There’s room for both large and small operations
By David Hoadley, Correspondent
If Calvin and Tammy Beumer were stockbrokers, it’d be a pretty good bet their portfolios would be well diversified. Because in agriculture, the couple certainly has a lot happening. Besides milking a herd of 50 dairy cows twice a day, the Beumers also raise beef cattle and poultry and farm field crops. And keeping the payroll records is pretty easy — they are the only two employees most of the time.
“It keeps us out of trouble,” Calvin joked as he walked across the driveway.
The Beumers will celebrate their 35th wedding anniversary later this year and all of those years have been spent on the farm on the border of Lakin Township in southeastern Morrison County. Calvin, 55, is the third generation of Beumers to own the property. His grandfather moved to the area in 1937, lured by land at $1.20 an acre and trying to recover from the Great Depression. Calvin’s father eventually took over the farm, and when he died about nine years ago, Calvin and Tammy purchased it from his mother. And when the couple decides they’ve had enough, a fourth generation is in the wings.
“We have a daughter and a son-in-law that are interested in it and planning to buy it from us eventually,” Calvin said. “Right now she’s an ag teacher in Milaca and he does concrete work in the Cities.”
Don’t look for the Beumers as part of the crowd spreading doom and gloom about the family farm. According to Calvin, smaller farms in Morrison County are plenty healthy.
“Small farms like this, they can still make it,” he said. “And there have been a number of them in the Morrison County area, young farmers have started up again now. So it’s looking pretty good. Provided prices stay decent.” The economic downturn of the past decade actually was a boon to the local dairy industry.
“Especially a few years ago when the economy took kind of a dive,” Calvin said, “and there weren’t all these jobs out there, a lot of young guys thought, ‘Hey, you know, dairy farming isn’t so bad.’ So we’re pretty fortunate in our area to have a lot of young farmers starting up and doing very well and putting money back into the community and the facilities.”
And while the media has focused on so-called corporate farms overpowering the family farm, Beumer isn’t convinced.
“You can’t really say ‘corporate farms’ as much as just large farms,” he said. “When you get farms that are going to 20,000 and 30,000 cows, obviously they get a better price for their milk because they’re dealing in volume, they buy their stuff on the economics of scale, their input’s cheaper.
“We as small farmers, we need the big farms around too just to keep enough of a production base so we can keep our (processing) plants efficient,” he added. “So we need each other. There’s room for all of us.”
With the demand for renewable fuels, corn prices have become a larger expense for farmers, but Beumer said he hopes things have stabilized for now.
“Two years ago when feed prices went really crazy, that was tough on everybody, but now it’s pretty good. It goes in cycles. You’ve got to be ready to ride it both ways,” said Calvin. For the Beumers, those high corn prices didn’t negatively affect them a lot anyway.
“Not terribly much because we farm enough land where we raise corn for our cattle, plus we also sell corn, too. Two years ago we had our best crop ever and highest prices ever so we benefited from that too. If you strictly had to buy all your corn at that point to feed the dairy cows, yeah, that was a tough time.” But he said generally farmers will plant enough crops to avoid that expense.
“They tend to. You know you’re going to have feed for your cattle then, to control some of those situations where prices do go crazy. Most of them will raise enough forage, like your alfalfa and corn silage, and they might have to buy some grain. But for the most part nowadays most people can raise most of their grain.”
The shopper at the grocery store has no doubt noticed the price of a gallon of milk has gone up in recent years, and Beumer agrees that more of that money is making it to the farmer.
“We’ve done pretty well this winter, our milk prices were the best prices we’ve ever received for milk,” he said. “It’s dropped off a little bit now but it’s still okay. It’s kind of like anything: you want a good price but you don’t want it to go crazy because then you’ll flood the market with over-production and then it drops way the other way. It doesn’t take much of a surplus or a shortage for the price to really swing a lot.” And while people still tend to buy those gallons of milk no matter the price, like the Beumers, the industry has become more diverse.
“That part is fairly stable, the fluid milk, but fluid milk isn’t that big of a part of the dairy industry anymore as much as it used to be,” Calvin remarked. “It’s more the cheese and then you get into the whey-protein concentrates and your different items like that. Stuff that we export a lot of, especially to China, we’re doing a lot of exporting to China right now, so that affects the price, the market quite a bit too, when they’re buying or not.
“A couple of years ago China had a scare about their dairy products being contaminated,” he went on, “what was raised in China, and some infants died because of the baby formula. So they’ve really switched to buying from the U.S. so that’s helped our market the past couple of years.”
If there’s one annoyance for the Beumers, it would be the increased disconnect between the farm and the end consumers and people’s misconceptions about the animal farmer.
“Basic society is getting so far away from the farm that they don’t realize what goes into producing a product,” Calvin asserted. “The thing I wish people knew is especially when it comes to animals, farmers do everything possible to make their animals as comfortable and as healthy as possible. They aren’t out there to abuse their animals and just get as much out of them as possible. Because if an animal isn’t healthy and comfortable it’s not going to produce.” If the animals weren’t properly cared for, “We couldn’t afford it,” Tammy said. Like many careers, the rogues are the exception.
“Whatever job you’ve got or anybody has, if you dig far enough you’re going to find somebody that abuses things. For the most part, farmers are very concerned about the health and welfare of their animals,” she said.
The Beumers’ days get started with the first milking at about 5:30 a.m. and they have a list of chores that are accomplished before they make time for breakfast. But it can be an unpredictable business.
“We don’t really make any plans until we get outside in the morning because they can change in a heartbeat,” Calvin said. “You can have all kinds of plans and you get outside in the morning and you have an animal calving or something else, and well, you’ve got to deal with that stuff.”
And working with animals without a concept of a Thanksgiving or Easter holiday makes getting away from the farm a bit tricky.
“It gets kind of tough once in a while,” Calvin said. “Over the years we’ve had some young guys that are willing, we had one that was really good, we could get him to milk for us to get away. When the kids were home, yeah, then we could leave for a few days because they knew what was going on. Now our son-in-law, he’ll milk for us at times too. For the most part we try to do things between chores.”
Even with the knowledge that the farm will stay in the family, the Beumers haven’t made a specific plan about retiring.
“Some days it’s tomorrow and some days it’s five years, so I don’t know,” said Calvin with a chuckle. “It’s going to be at least five years I’d say.” The temptation hit a few years ago after some joint replacement surgeries, he said.
“Then we came to the conclusion, ‘Then what else are we going to do?’ We’re set up that we can handle things pretty good ourselves and we like what we’re doing so, we’re not ones to sit around.”