What is in this article?:
• As a result of his dairy farming success, Ron St. John has been selected as the 2011 Florida winner of the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year award.
Ron St. John
Uses wide variety of feeds
He also uses a variety of feeds in his rations, including cottonseed, soybean meal, citrus by-products, hominy, wet distiller’s grain and wet brewer’s grain.
He markets milk through Southeast Milk cooperative. Latitude Foods based in Orlando, Fla., buys milk from the grazing dairies.
He hopes to invest in an anaerobic digester to convert dairy waste into methane gas. In addition, he’s exploring technology to remove solids from waste and concentrate nitrogen so it can be applied as fertilizer.
“My dad was a county agent who tried vegetable farming before dairy farming,” recalls St. John. “He was a child of the Depression and taught me to be conservative in financial dealings.”
St. John drove a tractor to pull a hay baler when he was six years old. In 1960, when he was 14, his dad took his first vacation. While his dad was gone, a big barn burned down on the farm. It was a traumatic event, but St. John says, “It was one of the best things that could have happened to me because we built a modern milking parlor, and that encouraged my interest in dairying. After I graduated from Cornell University, my dad turned over the farm to me.”
In time, his dairy in western New York became one of the state’s biggest. St. John wanted to expand, but competition for land was fierce. At an Atlanta Dairy Herd Improvement Association meeting, he saw a Georgia Extension report that showed low costs for producing milk in the Southeast.
“That got my attention,” he recalls. He explored dairy farming in Georgia, but learned that milk prices were higher in Florida, so he moved to the Sunshine State in 1986. “We located here for economic reasons, but we sure enjoy the weather,” he says. “I remember a terrible blizzard that hit western New York in 1977, and I don’t miss it a bit.”
He farms in partnership with several good friends. “A good partnership is a good ship to ride in,” explains St. John.
One partner is Peter Gelber who was raised in the Bronx and now manages the Georgia farms. Gelber’s wife Elizabeth is a veterinarian who handles animal medicine issues for all of the dairies.
His other major dairy farming partner is William “Sandy” McArthur. Wes Grant is managing partner of Chiefland Farm Supply, a retail dealer for Ace Hardware, Purina Feeds, lumber and farm supplies.
Suwannee Valley Feeds is another of St. John’s sideline businesses. It specializes in buying commodity feeds and in risk management through milk and feed ingredient futures trading.
He also invested in Tri County Metals, a roofing and truss fabrication business owned by a daughter and her husband.