Farming, like most specialized industries, has a host of support businesses that make day-to-day operations possible. Restaurants, for example, have restaurant-supply stores for their silverware, dishes, ovens, and whisks; laundry services pick up and launder cloth napkins and tablecloths; and a wide variety of food and beverage distributors bring them fresh cilantro, frozen beef, soda, wines, and canned tomatoes. Trying to run a restaurant without these support businesses would be darn near impossible!
Farming is no different, of course. Depending on the type of farm, farmers may need a seed dealer, a custom crop planter, sprayer or harvester, a reliable parts store or equipment dealer, a mechanic, a soil/fertilizer consultant, a veterinarian, a nutritionist, an accountant, a breeder, and a feed supplier. When farms do well, these support businesses do well. When farms struggle, so do these guys. And trying to farm without them would tough…to say the least.
I am still fairly new to farming, so I had never considered how vital these support businesses were until the Cazenovia Equipment Company closed its Herkimer location a handful of years ago, followed by Springer’s closing its shop in St. Johnsville shortly thereafter. Whatever their reasons for closing, the farmers that once depended upon these equipment dealers for parts, service and specialized farm purchases found themselves up a proverbial creek. Yes, there are still a number of excellent equipment dealers around the Mohawk Valley, but remember that—even for farmers—time is money. If driving three hours round-trip to get a part for the baler ahead of an impending rain storm means not getting the hay crop in…well, you get the picture!
Every time I see an ag-related support business shutter its doors, I’m sad of course for any employees that are let go and for the family that built the business from the beginning. But I also think about the very far-reaching and often unseen ramifications for the farmers that depend upon it for their own existence. When one of these support businesses closes its doors, continued survival for the farming community becomes all the more tenuous. If agriculture was a patient in the doctor’s office, the number and variety of support businesses would be one of the vital signs used to measure the health of agriculture. We farmers need these guys more than you know. You might just say they’re a farmer’s best friend!
Our farm’s success depends on quite a few people and their businesses. One of the businesses we depend upon the most is our feed dealer, Kast Hill Farm in Herkimer. Dottie and Danny Perry, owners of Kast Hill, have been supplying our feeds for at least ten years. We get all of our chicken feeds from them, including a chick starter ration for our meat birds and a lovely layer pellet for our egg-laying hens. The quality and freshness of the feeds at Kast Hill are second to none, and I know beyond a doubt that the quality of my family’s farm products is nearly 100% attributable to a consistent supply of this beautiful feed. (How do I know this? I’ve tried other feeds. In years past, often shortly after tax time, I would look at our books and try to find ways to either increase sales or decrease expenses. The less expensive feeds disappointed me every time. We’ve also experienced very different growing seasons—ranging from late spring starts to droughts to floods—and even experimented with different breeds and management techniques, all while keeping the feed source constant. Quality remained high, despite any changes we tried to make. The feed is our secret ingredient!)
Dottie and Danny always go above and beyond to make sure our feed needs are met. They know that we can’t ever run out. They also know that fresh feed has higher consumption and conversion rates (and less waste), so they never over-buy from their suppliers. The result is an open line of communication—Dottie calls me every time she is about to place an order, to see how much we’ll be needing over the course of the next few weeks. We text one another to coordinate pickups, and we know when either one of us will be out of town. I talk to Dottie more often than I call my own mother!
Over the course of a year, we will buy approximately 25-30 tons of feed from Kast Hill. If you’re not a farmer, that may sound like a lot. For most farmers, though, it’s not much at all. In other words, our little farm alone is not keeping Kast Hill in business. Quite the contrary, like all ag-support businesses, Dottie and Danny depend upon a healthy and vibrant farm community to keep their doors open. By extension and by virtue of our farm needing Dottie and Danny, my family farm needs a healthy and vibrant farm community around us so that we all can continue to stay in business. The same can be said for the custom crop guy, the mechanic, the fertilizer consultant, the nutritionist, the breeder, etc., etc. It may not be immediately apparent, but we all need each other much more than you can ever imagine.
We’ve developed a great working relationship with Dottie and Danny at Kast Hill over the years—not hard when you see someone every week, year-in and year-out. We are very fortunate farmers to have such a great support system—it makes everything we do possible!