Beyond Basics: Alumni in Agriculture – Thinking Ahead to Stay Ahead

Feature Stories
| HELEN RIMMER

Both Richard Gilmer (Gilmer Farms, South Mountain, ON), BScAgr’75, and Melanie Sommers Trottier (Newbrabant Farms, Lancaster, ON), BSc (AgEnvSc)’08, know the need to plan for the future. Both grew up on family dairy farms that are still family-owned today, and both have contributed significantly to the success of their respective businesses.

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Cows in the new Gilmer barn

Gilmer, now semi-retired as the sixth generation of Gilmers takes over, graduated from Macdonald (which he describes as “the best move of my life”) with a degree in animal nutrition. In his final year, he did a project on improving milk production on the home farm; his goal was to go back to the family farm to make it better. Richard initially concentrated on increasing milk production of the 70-cow herd and on better land management. Along with brother Reg, who joined the family business in 1985, Richard shifted his concentration to breeding better cows, while simultaneously increasing their land holdings and improving and expanding their infrastructure, and aggressively purchasing milk quota. “Our aggressive quota purchases before quota stabilization strategy was introduced were a key strategy to current success,” says Richard. “Like any industry you have to move forward or get out.”

In 2012, the Gilmers chose to switch to producing Omega-3 milk. Their main source of protein is a fish meal product, for which they receive an additional 10 cents per kilogram of milk to offset the additional feed costs. “The jury is still out on whether we net any more money, but it does fill a niche market – consumption we might not otherwise have,” says Richard.

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Three generations of Gilmers in the new barn

Today, the Gilmers are building a 260′ x 130′ addition to an existing free stall built in 1998, and switching from a double-eight parlour to four robots, leaving room for further expansion of the dairy herd. They will be milking 170 to 180 cows when the barn is completed in December 2015, and will milk more cows as quota becomes available. They are also cropping about 1,000 acres of corn, soybean, spring wheat and hay.

After recently attending a local meeting concerning the recently announced Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, Richard feels confident for the future of his dairy farm. “Our supply management seems to be intact for the foreseeable future with steady increases in both cow numbers and milk production rather than the leaps and bounds we have experienced in the past,” says Richard.

Melanie Sommers Trottier is a third-generation dairy farmer and a shareholder along with her parents and her husband on the farm started by her grandparents, where she serves as Manager of Operations.

Newbrabant Farms Ltd. is a 680-cow dairy, focused on the production of quality milk to fit consumer needs. Since 2009, they have been producing DHA milk (one of the 3 fatty acids found in Omega-3). Cows are currently being milked in two locations, as regulations prevent the merging of milk quotas. The family also crops 1,900 acres of land, primarily haylage, corn and soybeans.

The new barn construction at Newbrabant Farms

The new barn construction at Newbrabant Farms

The family is currently building a new dairy facility (anticipated completion date October 2016). It is a 50-stall rotary parlor with automated pre- and post-dipping, automated sort gates, cow chalkers and hoof baths. The barns will house 750 cows on sand stalls. “We are recycling the sand to reuse for bedding,” says Melanie. “We will also be pressing the fibres out of the manure to use for bedding for the heifers. We are building to improve cow comfort, production, productive life, labour efficiencies and to lower cost of production.”

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Melanie with a young calf

“Dairy farming has changed immensely over the last 25 years,” Melanie continues. “There are fewer farmers today and farms are larger. There is also higher productivity per unit of output, and more technology and efficiencies. Being a farmer today is not just the day-to-day management of operations – you must be in a leadership role, focused on strategic planning with your company vision always at the forefront.”

“As for the future of our operation, we are driven by our vision, to be a leader in the dairy industry, focused on the production of quality milk to fit consumer needs.”

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