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Right-to-Farm law helps Oberts continue ‘legacy’ in Indiana

Kimmi Devaney Published on 06 November 2015
Obert Legacy Dairy

During a family vacation in 2007, the Obert family from Fort Branch, Indiana, started asking themselves some important questions. 

1. Do we still have a passion for dairy?

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2. Is this industry one with a future for the next generation?

3. Do we have the financial resources to be successful?

The answer to all three questions was yes.

At the time, Steve and Kelly Obert, along with their sons – Wes, Klint and Mitch – and Steve’s brother, Tom, owned and operated a 130-cow dairy in Gibson County, Indiana, where their family has farmed since 1839.

The Oberts built and began milking at Legacy Dairy in November 2010 and are currently milking 800 cows. Growing the farm allowed them to bring in the next generation and to capture efficiencies gained by running a larger operation to be competitive and successful long term.

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The new dairy is located roughly 1,300 feet away from the old facility on the same 160 acres. They wanted to build close to the original dairy so they could utilize some of the existing facilities, which are now primarily used as housing for their calves and heifers.

Wes, Klint and Mitch are transitioning from general labor tasks to leadership, management, process development and accountability oversight. At the same time, the family is also working to cultivate an environment of positive communication and decision-making so that potential conflicts can be solved productively and efficiently.

Some of their focus areas include cow comfort, milk quality, employee management, resource stewardship and maintaining a positive image of their farm and the dairy industry within their community.

Freestalls are bedded with sand, which is cleaned, recycled and used again. Fans and open-sided barns allow air to circulate throughout, keeping bacteria levels low and reducing odor, in addition to maintaining cow comfort.

The newly built Interstate 69 runs directly behind their freestall barn, giving them added exposure and visibility to drivers. While it hasn’t directly affected them, they always try to present a positive image of their farm and the dairy industry to those driving by, Steve says.  Freestall

Building a new facility or expanding a current one can present more challenges than just having the resources to milk more cows. Neighbors and others who may not like the idea can create difficult situations.

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Steve says it’s important for dairy farmers to be aware of the potential for nuisance lawsuits. Nuisances can include excessive truck traffic, odor and perceived loss of property values, among other reasons.

Their two-year lawsuit began in 2011 after they started milking at the new facility and involved numerous meetings with their attorney, deposition, arbitration and a county court trial.

“Indiana has a very strong Right-to-Farm law, and it helped us win this lawsuit,” Steve explains. “As dairy farmers, we should always attempt to use common sense and good judgment in our farm activities. There’s a smell associated with livestock farms and, socially, this is becoming a bigger issue. We need to always be respectful of our neighbors. It only takes one neighbor to create a difficult situation.”

Maintaining good communication with neighbors can help to potentially avoid these types of lawsuits, Steve says.

“Keep your neighbors informed, but be aware that people may not be completely up-front about their true feelings until it’s too late to do anything,” he says. “It’s a very painful thing to go through. People who you’ve been friends and neighbors with for generations all of a sudden have very bitter feelings. It’s very distracting and takes time, focus and energy away from the more critical areas of the farm.”

Resources such as local industry advocacy groups and trusted professionals, can help producers navigate the process if they do find themselves in a similar situation.

“We reached out to Indiana Dairy Producers, the Indiana Ag Law Foundation and many other agricultural advocacy groups, and they were supportive,” Steve says. “Most importantly, our attorney, Todd Jansen, helped guide us through this process. Todd is very accomplished in this area of the law and often works closely with members of Indiana Dairy Producers.”

Steve has plenty of advice for other dairy farmers.

“Know that you aren’t alone,” he explains. “Reach out to your industry advocacy groups and resist the temptation to aggravate the situation. Always take the high road. It’s important to remember that after the lawsuit is over, you will still be neighbors with these people. Raising livestock is a wonderful occupation, and farmers provide quality nutrition to families. Don’t let anyone make you feel bad about being a livestock farmer.”  PD

Kimmi Devaney is a livestock specialist with the Indiana State Department of Agriculture. She also writes an agricultural blog. 

PHOTO 1: Steve and Kelly Obert, along with other family members, built the new facility in 2010 after deciding to grow the farm. 

PHOTO 2: The Oberts grew the herd from 130 to 800 cows in order to capture efficiencies and position the dairy for long-term success. Photos by Kimmi Devaney.

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