John Kuegel Jr. is far from ready to retire from farming.
But at age 53, he is looking to eventually pass down the family’s 83-year-old farming legacy to his 18-year-old son, Josh, who graduated from Apollo High School earlier in the week.
For years, the Kuegels balanced their row crop and dairy operations on Lydanne Bridge Road.
“This farm was bought in 1937 by my grandfather and they moved here not long after they purchased the farm,” John Kuegel Jr. said. “And as in most farms, they had cows milking back in those days.”
John Kuegel Sr. would join the farm in 1960 after serving in the military. And in 1988, John Kuegel Jr. came back after college to begin his turn at running the farm.
Although row cropping has its ups and downs, the dairy side presents even greater challenges with price volatility, manpower and infrastructure demands.
And in January, John Kuegel Jr. made the difficult choice to shut down the dairy, selling off 142 of his Holstein milk cows.
“That was the goal; everything that was milking or going to calf this spring, liquidate, take a break and rethink things,” John Kuegel Jr. said.
At that time, John Kuegel Jr. said milk was selling for nearly $20 per hundredweight, or per 100 pounds, and it turned out to be a prudent financial decision to sell.
Since then, the COVID-19 crisis, has caused milk prices to drop to as low as $10 to $11 per hundredweight.
And with the novel coronavirus still lingering, John Kuegel Jr. is uncertain the price or the demand will rebound enough to venture back into the dairy business.
COVID-19 shut down restaurants and schools, which are large milk consumers. And in some areas of the country such as Wisconsin and Idaho, dairy producers were dumping their milk.
“…I don’t think anybody had in their mind this would happen to our economy with this virus, and that the ag economy would get turned on its ear even worse,” John Kuegel Jr. said.
For Josh Kuegel, who’s entering into the family business as a fourth-generation farmer, the option to restart the dairy is there.
The Kuegels kept enough milk cows so that they could restock with new calves and be fully operational again within two years.
Josh Kuegel said not having the milk operation does allow more time with the crops and other recreational activities that they were too busy to do before selling the cows.
“Dad and I have been talking about it a lot, whether we want to or not,” said Josh Kuegel about restarting the milk operation. “…We’ve been able to go fishing together and that’s just kind of nice.”
By the fall, the Kuegels will have to make the decision whether or not to keep their current herd of milk cows as they begin to calf then.
John Kuegel Jr. said the choice will be to “sell them or milk them” at that point.
“The way things work, we could be back to right where we were (as a dairy) — if that’s what we want to do,” John Kuegel Jr. said.
Don Wilkins, firstname.lastname@example.org, 270-691-7299