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Manage expectations across family generations

From finances to technology, a Missouri family finds communication is key to harmony on the dairy farm.

August 16, 2023

4 Min Read
Pictured from left: Todd, Grant, Lonnie and Brad Groves
FARMING TOGETHER: It takes a lot to manage a dairy operation for six decades. But the Groves family figured out how to make it work. Pictured here are (from left) Todd, Grant, Lonnie and Brad Groves. Photos by Joann Pipkin

by Joann Pipkin

Farming with family. It can be the most challenging chore you’ll ever do. Working side by side, day in and day out, has been known to leave family members in shouting matches and butting heads.

At the end of the day, however, the work must be done, and family is still family. That’s why finding ways to preserve relationships can be key to building a successful operation long into the future.

For Groves-View Dairy of Billings, Mo., the family interaction on the farm works, making it a staple in the southwest region of the state since the 1950s.

Genealogy of the farm

The land that’s home to the dairy was purchased for 50 cents per acre in 1913 by Jake Litzinger, great-grandfather of Lonnie and Darrel Groves. The brothers operated the multigenerational farm together for 60 years before Lonnie bought his brother out.

Then, Lonnie and son Brad worked in the operation together until a 2009 farm accident nearly claimed Lonnie’s life. That’s when son Todd left his off-farm job to join the business.

With compromised health and Lonnie ready to retire, Brad and Todd formed a partnership in January 2021, and they now manage the operation.

Today, additional family members work daily in the family business, including Todd’s son, Grant, a full-time employee who came back to the farm two years ago after graduating college. Todd’s daughter, Bailey, as well as Brad’s daughter, Kiera, also help with milking and calf chores.

Divide and conquer

With more than 500 head of Holstein and Brown Swiss dairy cattle — plus wheat, oats, alfalfa, corn and soybeans — the Groves’ operation allows for family members to focus on their strengths or passions.

Todd and Grant handle the hay and crop side of the operation, while Brad oversees milking and the cow herd.

“Each person needs to do what he’s good at,” Brad says. “We just make it work. If you want to take time off, and we don’t take a lot of time off, we just cover for one another.”

According to Todd, when each member of the family focuses on his or her strengths, it can help to ease family tensions.

“He leaves me alone, and I leave him alone,” Todd explains. “But, when it comes to purchases, you must work together.”

Talk it out, take a break

The Groves brothers know communication is crucial, especially when finances are concerned. Still, just because they discuss money matters doesn’t mean they always see eye to eye.

“You butt heads every now and then, but it’s a business,” Brad explains.

Mom Donna chimes in, “Just like a marriage. You want to kill them one day and love them the next.”

From facility upgrades to technology, operating a multigenerational dairy farm amid continually rising input costs leaves plenty for Brad and Todd to discuss.

“We do get along,” Todd says, “but the finances are where we can bump heads hard. We manage to make it work.” He credits the years he worked off the farm with helping sharpen his financial skills.

Working alongside his dad and brother in the operation, Todd’s son, Grant, says disagreements for them are often best solved when everyone separates and clears their minds.

“We talk about why something will or won’t work,” he says. “Make sure everyone is on the same page and has the same goals.”

Succession plan in stages

Farm transitions can also add to the complexity of family operations.

Todd recommends having agreements spelled out in writing to further avoid conflicts.

“If you do it in stages, make sure the paperwork is done,” he says. “What’s stage two and stage three, or however many stages you have? Make sure it’s all done upfront so the conditions don’t change.”

While family farming can have its share of challenges, open lines of communication and remembering that the operation is still a business helps keep the Groves on track, side by side and generation to generation.

“As long as you can go to sleep at night and feel good about what happened today, you roll on,” Brad says. “You might have butted heads today, but tomorrow is a different day.”

Pipkin writes from Republic, Mo.

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