Family Farms

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Traditionally, the biggest complications facing farmers have been the weather, and fluctuating market prices.

But today's farmers are facing obstacles beyond what happens in the fields, skies, and on Wall Street. In this segment of WKSU's series, "New Work, New Families: America's Juggling Act," Kevin Niedermier takes a look at modern family farm concerns...

Lorain County dairy farmer Dave Conrad is up at 5:30 most every morning to start the first milking. One of three times the 300 cow ritual is repeated each day, every day of the year...

Conrad: All right, what we are doing here is, well, once the cows come in they are sprayed with a 1% iodine dip called a pre-dip. And after they get sprayed, they are wiped off. The udders are cleaned and we put the milker on them. It takes probably about a minute-and-a-half per cow, just depends on the cow, to milk them. Once the cow is done milking, the machine will pull the milker right off automatically. Our cows average about 75 pounds a day.
Conrad and his brother are the third generation to raise dairy cows and grow feed on this land. Both have degrees from Ohio State University's College of Agricultural Science in Wooster. It's a job Dave says he loves, and hopes to keep doing if regulations and social trends allow it. The road that leads to the Conrad's property used to be lined with dairy farms. Today, most of those operations have been replaced with housing developments...
Conrad: It's hard to move up and down with equipment, so much traffic, even on these county and township roads. Most of the grounds that you farm are back lots. In order for me to have dairy anyway, I mean, I got animal waste. I've got manure to haul. And a lot of people don't care to have that in their backyard.
Conrad says he does not resent his new neighbors. In fact many of them are good friends, and their children play together. He just hopes peaceful co-existence continues...
Conrad: I enjoy having them around. I just hope they like having us around. What somebody thinks we should be doing, it costs money. We don't have a lot of money. It's hard to meet some of their conceptions of doing some of those things. The wrong person gets the wrong idea, you know, they could put you out of business eventually. You just can't afford to fight that kind of a battle. It's not worth it.
A battle Conrad does fight, is preventing water pollution...
Conrad: Our farm is probably 300 yards from the biggest water shed in Lorain County, the Black River. I live right on the darn thing. I have no choice to operate as clean of an operation as I can. We've gotten a lot more involved with conservation practices, put waterways, filters to man-made wetlands to collect barnyard run-off. Those kinds of issues you never even thought of, you know, ten, fifteen years ago. It's really important to us now. We do all we can; we do our part to operate a clean operation. I like to think that if someone comes in off the farm and walks around and looks--that they walk away thinking, "Hey, this is pretty neat. I'm not afraid to drink milk. I'm not afraid of cereals or grains produced. They are doing a good job." I want everyone to think that. That's what we strive to do. It's not a straw cap and bib overalls type of a job anymore. It's anything but that.
And what about the next generation? Conrad has a trio of sons, aged 9, 5, and 3. He hopes they have some interest in keeping the family tradition going...
Conrad: Well, I'd like to think so. The door is open for them. Whether this county will allow us to do that as far as development, as far as the ability to sustain operation on a dairy farm in Lorain County. And whether or not the economics are there. I'd love to think that somebody, if not all of them, would have some interest in it. They are going to work here for a while. They are going to know where they came from. They are going to understand the responsibility--to know what it is to get up everyday and go to work. My parents instilled that in me and I'm a better person for it, whether I stay here or go onto something else. I'm not afraid to work and I don't need to be told to work. I take on a project and get it done. I would like to think that they are going to have the same background. No matter what they do, they know their responsibilities. They don't need to be told. They don't always find a way out of it.
Meanwhile, Conrad's wife works for the Lorain city school district, and he finds additional sources of income. A few years ago, he bought a quarter-million dollar combine designed to quickly harvest whatever other farmers do not have the equipment or time to reap themselves. He says the 18-to-20 hour days he puts into his custom harvesting business during the September through October window of opportunity, account for roughly 25-percent of his annual income. Conrad travels as far away as Bucyrus in north-central Ohio, nearly 60-miles away, and a three-and-a half-hour, back-road trip by combine. I'm Kevin Niedermier, 89.7 WKSU.
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