The 49 dairy farms that remain in Trumbull County make up an industry worth between $12 million and $15 million. But dairy farming is not the kind of job you step into but rather one that you are born into.
Because of higher production costs, generations who are looking for different careers than their fathers and mothers and other factors, the county's dairy industry has seen better days, according to David Marrison, Ohio State University Extension educator.
The biggest problem - available land.
Tribune Chronicle photos / Margaret Thompson
More than 300 cows are milked three times a day on Garry Kibler’s Lordstown farm. The dairy industry is contending with numerous changing factors in profitability as technology changes and younger generations of farmers opt out of the family business.
"Land is not available because of a strong crop industry," Marrison said. "Corn and soybeans are the leading agriculture industry of Trumbull County."
The most comprehensive survey data on the the state of dairy farming in five of Ohio's northeast counties, 22 percent of the respondents said they plan on exiting the dairy industry in the next five years. Of the 187 dairy producers in the counties, 54 farms responded - 26 from Trumbull County.
"I wanted to look a little deeper into things," said Marrison, who grew up on a dairy farm.
He said because he knew feed and milk prices are something that farmers have always contended with, that he wanted to see what else could be influencing a downturn in milk production within the region.
Sixty percent of the farmers that responded agreed that lack of available land to grow crops on limit their ability to expand.
One of the farmers who responded to the survey is Garry Kibler, 58, who owns a large farm off of Highland Avenue in Lordstown, sandwiched between Warren and Niles.
"We're stuck in an area where it is hard to expand," he said.
There are about 700 cows on his farm, 300 of which are milked daily. Every other day, his farm sends about 48,000 pounds of milk to a processor, where it is homogenized and prepared for sale.
Besides the room for all the barns and the milking parlor, on the rest of Kibler's 700 acres, he grows corn and alfalfa hay - some of which goes toward feeding the cows, though he said he doesn't have enough room to grow all the feed for them.
The entire farm is run by seven people - three of which are Kibler and his sons.
"Behind land, labor and financing are number one and number two," Marrison said of the study's findings.
"Somebody has to be here every day. Its hard to find hired labor that is willing to work on a farm," Kibler said. "They all want weekends off."
In 1996, Kibler made the switch to automatic milking machines that track each animal through a microchip and determines how much to milk them. The new dairy parlor cost Kibler about $750,000.
"It took us a couple of years to decide on it. We were out of debt at the time and would have to borrow to build," Kibler said.
But once he knew his son would be taking over afterward, he went ahead with the purchase.
"Too many people are going out of business because they're not making enough profit or their facilities are old enough that they don't want to go into debt to renovate."
Marrison said it cost about $400 to care a each cow for a year, though their profit can range from minus $1,600 to $1,600 per cow per year, according to the study.
"It's not a career you get rich in," he said.
Kibler said that for 100 pounds of product which makes about 12 gallons of milk, it costs $15 to $16 to produce. When he sells it to the processors, he gets around $18.
"Last year, at least on paper we lost money," Kibler said.
He attributed it to high cost of production and low sales price of milk - the two factors Marrison said all farmers are contending with.
About 16 percent of the survey respondents will be retiring in the next five years. Only 10 percent will have successors.
"As they get older the succeeding generation is looking for other operations," Marrison said.
Garry Kibler Jr., 38, will be taking over his father's farm with his brother. "When I went to college, I wanted nothing to do with it," he said
But by his second year at The Ohio State University, Kibler Jr. said he had changed his mind.
The Kiblers' farm is as secure as one can be under present circumstances and with even more obstacles to contend with like federal and state regulations and declining community support, not to mention unpredictable weather, Kibler Jr. said.
Down the line, the time will come when passing along the farm comes up again.
"I have a 5-year-old. It's going to be up to him to decide," he said.