(Scroll down to see a slide show of photos from Clardale Farms.)
CANAL FULTON, Ohio — As a child, Frank Burkett III spent his summers working and playing on his grandparents’ dairy farm just outside Canal Fulton along Strausser Street Northwest.
“Summertime and weekends, Grandma and Grandpa were my parents,” said Burkett, now 34. “When I came over in the summer, I pretty much lived in the farmhouse all summer long.”
For Burkett, one thing led to another. First, was the time he spent shadowing his grandparents, which taught him the basics of dairy farming, how to work hard and to appreciate rural life. Then came college, where he studied agriculture, completing a bachelor’s degree in agricultural systems management from The Ohio State University in 1997, and a minor in agricultural economics.
Today, Burkett is general manager of the family’s dairy — Clardale Farms, named for Burkett’s grandmother, Clara Rohr. He oversees eight full-time employees, including six of his own family — three uncles (Bruce, Dennis and Tim Rohr), two cousins (Jake and Timothy) and his grandfather, Dale Rohr. Together, they milk about 450 head and keep another 400 heifers on feed. The farm’s corporation, which owns 580 acres and farms 800, is managed by Burkett and his three uncles.
So much input by family can sometimes slow the process of making an important decision, Burkett admits, but in the end, he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“You have four different people and we’re sure to include all our employees, too,” he said. “So I think in the end, you have a better, well-thought-out plan than if (just) one person is involved.
“We may not be the fastest to act, but I think the decision that is reached in the end is better.”
One of the family’s biggest decisions in recent history was to install a double-12 milking parlor, known to dairymen as a DeLaval Champion VLP parlor. The family started milking from the unit in April and is in the process of completing an office setup, which includes office space, a meeting and break room for employees, and a place to shower and clean up.
The parlor, installed by Hill’s Supply of Canal Fulton, also features an overhead observation room and window, where visitors can keep an eye on everything down below.
The new parlor was featured during an open house Oct. 3, and was a key attraction during the annual Stark County Farm Tour Oct. 4, with an estimated 3,000 people visiting.
Neighbors are important to Burkett. His family tries to show the community what farmers do and why, and to be considerate of their neighbors’ concerns.
“We’re in a highly developed area as far as urban pressure,” he said. “Half the ground we farm is in Jackson Township (pop. 38,000). We have fantastic neighbors and we try to be good neighbors.”
Still, there are some things that have to be done, and spreading manure is one of those. But the family tries to avoid spreading during the winter, when it would fail to penetrate the ground, and also makes a second use of some of its resources, including water that is recycled during the milking process.
Although large, the farm helps maintain a landscape most people find pleasant.
“While nobody likes the smell of manure from time-to-time, a lot of them (neighbors) would rather have that than 100 houses in their backyard,” Burkett said.
One of the biggest issue the family supports is care of its animals. They use sand for bedding because it keeps the cows’ udders healthier, and they have regular herd checks by their veterinarians at New Pittsburg Large Animal Clinic in Wooster.
Still, Burkett and his family say they’re concerned about the public’s lack of ag education. Dale Rohr, 79, said when visitors to his farm saw the large bunkers of silage covered with plastic and tires, they didn’t know what to think.
“Some said ‘what is that, garbage under them tires,'” Rohr said, laughing.
But Burkett and his uncles don’t laugh when it comes to caring for their animals, and preserving their right to do so. Their farm is one of many across the state that bears signs in support of Ohio’s Issue 2, a ballot initiative to form an animal care control board and enforce livestock care standards.
Burkett, who is a state trustee with the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, said farmers are calling for more regulation, because they want to assure consumers that farmers are doing a good job.
“And that is happening, but we want to make sure that when it’s not happening, that there’s a method that it’s dealt with,” Burkett said. “Animals deserve fair treatment and one bad act reflects poorly on whole industry.”
Market woes. An equal or greater concern is the condition of the milk market. A year ago, when the family decided to install its new parlor, milk was at a record high. Now it’s at a near-record low.
“The dairy economy now, it’s a tough economy,” Burkett said. “It’s not just us — it’s statewide, it’s nationwide and it’s worldwide.”
And it’s not just hurting dairy farmers, there are the industries related to dairy farming — veterinarians, breeders, feed and equipment suppliers — that all depend on the success of the farmer.
Burkett doesn’t have a crystal ball to tell him what’s ahead. Like most dairymen, he hopes it gets better sooner rather than later. Until it does, he vows to continue good management practices on his own farm, and support Ohio farmers in general.
“We (Ohio farmers) want to be in the driver’s seat, we want to be the leaders,” he said. “We’re going to make sure food is safe, local (and) grown in Ohio.