When McCarty Family Farms of Rexford, Kan., sealed a sole-supplier deal with Dannon Company late last year, the agreement did more than provide a secure market for the dairy.
The exclusive contract with the yogurt maker has lifted the dairy to a higher standard in all aspects of its operations, Ken McCarty said during a Virtual Farm Tour on Friday at World Dairy Expo.
McCarty Family Farms and Dannon Co. will be featured speakers at our Elite Producer Business Conference Nov. 6 in Las Vegas. Click here for more information.
The McCarty partnership with Dannon has made the Pennsylvania natives more aware than ever of their responsibility to consumers. It’s brought a new focus on employee oversight, milk quality, animal welfare, sustainability and community involvement. The McCartys could have met all that with a grudging acceptance. Instead, they have embraced it.
As part of its Dannon arrangement, the McCarty operation has undergone a third-party certification for animal welfare practices. "That’s shifted our mentality with employees," said McCarty, one of four brothers who are running the family operation.
Now, standard operating procedures, documentation, videos and training are part of the daily management. Any perceived animal neglect or abuse is grounds for immediate termination. The new focus has been transformative. "We should have done it a heck of a lot quicker," McCarty said.
McCarty told how his parents, Tom and Judy, moved the family, including their four sons, to Kansas from Pennsylvania in 1999. Back then, the dairy milked 300 cows. With Pennsylvania’s urban encroachment, the future looked bleak. Today, their Kansas operation consists of three dairies milking 7,200 cows. They are spread out among the Bird City, McCarty (Rexford) and Scott City dairies. The McCartys also have on onsite processing plant near their Rexford dairy. McCarty Family Farms employs about 102 employees.
McCarty declined to give much detail about the family’s marketing agreement with Dannon. "It’s a cost-plus business model," McCarty said during the Expo session. "Our relationship with Dannon is fantastic."
In the video shown during Friday’s session, brother Mike McCarty said the family knew it had to find consistency amid the volatility that has become a part of the dairy business. So it found Dannon. The McCarty family operation ships its milk to Dannon’s Fort Worth, Texas plant to be made into yogurt. It ships its cream to the Daisy Brand company.
The 45-minute session was sponsored by the Kansas Department of Agriculture. The Department assisted the McCartys when they began looking at Kansas some 15 years ago. The state is actively seeking more dairies to relocate there, where agriculture is the No. 1 industry.
"Kansas is an ideal place to dairy," said Brock Peters, a McCarty employee who helped present the Virtual Farm Tour on Friday.
Not every dairy can garner a deal with a major processing plant as the McCartys did. But maybe there’s a lesson or two in the family’s decision to take major, life-changing steps to survive and grow. They uprooted from Pennsylvania and moved to Kansas where they knew no one. They took chances by building two new dairies and buying a third one with some baggage attached to it. They transitioned to management roles and forced themselves to take a hard look at new ways to do business.
"It’s been positive," Ken McCarty said. "We love what we do. We want to keep growing."
His father, Tom, said it best in the video: "We can’t become complacent. When we see opportunity, we’ve got to run with it. We made a bold move. It worked. We’ve had a lot of scary moments, but we keep plugging away."
There are no guarantees that the McCartys’ gamble will succeed into the next generation. But it’s worth watching as a long-term strategy that could open up a new business model – and future – for more dairies nationwide.