Goshen dairy farm gets helping hand from Iroquois Valley Farmland
Stanton Ramer has been working on his family’s dairy farm since he was 6 years old, and he plans to keep going as long as he’s having fun.
“Every day is different,” says Ramer, now 27. “I get to work with cows one day, the next day I get to work in the shop, next day I grind feed, next day I’m in the field. It’s diversified. I love the cows. I really enjoy working with animals.”
Ramer is a fourth-generation farmer. His father, grandfather and great-grandfather all farmed this land. His great-grandfather started with just 70 acres, and now the family farms three properties with a total of 840 acres. As long as the grass is green, their 180 cows graze on the 280-acre property in Goshen, IN, usually from the beginning of May through the end of October. The Ramers also grow corn, beans, wheat, barley, spelt and hay on a 200-acre property in New Paris, IN, and a 350-acre property in Lakeville, IN.
In 2006 they started transitioning the land to certified organic because it is more eco-friendly and more profitable, says Ramer.
“It took three years,” he says. “The first couple years were a challenge because we were growing things organically, but still getting paid conventional prices.”
In 2009 the farm was officially certified organic, and Organic Valley began buying their milk.
“We have a healthy herd of cows,” says Ramer. The vet comes out about once per month to the Ramer farm to do a herd check and a handful of times throughout the year for special issues. “The conventional guys have the vet come out once, twice, three times a month or more,” says Ramer. “Our cows get a higher forage diet, less grain—that makes for a healthier cow.”
Over the winter months when grass is hibernating under snow, the Ramers feed the herd roasted ground soybeans and corn, flax meal, earlage (chopped-up ears and leaves of corn) and silage (compacted grass stored in airtight conditions, but not dried).
Before they had the Lakeville property, the Ramers were paying $13 to $14 per bushel of corn and $25 per bushel of soybeans for winter feed. When they really looked at the numbers, says Ramer, “we figured out we were paying twice as much as we would have been paying if we just farmed the land.”
So, they started looking for affordable farmland in the area. “The ground around here [Goshen] costs twice as much as the land there [Lakeville],” says Ramer. “When [the Lakeville farm] came up for sale at auction, we told Organic Valley about it and they got us in contact with Iroquois Valley Farms.”
Based in Evanston, IL, Iroquois Valley Farmland REIT invests in farmers, particularly young organic farmers, who often find it difficult to access financing.
“We see this as a social justice issue,” says Iroquois Valley Farmland REIT founder David Miller. “We want to change the health of the planet.”
Iroquois Valley Farmland REIT owns 259 acres of the Lakeville property farmed by the Ramer family. The Ramer family owns the remaining 90 acres. Later, the Ramer family also worked out a deal to lease 53 acres from Iroquois Valley Farmland REIT just southeast of New Paris.
“After seven years, we can purchase the land,” says Ramer. “That’s what made it attractive. If we lease from Joe Blow down the road, they could sell it out from under us and not renew our agreement. Iroquois ensures that we can continue to farm it with the option to buy after seven years.”
As a bridge between farmers and investors, Iroquois Valley Farmland REIT occupies a unique position in influencing whether farmers can survive. The company is invested in 47 farms covering 4,500 acres of farmland in the Midwest and East Coast with plans to expand to the West Coast; 68% of the land is USDA certified organic, with the remainder transitioning to organic.
Last year the Ramers finished transitioning the Lakeville property to certified organic.
“The soil health keeps getting better and better,” says Ramer. “I’m gonna say the cows are probably happier.”
“Iroquois ensures that we can continue to farm it with the option to buy after seven years.”
Stanton Ramer points to a pipe that filters out impurities from the milk before it goes into the tanks. Every day, twice a day, they milk 150 cows using the equipment in this room.
Note: Iroquois Valley Farmland REIT only works with accredited high-net-worth investors. By midyear, they hope to launch a non-accredited investor offering known as a Reg A offering, which will be open to smaller investors.
Ways to Invest in Independent Businesses
Through local networks and public meetings, Slow Money Institute has invested more than $50 million into more than 500 local and organic food enterprises. Email firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested in starting a Slow Money group in Michiana.
This sustainable local food investment group is a Chicago-based network of accredited independent investors who share the mission of using private investment to re-establish a robust and sustainable food system across the Chicago foodshed.
This online platform connects small businesses and investors.
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