Thirty-odd years ago, Dave Forgey was a typical young dairyman — deep in debt. Although it took him years, Forgey, of Logansport, IN, is now not only profitable, but able to give a younger man the chance to farm with him.
He credits it all to his switch from conventional to grass-based dairying.
“So much of what we do in agriculture hinges on our bottom line,” says the 60-year-old Forgey. “If you don't have to buy as many inputs, then your bottom line is going to be a lot better. We've found that we can dramatically reduce our inputs with this system. That's how we can get a young man started in our operation and not have to quit ourselves.”
Thirteen years ago, Scott Foerg was a local kid with no farm background.
“My herdsman said, ‘I know a kid right out of high school who'd like to work on a farm,” Forgey remembers. “He was pretty much low man on the totem pole, but he stuck it out and moved up the ladder.”
In 1996, Forgey and his wife, Helen, decided to slow down but knew their kids weren't ready to farm.
Foerg, in the meantime, was wondering how he could get more than a salary. So that same year he and the farm couple worked out a way to slowly give the younger man a piece of the Forgey pie. By the end of this summer, Foerg, 31, will be a full partner in the 400-acre, 175-cow dairy.
“It has been a very unique experience,” says Forgey. “We can still be very profitable and Scott can be very profitable and build equity.
“It's an opportunity that you don't see happen very often in dairy farming. Scott understands this system and is able to expand and grow and do a lot of things because he is much more profitable than I was at his age.”
When Forgey first switched to grazing, he was told he was going back in time. But, in 10 years, he'd paid off all his debt.
“We have found that our profit per cow has dramatically increased. We keep records with Cornell's Dairy Farm Business Summary, so it's a very accurate recordkeeping system. In 2001 we netted over $1,300/cow, which is pretty good in the dairy industry.”
The next two years that per-cow profit dropped to the $700-800 range, but this year should be “phenomenal,” Forgey says.
“We started off small,” says Forgey of how he and Foerg developed their partnership. “In fact, he started by purchasing some heifers from me. I leased them back so he would have a guaranteed income. Then we expanded it; he took over the management of the herd and milking duties about four years ago. Now I can hop on a bus and go for a four-day bus tour if I want.”
Such a partnership is helped by Forgey's “share-the-wealth” mentality and sense of humor, both of which are summed up by a sign on his farm: All We Have We Owe To Udders.
“By that we mean we owe it to others,” Forgey says. “People helped me when I got started in grazing, sharing what they did. We share what we do, too.”