by Elizabeth A. Tomlin
“I am the fifth generation to farm here,” stated Jeffrey Post of Post Farms, LLC, Oakfield, NY, near the tip of Lake Erie, where he currently shares farm ownership and management with both his dad, Dan and his Uncle John.
As the youngest member of the partnership, Jeff said, “We knew that we were going to have to harvest more milk and produce more income to support my entrance into the business.”
Dan and John said their great-grandfather started the farm with 100 acres of land and a few cows around 1890.
“The farm was moved to its current location in the late 1890s,” reported Jeff. “At that time it was a dairy farm. Over the years the farm grew.”
In the early 1970s a milking parlor was built and more cows were added.
“Again, in the late ‘80s the barn was rebuilt and the parlor was added on to and we went to 200 cows milking,” said Jeff.
In 2001 Jeff graduated with a degree in Animal Science from Cornell and worked the following eight years working on other farms, where he was able to learn even more.
“In early 2009 I returned to the (home farm) business after having the opportunity to work on, and manage, other dairies in the area.”
Jeff said as he reentered the home farm business, this time as a partner, it was obvious that changes would need to be made. At that time Post Farms was milking about 230 cows in a double eight parlor that had been built in the ‘70s.
“As we looked at our management strategies and family goals we felt like robots were appropriate,” confirmed Jeff.
So, in 2010 the farm welcomed its first four Lely robots, also adding more cows.
“I believe we were the 5th farm in New York State to go robotic,” Jeff recalled. “Labor was one of the main factors.”
“After we had the cows trained in the robot facility and we were comfortable with the labor that it required; we purchased 120 more cows.”
The farm continued milking in both the parlor and the robotic facility until 2016, when four more robots were added.
“In August of 2016 we began building an addition with four more robots onto the current robotics barn. We now milk about 460 cows on eight robots. We no longer use the ‘old’ parlor for milking. The old dairy facilities have been converted to dry cow and heifer housing.”
Jeff says the plan is to increase to 480 milking.
“Including ownership labor, we have six full-time people working, including two non-family employees. So, we have continued to have the same amount of labor as we did before the robots, which was our goal.”
Jeff’s aunt, Laurie, raises the calves.
“My grandfather also helps out every day even though he is ‘retired’.”
Jeff says there are only a few challenges with robotics.
“I would say that the biggest challenge for implementing robots is that they have a higher level of capitol investment per milking cow than a traditional parlor. That being said, we did not have any trouble securing funding from our banker because they saw the value in the reduced labor costs.”
Obstacles faced are generally the same as what other farms in New York State have.
“We live in state that expects the cost of society to be the burden of land owners,” stated Jeff. “So we constantly have to do more with less income. We are also producing a product in milk that is slowly declining in consumption, so we are generally at break-even profit levels.”
Jeff advises young farmers to gain experience.
“Go get experience in other disciplines, whether it’s nutrition or finance, before coming home to work. That expertise and the people you will network with will give much more value to your own operation.”
He honestly says he fears the future of dairy in New York State is “bleak.”
“I think that smaller operations will continue to go out of business or retire, rather than let massive amounts of equity or retirement get chewed up. Larger farms will continue to grow and or reduce their cost of production. I see robots becoming a much more popular option with larger dairies as labor continues to be a challenge. That includes finding labor, as well as what it costs to pay them. In New York our minimum wage will soon out pace what low scale jobs are worth.”
Post Farms, LLC ships their milk to Upstate Niagara Milk Cooperative. Their components run around 3.9 fat /31 protein.
“We raise all our own animals and crops,” Jeff reports.
The farm consists of about 800 acres, where crops of alfalfa, corn, wheat, triticale are produced.