The farming dream comes true
I wasnít brought up in agriculture. I was actually born
in England and had exposure to a dairy farm at a very young
age. Loved it and ever since, I wanted to be a farmer when I
grew up. And here I am, I grew up and Iím a dairy farmer.
I always had an interest in agriculture Ė at every opportunity
Iíd raise chickens, pigs or whatever. And then my wife and I
purchased a farm here in Lebanon in the mid-70s and then I
raised dairy replacements and some beef cattle. And the
opportunity came along to take over this farm and I went after
As a kid, I was always around animals. I always enjoyed
it but I never really thought it would be what I would do for a
living. After my senior year of high school, we started leasing
this farm. Then I went away to Rhode Island School of Design to
become an architect. After about two-and-a-half years, I
decided thatís not quite what I wanted to do. I kind of felt I
wanted to be an architect and have a hobby farm. But why not
just have a farm and make it my career?
Graywall Farm is a 400-cow dairy farm. In addition to
the dairy cows, we have 350-head young stock. Weíve been in
business since 1989 at this location, which is when we leased an
operating farm and purchased the cows and the equipment. Then
the previous owner sold the development rights to the state of
Connecticut. and we were able to purchase it at its agricultural
value. Today we crop about 350 acres of grass and 400
acres-plus of corn. Itís close to 800 acres of cropland.
Itís an exciting business. I never realized what was
involved. I think a lot of people donít realize whatís involved
with dairy farming. We took some trips to some progressive
farms out in New York when we first started. And it really
changed my attitude of what you can do. You can be a successful
businessperson with a lot of challenges. And those challenges
are part of what makes it very exciting -- itís not just milking
cows. Thereís nutrition and finances and a lot of big
Systems too. Setting up the systems to operate
efficiently. Everything from your labor input, to the way the
cows are handled and the way theyíre housed, our cropping
systems. Thereís a lot to it, to get everything clicking
together and operating efficiently.
For work and for pleasure, itís all about the land
Well, land is the biggest obstacle. Securing enough
land. We donít just need the land for the animals; we also need
it to distribute the manure from the cows. And thereís a real
balance there, a real recycling. You take the feed, you give it
to the cows, the cows give you milk, but they also give you a
lot of manure. And the best thing to do is put it back on the
land. You need 2 acres per cow basically, a cow and its calf
We own a little over 700 acres and thatís not all
cropland. On any given farm, you might own 100 acres, but only
50 or 60 of it will be actual production, productive cropland.
The rest is either swamps or steep slopes. Thatís just the way
Connecticut is. So we own 700 acres. Of those 700 acres, about
400 acres is viable cropland. And then we rent an additional
400 acres, which actually sits on probably 1,000 acres.
We spend as much time managing manure as we do managing milk.
Itís a huge part of the business that takes up a lot of our time
and a lot of management.
The biggest challenge, I think, is staying efficient. And itís
just not operation, itís also cash flow. As dairy farmers,
weíre price takers, weíre not price makers. So the economics of
it all are a challenge, which is why we feel we have to put so
much emphasis on cost control and efficiencies of operation. And
Lincolnís done a superb job of that.
The land that we rent is beautiful and the land that we
own is beautiful. You get half a mile off the road and youíre
looking back at scenery across the valley. Itís impressive.
You get the rows of grass and the cows in the distance.
Weíll go out and mow hay together and itís actually
fun. Some people have a motorboat or something, go around the
lake. We go around the field mowing hay and itís just a
pleasure to see the hay getting mowed. Itís very enjoyable.
And as youíre mowing, there are hawks and wildlife and coyotes.
There are all sorts of things. Itís an uplifting experience to
watch the sunset, and so on.
Farms in other parts of the country, in neighboring New York for
instance, they have a lot more land that they can acquire. So
they can grow their cow numbers and they can grow their
businesses. In Connecticut, we donít have that luxury of the
available land base. Thereís a lot of competition for the land.
There are other uses, development pressures, etc. So we feel we
need to be as efficient as we possibly can. We want to grow the
dairy business as much as we can, but we also recognize that we
need to look into other options.
To meet consumer demand, put your cows on the carton
Thereís a group of six farmers from eastern Connecticut that are
working together to market our milk on a cooperative basis under
the label of the Farmerís Cow. Itís Connecticut fresh milk from
local Connecticut farms.
So we can
take advantage of that huge consumer base thatís right at our
doorstep. When you think about it, the marketplace between
Boston and New York is one of the largest consumer markets in
the world. And we as dairy farmers have been taking absolutely
no advantage of that.
We found an extremely enthusiastic response to our initiative to
market milk. And it started before we even came up with this
project. Weíve held farm tours here. And weíd have families
come and the common question was, where can we buy your milk?
And you could never directly say where they could buy your milk,
because you were never really sure where your milk went.
So I think thereís a huge interest in local. And in our case,
the advantage we have is weíre the source. Weíre the farmers.
And you can actually come and visit us. You can come to the
farm and you can see where and how your milk is produced. And
we think thatís a big advantage. We can let people know where
their food comes from.
In a race against time, the need to save state farmland
Connecticutís Farmland Preservation program is a
valuable tool to agriculture and it has been key to our
operation. Itís because of the program that we were able to get
We have the pleasure to lease some properties from some dairy
farmers that were superb dairy farmers. They really built up
their crop base, have nice meticulous farms and we have the
pleasure to crop that land now. Itís enjoyable.
We need a viable agriculture Farmland Preservation Program if
weíre going to even think about buying that land. Itís a highly
competitive market for the land. Weíre competing against
developers. We need to be able to step up to the plate. As an
agricultural producer, we canít afford to pay those kinds of
prices and stay in agriculture production. But with a viable
Farmland Preservation Program as a tool, we can.
But in some respects it is too little, too late. We really
squandered some years in the mid-90s where we could have
purchased a lot of land at a reasonable price but the program
was not funded. And weíre going to pay for that as a state. But
the money that itís going to take now to even to begin to catch
up is going to be difficult. To fund it to the level that it
needs to be funded.
Just in the town of Lebanon, we have over 11,000 acres of viable
crop land and if you think about the price of land that it is
today, you could spend all the stateís money just on the town of
Lebanon. There are some excellent initiatives being taken to
create creative sources for funding for farmland preservation.
But, really, more needs to be done. Thereís no question about
Thereís going to be demise on the number of dairy operators. I
think the reduction of the number of dairy cows is not going to
follow the same formulas as the numbers of the dairy operators.
You know, just like here, weíre milking the cows that 30 years
ago would have been on ten farms. And I think youíre going to
see that happen. On this operation, weíve already purchased
three herds that were local herds that were in milk production a
few years ago.