how we operated the dairy and the work, so over time we started talking about how we could transition the business to him.

“He’s in the process of buying my dairy herd and I’ll continue to mentor him as well as lease him the land. He has the same philosophy as we do about the dairy, and the timing is right for someone else to take up the reins.

"I gave him the pick of the herd and he has a five-year lease on the land and equipment with an option to re-lease. I’m going to focus on growing more feed for the herd, and Mike will purchase the feed. We’ll continue to live on the farm, and since Mike lives nearby, this arrangement works out for us.

“I’ve learned that if something isn’t taking you toward your goal, you don’t do it. I’ve attained what I have because I’ve followed that guideline. I’m not broke. I haven’t used government programs other than a loan from FSA.

"In 1998, I invested $100,000 to help my dad refinance. Thirty years later, I’ve been able to cash flow that original investment over the years to where I have the equity I had to sell the cattle to Mike and offer him the lease, and purchase a milking parlor that works so I can transition the farm to a younger farmer.

“We upgraded to a swing-10 Ireland-style parlor for a number of reasons. Mike wouldn’t be here still if we hadn’t made that investment. Most of those old barns and parlors in this area mean that one person can only milk 35 to 40 cows.

"Last year, we milked 88 cows, which were too many even with both of us. Now, we’ve scaled down our herd to 66 cows, which Mike will be milking. This level of production has worked for us as we expect 8,000 pounds of milk per cow per year over a nine-month period. We’ve determined it takes about 600,000 pounds of milk per grazing cell to be profitable.

"With Mike working that number of cows to pay off his loan and lease and other direct expenses, he should be able to grow a sustainable business and have a sustainable quality of life.”

Over the years, Kress has adapted the production system at KTS Farm. His herd is a cross of Ayrshire, Holstein, Jersey and Normandy. The animals are healthy, and they only see the vet about twice a year.

Kress has very little foot rot or pinkeye and no serious fly issues, all of which means lower cost of production for vet bills and healthier animals for better production. And with planned grazing, Kress has been able to increase his carrying capacity by 25 percent.

So as KTS Farm moves forward providing organically certified milk to Organic Valley, there are now two farmers where there used to be one. The growth and transition of this small farm is an example of how to survive in the challenging business of dairy farming. PD

PHOTOS
TOP RIGHT: Kress and Tammy Simpson have utilized the services of a management company to transition their 180-acre grazing dairy farm to employee Mike Geiser.

MIDDLE RIGHT: The Geiser family will soon become owners of KTS Farm. From left to right, back row: Michael and Mike Geiser, front row: Jacob, Hunter, Taylor and Tess Geiser. Photos courtesy of HMI.

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Ann J. Adams
Director, Community Services
Holistic Management International

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