Rural Missouri - June 2013 - (Page 8)

Eric and Julie Neill spend more time together than the average couple as the operators of a pasture-based dairy located south of Kansas City. The couple took a big chance when Eric left a lucrative career as a construction supervisor to farm full time. Many times, they’ve considered giving up, but recent rainfall has them feeling more optimistic. Back to the land The Neill family bucks the trends to start a dairy farm by Jim McCarty M ost people thought Eric and Julie Neill were crazy when they heard what the couple planned to do in 2009. Eric intended to walk away from his job as a construction superintendent and start a dairy farm on land south of Kansas City in Freeman. These days, it’s far more likely for a dairy farmer to go out of business than to start a new operation. The work is hard, and the price of milk barely pays for the feed. However, with the help of their sons Callaway and Carter, the Neills wanted to buck the trends and return to the land. “I always wanted to be a farmer and just didn’t have the money to do it,” says Eric, who grew up on a family farm at nearby Dayton. Eric won’t say he was bored with the construction job, but he admits what he did had become routine and unfulfilling. “It wasn’t what I started out to do. It was a temporary job, and my temporary job lasted 25 years.” Julie agreed it would be good for their boys to grow up on a farm and see more of their father. “Eric was not 8 One thing Eric brought from his old job in construction is this dry-erase board, which keeps the family on task and gives him a place to share favorite quotes. able to go back to the farm, and he would really like for the boys to at least have the opportunity to come back here if that’s what they want to do,” Julie says. “He showed a lot of courage to just quit his job and take a huge risk.” So the two challenged Wayne Prewitt, then a University of Missouri Extension agent in Vernon County, to find a way for them to enter farming full time. They were raising a few beef cows but considered this more of a hobby than a source of income. “We were exploring some ideas about what they could do to generate some additional revenue,” says Wayne, who is now Extension’s West Central regional director. “I mentioned grazing dairies, and that kind of caught their atten- WWW.RURALMISSOURI.COOP tion and away we went.” This type of operation appealed to the Neills because it involved relatively small capital investments. Rather than confine the cows and bring the feed to them, grazers pasture cows on high-quality grass and constantly move them to greener pastures. What they did is not that unusual says Siva Sureshwaran, national program leader for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program. “Last year, about 58,000 people took a class in this program,” he says. “All of them may not be farmers. But a lot of young people want to go back and promote sustainable local farming, or there are others who have retired and are going back to farming.” The Neills, members of Osage Valley Electric Cooperative, launched Neill and Sons Dairy late in 2009 with virtually no dairy experience. It was a disaster. “Our first year, we really had to learn what a dairy farm is,” Eric says. “We really didn’t know what we were doing.” Julie, who did not share her husband’s farm background, describes the learning curve as “straight up and down vertical.” Everything that could http://WWW.RURALMISSOURI.COOP

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Rural Missouri - June 2013

Rural Missouri - June 2013
Table of Contents
Back to the land
Full steam ahead
Out of the Way Eats
Where shall I thee wed?
Missouri Snapshots contest
Hearth and Home
Missouri’s forgotten war
Plant during summer’s sizzle
Around Missouri

Rural Missouri - June 2013