By Brandy Harrison
TEESWATER — When his parents weren’t quite ready to hand over the reins to their Teeswater barn, 22-year-old Ron Groen packed up and moved east to buy a five-year adventure on a Belleville-area farm. The creative purchase has an original owner buyback clause written into the deal for all but the quota.
“I’m not going to say I know it all — because you never know it all — but there comes a point when you need to stop working for someone else and do your own thing. I want to be making my own mistakes,” says Groen, whose parents, Gerald and Rita, milk 260 cows in Teeswater, in Bruce County. In their early 50s, they weren’t keen on slowing down or ramping up.
A Google search turned up the perfect fit late last year. Groen struck a deal to
buy Don and Bev Donnan’s 150-acre farm, along with the buildings and 100 kilograms of quota, near Stirling, about 25 minutes north of Belleville.
But there’s a twist. While the Stirling dairy farm will be Groen’s home base for the next five years, at that point the Donnans will buy back the land and buildings. Dairy Farmers of Ontario quota regulations require a buyer to ship milk on a continuous basis for five years at the purchase location before quota can be moved.
Groen may move the quota to a farm near Teeswater or build a new barn on land his family already owns. But nothing is set in stone. At the end of five years, Groen admits he may want to stay put.
“People keep telling me I’m never going to leave. Nothing is ruled out until the shovel goes in the ground,” he says.
Groen will eventually milk 80 cows at newly-christened EastLink Dairy Farms Inc. At the Aug. 26 herd dispersal at the new farm he bought 44 cows, trucking in 26 more from Teeswater afterward. He hasn’t missed a milking.
After taking ownership last month, he spent much of the first two weeks doing the 5 a.m. milking and chores, then heading back to Teeswater — an eight-hour round trip. “I did 45 hours of driving in 14 days.”
He’s already noticed there are fewer custom operators in the Belleville area, which means he lucked out that the farmer who sold him the farm is willing to stay on to do the field work. He also kept on a full-time employee for equipment maintenance and pitching in at the barn.
Coming from a freestall, tie-stall cows that prefer to be led and not herded, will take some getting used to, he adds.
“If you stand behind a tie-stall cow, wave your arms around and smack her on the butt, she might think ‘you’re getting the right spot. Keep scratching there.’ But if you tap a freestall cow on the butt, she’ll go to the other side of the pen,” says Groen. “I used to think if you worked in a tie-stall you were 50 shades of crazy. But here I am.”
Groen has worked on dairy farms in Ontario, Texas, California and even New Zealand and is fresh from Michigan State University with a dairy and four-year agribusiness management degrees.
“I call the farm my masters program. I’m not going to say I’ll do it perfectly. That’s not realistic. There are going to be challenges. You’re not dumb if you make a mistake. You’re dumb if you make the same mistake twice.”