Farmer Focus

The Heijkoop Family

Hometown: Webster, Florida

Johan and Trisha Heijkoop, of Webster, Fla., belong to Southeast Milk, Inc., and were the Vice Chaircouple for the 2014 YC Advisory Council. They have four children – Jozef (15), Julia (13), Johanna (10) and JayLee (9) – along with business partners Gary and Kathy Keyes. They operate two farms in Florida: Milk-A-Way Dairy in Sumter County, Central Florida, and K & H Dairy in Lafayette County. Each farm has 12 employees, and combined milks about 1,600 head, mostly Holstein.

What do you like the most – and the least – about working as a dairy farmer?
The most fulfilling part of being a dairy farmer is seeing your team grow and develop from doing a task to taking ownership. We constantly strive to develop better systems at our operation through developing and leading people. While this can, at times, be the most challenging part, it is also the most rewarding. We also enjoy seeing the genetics of the herd improve from generation to generation.

The most difficult part of farming is having such limited control over pricing. As farmers, we are considered price takers, and have limited ability to control the prices received for our product.

Describe how the work on the farm is shared or divided up in your family?
Gary and Johan are the owner/managers at both dairies, and Trisha is the office staff for both. Jozef is a certified AI technician and works at the farms when not in school. Julia assists with the cows and heifer registration records. The two youngest girls, Johanna and JayLee, enjoy washing floors and feeding calves. All the children are active in 4-H/FFA and have dairy heifer projects to show.

How do you think your farm’s business plan will change 10 years from now?
The dairy industry continues to change rapidly. Thus, our plans must remain flexible and opportunistic. However, we continue to prepare and seek opportunities for long-term success, whether that’s through improving operating efficiencies by combining both operations into one facility, or seeking other specialty markets.

During those days when things aren’t going well, what do you do to keep a positive attitude?
Some days the only thing that helps is just getting outside and being with the cows and the guys. When the business side looks depressing and the numbers are overwhelming, just stepping away from that and putting in some hard work and cow time lets you see why your passion is in the dairy industry.
We also treat the guys to lunch – usually pizza or burgers when the day is particularly hectic. Slowing down enough to recognize that everyone works hard keeps a positive attitude around the farm.

What would you be doing if you were not a dairy farmer?
Johan has worked as a loan officer for Farm Credit and Trisha has taught elementary school and worked in extension. If I were not a dairy farmer, I would probably be involved again in the financing/business aspect of agriculture.

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