Every business owner must decide how to create their future in the industry that will exist in five or more years or decide when to exit the industry. Dairy farming is no different when the time for decision arrives.
Loewith Family Growth Decisions
Joe and Minna Loewith purchased the home farm west of Hamilton Ontario in 1947 and started dairy farming (Summitholm Holsteins) with fifteen cows. They increased their herd size over many years. Their sons Carl and Dave joined the operation in the 1970’s and grandson Ben joined the operation in 1999. Daily production quota has been added on a continual basis. Major facility and herd expansions have occurred in 1981, 1999 and 2014. Significant growth has also occurred in animal and farm productivity, always employing start-of-the-art technology and farming practices along with elite animal breeding, feeding and management practices. The overall focus has always been efficient milk production. Summitholm Holsteins was awarded the Holstein Canada’s Master Breeder Shield in 2002.
Dave Loewith puts it – “If you aren’t improving and growing your business, then you are falling behind.”
Carl Loewith adds – “Critical to our advancement has been the dedication of our staff, the expertise provided by the team of people who service our farm and the researchers who report new facts and practices.”
Around 2018 the Loewith’s took stock of the limited land available to them to expand their farming operation with more and more houses and estate properties being built in their immediate area. They considered the challenges of where and when to spread manure and doing field work with noisy equipment in their rural-urban area often operating late at night or on weekends. They noted the growing consumer trend of wanting to buy direct from the farm. After they objectively assessed their family’s skill sets, they started to consider if their next expansion should be to initiate selling direct to consumers, instead of their pattern of expanding herd size. The family’s decision was to diversify and add to their operation an on-farm milk processing dairy and store, which will be described later in more detail.
Summitholm Holsteins facilities (circa 2018) where 470 milking cows currently average 44.8 kgs/day (3x), 4.55%F, 3.23%P, [for 50.2 kgs or 110.6# Standard Milk], 133 SCC and Calving Interval 13.0 months. 51% of the cows are in 3rd+ lactation. The average life-time milk produced of cows currently in the herd is 38,000 kgs (83,750#). During the past year, the Involuntary Cull Rate was 14%. and the life-time milk production of the cows leaving the herd was 58,300 kgs (128,500#). For sure a model dairy herd for Canada. Summitholm Holsteins is well known as a Lactanet Top Ten Managed Herd (having been #1 Ontario Herd seven times) that annually hosts many industry tours both domestic and foreign.
Every Business Needs a Mission Statement
Summitholm Holstein’s Mission Statement, posted in the viewing area of its milking parlor, covers five key areas well worth being included in any progressive dairy farm’s business plan – product, animals, staff/people, environment and community.
Jennifer Howe-Loewith reports that this farm mission statement will be adapted to the new company, Summit Station Dairy and Creamery.
Summit Station Comes Alive
The owners of Summit Station Dairy & Creamery, Jennifer (wife), Ben (husband), Dave (uncle) and Carl (father, absent) are pictured, on a busy farming and construction day in late June 2023, outside the newly constructed building that houses the milk processing plant and store. The building’s exterior emulates the late 1800’s Summit Train Station, demolished about 1955 when the train line was removed. That station was located two hundred meters from the new modern dairy-creamery-store building which overlooks the Summit Bog, an environmentally sensitive but beautiful area in West Hamilton.
One spark for the Loewith Family on its journey to Summit Station Dairy and Creamery was the annual Farm Public Open House held in late December at Summitholm Holsteins in cooperation with the Wentworth County Milk Producers. For over a decade, the local dairy farmers have been running this event which has seen thousands of people visit Summitholm barns and see a milking. The public always raved about the tours and experience. This annual event has raised the profile of both the Loewith Family farm and the value of supporting local food producers.
Ben Loewith is trained in business management and is experienced in working in topflight business companies. He described for the author the SWOT (Strengths/Weakness/Opportunities/Threats) Analysis that the family went through, starting four years ago, to arrive at a detailed plan, financing, engagement of advisors, licensing, hiring contractors, purchasing the state-of-the-art equipment, etc. Research, in preparation for establishing Summit Station Dairy and Creamery, showed that 15,000 cars per workday pass by on the highway adjacent to the farm and dairy. The dairy-creamery and store are the Loewith Family’s solution to growing their operation, taking advantage of their proximity to 600,000 Hamiltonians and more and more consumers wanting to buy local. Of course, as expected, extensive work was required in multiple areas including – legal, health & safety, regulation, zoning, utility services, data systems, training, etc. for Summit Station to take shape..
