longevity, how productive, and ultimately, how profitable they will be, so naturally, the animals are well cared for. While we sometimes hear about animals on farms being abused or neglected, Martin says that the negative press that the agricultural industry sometimes gets is often unwarranted, citing that there is no gain to the farmer for not caring for their animals in every way possible. An unhealthy animal is often unprofitable, so Martin relates it is very rare that a farmer abuses his or her animals. Medication, such as antibiotics, costs a lot of money and is highly regulated.
“We work with these animals every day. They have personalities, demeanors, they have good days and bad days, it is always in our best interest to take care of them,” comments Martin.
Profit margins in agriculture are many times different than other industries, especially when considering the government price regulation of food, and especially, milk. Martin explains that other industries can build their production costs, such as labor, healthcare, materials and fuel, into the product price to maintain a decent profit margin, but that is not so for farmers. While commodities such as milk rarely rise in price, and very slowly when they do, vet bills, fuel and feed prices can, and do, skyrocket, so maintaining a financially successful farm is a constant balancing act and requires constant resourcefulness. Even with these challenges, Smith maintains that the end consumer is getting a very high quality product.
“The US food supply is the healthiest, most highly regulated in the world,” notes Martin. “Our local farm markets are second to none.”
Part of the way that the Smith farm saves money is by using newspapers from the Wright Township Recycling Center as bedding. Not only does newspaper save the Smiths approximately $200 a week, but it is much more absorbent than straw or sawdust, which helps keep the calves clean and dry. Newspapers also decompose at a much quicker rate and help build organic matter back into the soil which helps the crops the Smiths grow to feed the calves. Martin encourages people to recycle as much as they can, as he has been having trouble lately finding enough bundled or bagged newspaper to meet his needs.
“Recycling newspaper is just one avenue where your waste is staying local and helping this farm,” he says.
Recycling newspapers is just one common sense approach to reducing waste and helping farms stay profitable, and It is good to keep in mind next time you make the decision to toss that read newspaper in the trash or recycle it. Smith says it is much easier on him if the newspapers are tied or bagged, rather than just loose, as the new recycling system Wright employs no longer bundles the newspapers after they are brought to the center. Smith remains grateful to the township for allowing him to take the recyclables.
“We would really like to thank Wright Township for allowing us to get the papers out of their recycling center,” says the farmer. “Without them, we wouldn’t be able to do this; they’ve been fantastic to work with last few years.”
Another way in which farmers typically make ends meet, and satisfy the need for healthcare coverage, is to work off the farm as well as on. Martin’s son, Ben, is a diesel mechanic, but is still very much involved in the everyday workings of the farm, and both father and son know that it is not an easy way to make a living. Martin himself is a full time employee off the farm and is open to whatever his son decides to do, but he does believe that the work ethic his son learned on the farm made him a better student, athlete and employee over the course of his young life.
“Any parent would be upset if their child chose not to follow in the family business, but every child needs to make their own way and find their own niche,” offers Martin, who does admit to a “generation gap” of sorts when it comes to he and his son and how they approach the business. However, he also knows it is just part of working with your child.
“Some days I laugh but there are days where our ideas are very different,” says Martin. “I need to respect his ideas and what he brings to the table. The ideas he brings in from his job may have nothing to do with agriculture, but they still help make business decisions, especially since our profit margins are so small. Our decisions have to be made from a purely logical, not an emotional, business sense.”
Like many people who find themselves loving their work, even if it does not always make balancing the checkbook easy, Martin is quick to point out that despite the drawbacks, there are many rewards, including the personal fulfillment in nurturing a living thing to its full potential.
“It feels so good to get out and start in the spring and then watch what you nurtured all year mature and then be harvested, or see an animal be productive as an adult,” remarks Martin. “I’m very fortunate to do what I do. There are a lot of jobs where you can make a lot more money or have more time off, but at the end of the day I wouldn’t trade what I do for anything; I just wish people had a little more respect for what we do. “
If anybody has any questions about the newspaper recycling, or would like to visit the farm, they can contact Martin Smith at calfraiser@ epix.net