The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

An alliance between The Lempert Report and The Center for Food Integrity

McCarty Family Farms

McCarty Family Farms

From the Farmer's Tractor

November 26, 2013

Ken McCarty, 31, and his three brothers Mike, 41; Clay, 40; David, 35 and parents Tom and Judy own and operate McCarty Family Farms. They currently milk 7,200 cows and raise 3,500 head of youngstock on three facilities and farm approximately 1,400 acres. They also process all of their own milk on the farm through an evaporative condensing facility.

How did you get into farming? 

My brothers and I were born into farming and are currently the 5th generation of McCarty’s to be involved in our family farm. Our family began dairying in Northeastern Pennsylvania in the early 1900’s and in early 2000 moved to northwest Kansas to allow my brothers and I the opportunity to become part of the family business.   

How have your farming practices changed over the last 10 years?  

Our farming practices have evolved greatly over the past decade. We grew up milking 150 cows in Pennsylvania and now milk over 7,000. As such, my brothers and I have had to learn how to manage people as well as cows and crops. We have invested in technology like RFID tags and individual milk meters to help us become more efficient. We also utilize multiple different computer programs to help us manage our herds, our feed, our employees and our accounting in a more effective manner. By far the greatest change to our practices has come from our on-farm milk processing facility and our relationship with Dannon. These two things have allowed us a greater connection with the processor and consumer of our product and have allowed us to tailor our farms and our management practices to better suit their needs and desires.

How will farming evolve in the next five years?  

My family and I believe that farmers, regardless of the size of their farm, will need to find a way to survive increasing volatility in the ag markets. We believe that this will spur the creation of new business models and relationships where all interested parties (producers, processors, retailers and consumers, etc.) can come together to create a system that benefits all. It is and will continue to be an exciting time to be in agriculture.

What is your greatest challenge as a farmer?  

The greatest challenge that my brothers and I face is the battle against complacency. Our father has always told us that if we are not growing then we are dying. Whether that growth comes in scale, productivity, stewardship, animal welfare or efficiency we must continually strive to improve our business, our outlook and ourselves. For us status quo is not good enough.

How does a farmer know what a retailer will want a year from now?

Knowing what the retailer or consumer will want a year from now is a monumental challenge to say the least. We attempt to stay ahead of shifts in the industry by keeping abreast of the news and trends from all aspects of the industry whether that is grocers, consumers, activist groups or food production companies. We also listen closely to tour groups, industry professionals and our families to try to gain insight into what people want with regard to their food.

What steps are you taking toward conservation on the farm?  

Our family has always been committed to conservation on our farms. We have completed a full life cycle assessment as well as a sustainability audit on our farms to identify areas of opportunity to reduce our carbon footprint and to increase our overall level of sustainability. We maintain and follow a strict Nutrient Management Plan to ensure that we are preserving and improving the health of our soils. Through our milk condensing plant we are able to remove, capture and reuse a large percentage of the water from our milk. This water is used to water cattle, clean facilities and is eventually returned to the land to water crops.  

Do you sell any of your products locally, and if so, what is the process?  

All of the milk that is produced on our dairies is processed through our condensing facility and is then shipped to a Dannon yogurt manufacturing facility. Some of the yogurt produced in that facility is sold in the local grocery stores where we live. Although we do not sell our products directly to the local market we take great pride in knowing that our neighbors, friends and community do get to enjoy some of our milk via a cup of Dannon yogurt.  

What kinds of reactions do you get from consumers when they meet you in person?

We love interacting with consumers and as such we host multiple tours of our farms each year. From grade schoolers to college students to senior citizen groups we enjoy sharing our story and our passion for dairying with them all. I think people are comforted to learn that even on farms as large as ours we still have a close personal connection to our cattle, our employees, our communities and our land. We hope that our passion and commitment to what we do refreshes the faith that consumers have in the American dairy farmer.