Valentina, a fabricated model cow, will be used to promote and identify Summit Station Dairy and Creamery both on site and at off-site locations. Her color marking are an exact replicated of a cow currently milking at Summitholm Holsteins, including the perfect black heart. Marketing and communications will be virtual. Selling onsite and at offsite markets will be handled by family and staff trained to support the benefits of Summit Station Dairy and Creamery product quality, the value of dairy products to health and nutrition and the promotion of the dairy industry.
Some areas of Summit Station Dairy and Creamery’s operation that will interest Bullvine readers include:
- Milk products that will be sold include various milks, curds and yogurts. Jennifer reports that “the Loewith Family knows fluid milk, so that was an obvious product. However, Dairy Farmers of Ontario allocation of milk to processors and its milk pricing somewhat dictated what other products the Summit Station Store could sell, at start-up.’ Hard cheeses will be sold in the store and will come from selected independent cheese makers.
- A home delivery system will start in September 2023. Ordering and payment will be handled electronically. All deliveries will be made by family members in dairy owned vans. Delivery will not be outsourced. The Loewith Family feels that it is important to be able to tell and assure customers that the family controls every step – from the field to their door.
- The dairy will use about 10% of Summitholm Holsteins’ production. Milk must be inspected and approved before being moved from the farm tank to the dairy. The process in Ontario requires that the farm’s milk must be sold to Dairy Farmers of Ontario and then bought back by the on-farm dairy at about 133% of the farm gate price.
- The on-farm store will have its grand opening on Canadian Thanksgiving Weekend, October 7-9, 2023.
Milk sales will be by using returnable, reusable glass bottles. At start-up two customized vans will make weekly deliveries to customers and for the return of empties.
How Will Summit Station Dairy Affect Summitholm Holsteins?
Ben and Dave do not see the dairy affecting the farm operation in a major way except that there will be a milk holding tank specifically for milk that will be transferred to the dairy. The milk going into that tank will only come from A2A2 beta casein cows, although, at first, there are no plans for the milk to be sold as certified “a2”.
The breeding program for the Summitholm herd will continue to focus on high lifetime milk solids production. Holstein sires will all be genomically evaluated and highly ranked for milk solids production, longevity, functionality, health and efficiency traits. Sires will not necessarily be required to be A2A2 beta casein or BB kappa casein. All Holstein heifers are genomically tested and are bred Holstein sexed. Above average younger cows are bred conventional Holstein and older and below average milking cows. As well as problem breeders, are bred beef (Limousin). All male and beef calves are sold to a single veal operation. Even though there are now fewer Holstein heifers born and raised at Summitholm Holsteins, a sizable portion are sold to other farms that line up to purchase well reared, productive and long-lived animals.
The Loewith Family Companies Going Forward
Ben and Jennifer are now the leaders of the owner-management team for the farm and the dairy. With Carl and Dave officially retired from milking cows, Ben is in charge of both the farm and the dairy. Knowing the scope involved with launching and running a public-facing business, Jennifer stepped away from her media career to join the family business as Summit Station’s General Manager. Data, facts, science, ROI and best practices will continue to form the basis for decisions. That model has been well practiced and taught by Dave and Carl. Dairy, store and farm staff will total over fifty by the end of 2023 and will be composed of family, trained specialists and local hires. The Loewith’s are well known in their community and the dairy industry for employing, training and retaining their staff.
There are some additional projects currently in process or planned. A solar field that, by early 2024, will supply 80% of the energy required by the farm and dairy. Weekend farm tours and agriculture education events are upcoming. Also planned is a covered outdoor community market area featuring partnering with local farming entrepreneurs. Of course, there will be more initiatives once Ben and Jennifer have the dairy operational.
The Bullvine Bottom Line
The Bullvine congratulates the Loewith Family on their foresight and for the progress in growing their businesses.They are creating an expanded business model that will ensure a future place for Loewith family members. Joe and Minna stimulated Dave and Carl to grow and develop Summitholm Holsteins. Now Dave and Carl have stimulated and supported Ben and Jennifer, who no doubt will do the same for future Loewith generations.
The Bullvine challenges our farmer-readers to take time to consider developing a business model for moving their dairy farm into the future. Standing still is a highly unlikely choice for success!