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End of an era: Century-old family farm ends its dairy operation

Posted at 5:30 PM, Sep 27, 2019
and last updated 2019-09-27 19:26:39-04

LITCHFIELD TOWNSHIP, Ohio — After economic depressions, recessions and two world wars, a Medina County dairy farm has called it quits after 125 years of operation, joining a list of hundreds of dairy farms that have closed across Ohio the past two years. The Kruggel family farm auctioned off its remaining 70 dairy cattle Friday morning, leaving one last operating dairy farm in Litchfield Township.

The Kruggel family farm off Avon Lake Road was founded in 1894. The farm’s humble beginnings were the result of the quintessential American dream; John Kruggel purchased the property and began planting wheat, his cash crop, and milking cows. The operation has proven so successful over the decades that the farm has been passed on through five generations, weathering years of drought, bumper crops and everything in between.

“My grandfather bought the farm in 1894. He bought about 100 acres,” said John Kruggel, the current majority shareholder in the business. “That was enough back then to support one family. Now we’ve got to chase over 1,300 acres to make a living.”

Amid the unrelenting staccato of the yodeling auctioneer seated next to him, Kruggel sat stoically inside the booth of an auctioneer’s hall Friday morning, watching his remaining 70 cattle be sold one-by-one. The finale to his family’s one-time livelihood went to the highest bidder. Conducted by Mt. Hope Auction in nearby Holmes County, the auction was attended by dozens of farmers, who on occasion would quickly raise their hand to bid on a head of cattle.

Each bid, each purchase further opened the wound.

“Well, I’m sad to see them go,” Kruggel said, choking back a trough of tears. “I’m really sad to see them go but I think they got sold to good farmers and they’ll be taking care of them. I’ll be petting the cats instead of the cows.”

Even through his wry smile, the weight of Kruggel’s decision to sell off the remaining cattle was plainly obvious. Kruggel said the decision to end the dairy operation was made last winter while the family began ordering supplies for the upcoming season. At one time, the bustling dairy business had more than 200 head of cattle, pumping out gallons of milk that could be on store shelves the following day.

Although John Kruggel is the majority shareholder, the operation, which includes 1,300 combined acres of property the business owns and rents, is operated by the Kruggel family, the Kratzer, Smith and Reusch families. Every member of the operation has witnessed the Darwinian forces placed upon the agriculture business, specifically on the dairy sector.

The dairy business has severely contracted amid a global surplus in the supply of fresh milk and the shifting demand for it. Additionally, the price of a gallon of fresh milk has severely lagged behind the rate of inflation. Since 1910, the price of milk has grown 800 percent while inflation has grown more than 2000 percent, according to the Consumer Price Index. The economic conditions surrounding the dairy business has kept the already tight profit margins even more razor thin.

According to the Ohio Department of Agriculture, Ohio was home to more than 2,700 dairy farms just two years ago. However, after consecutive years of a contracting market, the number of dairy farms in the state has dipped to below 2,000. The closures are compounded by the fact that many of those operations employ local workers.

Kruggel said the farm generates roughly 40 cents of revenue for every gallon sold on store shelves. The family’s operation, albeit large for a family-run operation, still pales in comparison to the size of massive corporate farms. Even still, through hard work and smart business decisions, the operation has mostly remained profitable until the past few years, Kruggel said.

“It’s been our livelihood. For the last couple of years it’s been a money maker for my grandchildren as they are getting ready to go to college,” Kruggel said.

Although Kruggel Farms will remain in operation through its large crop farming operation and machinery repair business, the dairy operation was part of its identity. However, just like it has done for more than a century, the farm will adapt and evolve.

“It’s long hours, long hours.” Kruggel said.