At the Hollister Farm in Whitehall, three brothers are working to continue a family tradition dating back more than 200 years.
However, there are many reasons they may be the final trio to keep the agricultural legacy alive.
The Hollisters opened their farm to the public on Aug. 4 and discussed the problems facing farmers today along with members from Washington County Cornell Cooperative Extension.
“I’m surprised everyone showed up to see our little dairy farm on a beautiful day like this,” joked John Hollister, the oldest brother.
The brothers talked about the current economy of agriculture, and said it is getting increasing tougher to continue as just a dairy farm that is currently supporting four families, according to middle brother David Hollister.
“It’s tough,” said David Hollister, who also serves as a member of the Whitehall Town Board. “We are doing what we can right now, but we’re not making anything. We are barely getting by, and we always say that we are trying to have fun, but it is starting not to be as fun anymore.”
“It is no secret that we are in a horrible dairy economy right now,” said Aaron Gilbert of CCE. “You have to look at farms today and how to change, and sometimes change is going to have to happen, whether it is good or bad.”
“We are a relatively small dairy,” said John Hollister, who also works with CCE. “There are some things that we do to make some extra money, but these are tough times.”
Along with running a dairy farm, the Hollisters also lease two parcels of their land for hunting, and have grown other crops in the past. However, the brothers’ main goal is to run their dairy farm.
“We are doing all right because we are able to produce milk a little cheaper than some others,” said David Hollister.
“We have a total of about 185 cattle,” said youngest brother Brian Hollister. “We are milking 85 cows right now and we will usually go between 90 or 95. We have been a little down on production this year, and this is our lowest point right now for cows that are producing.”
“Each month, our checkbook balance seems to be depleting a little more,” said John Hollister. “We’re not broke yet, but we’re heading that way.”
“We have been making it, I don’t know if we are making it right now,” said David Hollister.
No next generation?
Along with dwindling profits, the Hollisters also admit they may be the last generation to work a farm that has been in operation since the Revolutionary War and part of the Hollister family since around 1800.
“We each have children, but not a one of them shows any interest in the farm,” said John Hollister. “Once we are done, that will be it.”
Dave Perry, a member of the Hampton Town Board who works on his own farm, agreed with John Hollister.
“I think that it is rare these days that the younger generation has any interest in it,” said Perry, who attended the farm tour with his son, said, “In our family, there is four out of 15 grandchildren that have interest in farming, and I honestly think that is a rather high percentage compared to most.”
John Hollister added that he felt when youths look at their work options, they want a job that is more defined.
“Why would you go out and work as long as we do every day when you can go out and get a job and work 35 to 40 hours a week?” he asked. “Why not go and do that?”
“It’s sad that the new generation is not more interested, but in the situation that we are in now, you also question if you want them going down this path,” said David Hollister. “There are a lot of people who don’t want their children going into farming as well because they see what is going on.”
Crops, weather and cash
David Hollister said while the brothers have had a good year for hay despite the constant rain, they will not have a good corn crop.
“Corn is going to be terrible because we have got a lot of clay in our fields,” he said. “Anyone that has a lot of clay is going to have a tough year. We are probably going to have to buy some of our corn.”
David Hollister also said when farmers have a good year, they should be cautious when it comes to replacing or improving equipment.
“The biggest thing is that when you have a good year, a lot of people will go out and buy everything that they can,” he said. “Then, if you get two or three years like what we are experiencing this year, it stinks to be them.”
Gilbert said what the CCE has been stressing to local farmers is finding ways to diversify their farms and find ways to make more income.
“Washington County is a very unique place,” said Gilbert. “We have everything here and you name it, we can do it agriculturally. What we are trying to get farmers to do is focus on simple ways to diversify that you can do without making a big investment.”