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Grossnickles hold steady in challenging environment

Slideshow: Despite labor and environmental issues, these 2020 Master Farmers have grown a successful business.

Two words come to mind when describing Grossnickle Farm LLC of Walkersville, Md.: steady and progressive. And in an area of Maryland where farming, let alone dairy farming, is becoming less visible, Gary and Cindy Grossnickle’s farm stands out.

The 650-acre farm has gone through many changes since the couple founded the business in the late 1970s.

The operation was founded after Gary graduated high school in 1978. At the time he farmed with his father for several years as a partnership. When his father ran the business it was a small farm with 132 acres and 45 cows.

In the mid-1980s, Gary bought out his father’s shares and took over the farm full time.

His father died in 1996.

Since taking over the business it has grown to 650 acres — an additional 700 acres of rented ground — 200 Holsteins, 75 Jerseys and 200 heifers. Milk is shipped through the Maryland & Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative Association.

"We're not a big dairy farm anymore,” Gary says. “We used to be at one point, but I don't want to be any bigger dairy farm than we are right now.”

The rolling herd average is 21,000 pounds for the Holsteins, and 17,500 pounds and 4.3% butterfat for the Jerseys.

Gary says that he focuses on breeding cows for longevity and components with a focus on income over feed costs.

“Over the last 20 years we’ve decided to stay pretty steady in terms of the dairy numbers, but we've tried to diversify, whether it's through grain or through turkeys,” he says.

Opportunities knock

The past 10 years have opened opportunities for Grossnickle to get into more crop farming.

Most of his acreage is in corn and soybeans — 600 acres each — along with 250 acres of wheat, 150 acres of barley, 100 acres of triticale, 100-150 acres of corn silage, and between 60 to 70 acres of grass hay.

The past two years he’s bought a brand-new Case combine as well as a Geringhoff TruFlex Razor draper head for the grain operation.

He recently installed a brand new Sukup grain storage and drying facility with enough room to store 180,000 bushels of corn or soybeans.

The couple’s 43-year-old son, Josh, is also involved in the business, raising 100,000 turkeys in two houses.

About 20 years ago, Josh went to an allergist and was told that he was allergic to cow hair.  

That didn’t stop him from working on the farm. He’s been handling the farm’s crop selection for the past five years, and along the way he’s gotten into raising turkeys.

“He picks the seed varieties, and as long as I got plenty of feed for the animals, I’m OK,” Gary says.

Labor pains

In an area where jobs are plentiful, Gary says it’s gotten more difficult to not only find workers, but also to keep them.

“We are in an area that is very competitive for getting and keeping labor,” he says. “They [employees] can leave and get better jobs very easily. If you can drive a dump truck and pass a drug test, you can get it [a commercial driver's license]. That's the way it is.”

Conserving for the future

Gary says he does as much no-till as possible and does vertical tillage to conserve nutrients and soil quality.

Over the past year and a half he’s used state cost-share money to inject manure on his acres and he buys poultry litter to keep his fertilizer costs down.

A full-time employee does all the spraying and combining.

Cindy handles the financial end of the operation.

“I chose well,” Gary says of his wife.

Cindy used to oversee caring of the farm’s calves and youngstock, even when she worked off-the-farm as an office manager for 14 years, though she has since retired from that job and is back on the farm full time.

They have three kids and 13 grandchildren — 12 of which are girls and one boy. Besides Josh, they have two daughters: Carrie Pollack and Amy Squires.

Gary and Cindy Grossnickle, at a glance

Operation. Grossnickle Farm LLC, Walkersville, Md.

650 acres owned, 700 acres rented. 200 Holsteins, 75 Jerseys and 200 heifers.

Family. Gary and Cindy Grossnickle have three children: Joshua Grossnickle, Carrie Pollack and Amy Squires.

Ag and Community Involvement. Gary Grossnickle is former director of Frederick County Farm Bureau; former chairman of the board of Mid-Atlantic Farm Credit; former chairman of Mid-Atlantic Farm Credit; 1981 American Farm Bureau Federation Outstanding Young Farmer; and 1988 Jaycee Outstanding Young Farmer for Maryland.

The Grossnickles were chosen as the 1989 Chamber of Commerce Farm Family of the Year and the 1990 Maryland Jaycees Farm Family of the Year.

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