Dairying in difficult times

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LOUISVILLE, Ohio — Stark County dairyman and crop farmer Aaron Dickerhoof says he owes his success to his father and grandfather, who helped him get his start.

Dickerhoof, 32, farms full-time with his parents. He says their support is critical, especially milk and crop prices are low.

“There’s no way somebody my age could go out and purchase a farm and be able to make it today,” he said.

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The Dickerhoof family has been farming in Stark County since at least 1950, when Aaron’s grandfather, Paul, rented a farm near East Canton. Today, Aaron farms with his mother and father, Lori and Jerry Dickerhoof, and his wife, Codi. Together, they operate Broadview Farms, where they milk 89 head of mostly Holsteins, and farm 550 acres.

Aaron and Codi also have three children, with a fourth on the way. Garrett is 9, and twins Paul and Luke are 20 months old.

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Age: 32
County: Stark
Education: High school and life experience
Acres: 550
Milking: 89 head

Limited growth
Although Aaron would like to grow the family farm to accommodate his growing family, he said low prices in the dairy industry have put those plans on hold.

“We need to update a lot of stuff, but the prices just aren’t there. We’re getting by, and trying to hopefully keep it going for the next generation to come.”

Next generation
Working with multiple generations is a blessing, but can also be a challenge.

“It’s a give-and-take relationship,” Aaron said. “We all have good ideas, we all have bad ideas — but we work together.”

This past winter, Aaron and his parents began working on a plan for him to buy into the farming operation. He said he’s at the point where he’d like to grow the herd and increase the acreage, but the current dismal farm economy has put the growth on hold.

“With prices the way they are, what do you do? It’s hard to justify adding stuff when it (milk) isn’t worth anything,” Aaron said.

Instead, he’s making use of what he has, including a tie-stall barn and some older tractors that still run well.

He said he’s also looking at ways he can share equipment and combine services with other farmers.

And he keeps in touch with other young farmers and relies on them for advice.

When it comes to making big decisions, the family talks things out and also works with their support team: the agronomist, veterinarian and feed nutritionist.

“If it’s anything big, we all talk about it,” he said. “Pretty much all of the major decisions, we talk about together.”

The Dickerhoofs sell their bull calves and raise their own heifers. They’ve recently begun to mix in some beef genetics to improve the value of their bull calves, and improve the hardiness of the herd.

A big focus for Aaron and his family is conservation and the public eye. The farm uses cover crops, waterways, and subsurface drainage to control water flow, and they’ve won multiple awards for their efforts, including the Conservation Farm Family of the Year, in 1994.

“If one person screws up, it makes everybody look bad,” Aaron said.

Keeping busy

The Dickerhoofs milk twice a day and sell through Dairy Farmers of America. In addition to farming, Aaron serves as a volunteer fireman, and he also helps with the Stark County Fair. This year will be SON Garrett’s first year to show a dairy beef feeder.

Although Aaron didn’t go to college, he said he puts his high school education to work every day, and has learned a lot just from working with his father.

“I used to hate math in school and now I use it every day and I love it,” Aaron said.

He’s hoping that when the markets improve, the math will get a little easier and that the farm can add some new technology, including robotic milking.

Aaron said he’d like to replace the tie-stall barn, possibly by going to a robotic milking system. But at the same time, he said older equipment and technology is sometimes better, because he can repair it himself and it costs less.

The farm still uses several older model John Deere tractors. “If they break, you can fix them,” Aaron said.

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Chris Kick served Farm and Dairy's readership as a reporter for nearly a decade before accepting a job at Iowa State University Extension. An American FFA Degree recipient, he holds a bachelor’s in creative writing from Ashland University.

1 COMMENT

  1. I find it a little sad that your newspaper would allow someone to put such a bad spin on the dairy industry, “and the hard working people make it,”that grew up on his farm and and will eventually just walk into owning as the third generation. Which I do not want to be misunderstand families that stand multiple generations are doing something right. This is a long down turn that will have it’s come back and is not the worst milk has ever been. At one point He makes the comment “There’s no way somebody my age could go out and purchase a farm and be able to make it today,”. I believe that some more research should be done before uneducated comments like that put on the front page of the Farm and Dairy. My wife Sabrina and I bought a farm last “by our own doing” restored the barn to working order and moved our herd of 35-40 cows “that my wife built from 1 COW,” in within 2 months, and started milking. I am 35 years old and my wife is 29. We are still milking through this struggle. So frankly I am disapointed to hear someone who will never even begin to realize the struggles that come from actually starting from scratch, make broad untrue comments, that cast such a dark light on the dairy industry.

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