CY Farms LLC
The story of CY Farms LLC (CY Farms) began in 1951 with 25 cows and a single tractor. “My father started the farm,” recalls Craig Yunker, now owner and managing partner of CY Farms. “When I came back from college in 1976, he was running a couple of hundred acres with 60 cows.”
Since 1951 the third-generation, family-owned operation has grown by leaps and bounds. “Today, we run three businesses all under common ownership from our home base in Elba, N.Y.,” shares Craig.
Expansion Times Three
CY Farms has remained the primary farming venture, producing 6,000 acres of corn, barley, cabbage, soybeans, wheat, alfalfa, onions and peas within Genesee, Orleans and Monroe counties. CY Farm’s sister company, Batavia Turf (Batavia), produces turf grass and then sells and markets the sod for residential, commercial and athletic field applications throughout New York and Pennsylvania.
“We purchased Batavia in the 1998,” reveals Craig. “That was a huge step for us, because it’s a completely different business than our other agricultural operations. We had to step up our customer service and retail skills. It was an interesting transition. It’s a long learning process and I’m still learning.”
CY Farms is also responsible for providing feed and nutrient management for CY Heifer Farm (CY Heifer). CY Heifer raises 4,000 dairy cattle serving customers within central and western New York.
“CY Farms, Batavia and CY Heifer are all under common ownership,” explains Craig. “We look for synergies between our companies to support each sister branch. For example, the manure from CY Heifer’s facility fertilizes the fields for CY Farms. We’ll move people and equipment back and forth between companies, depending on where the support is needed.”
Today, CY Farms encompasses approximately 6,000 acres, including five repair shops, a grain-handling facility, vegetable-packing houses, feed lots and several offices. “We employee about 45 people,” shares Craig. “We’re located midway between Buffalo and Rochester, N.Y. We have two main offices; one office and the feed lot and one office that serves both CY Farms and Batavia. We have centralized payroll, accounting and repairs that we perform in-house.”
CY Farm’s most recent endeavor is the company’s partnership with Vegetal ID (Innovation and Design), a French green-roof marketing and sales company. “We’re assisting in the production of the green roofs and Vegetal ID does the marketing and sales in North America,” details Craig. “The roofs are made of a succulent plant called sedum. They absorb water like a sponge. There’s a public and private advantage to this technology.”
According to Craig, when there’s a heavy downpour in a city, there are all kinds of impervious surfaces, such as parking lots and roofs. “The water runs into the storm sewers and overflows into the sanitary sewers, and the city has to treat all of that water,” he continues. “Also, the blacktop and pavement in a city makes for hotspots. Green roofs help cool it down; it’s like walking from the hot blacktop in the summer to the cool, grassy shade.”
CY Farms is growing greener, helping to solve this urban problem while also lowering energy costs and increasing the insulation and sustainability of the roof. “We grow the plants in trays so you can have an instant green roof,” adds Craig. “The plants start on the farm, and when a customer needs a green roof, the trays are shipped directly to them. We’ve been doing this for about two years.”
Despite a diversified array of products and services and the sister companies’ ability to support one another, Craig says CY Farms, Batavia and CY Heifer struggle with challenges as any agricultural-based operation. “The weather and the market variation is always a challenge for us, but everyone in our industry faces those,” he shares.
More recently, CY Farms has overcome labor issues. “We had to dismiss 25 employees due to immigration laws, because we unknowingly had undocumented workers,” admits Craig. “Vegetable harvest requires a lot of hand-picking and migrant workers travel north in the summer when there’s more work. So we have to be wary with the Immigration Law Enforcement Act to ensure our workers are legal.”
Government regulations, such as the Affordable Care Act, have also put a stress on CY Farms’ operation. “Last year, we were at 68 employees,” notes Craig. “This year, we’ve made an effort to get below 50 so we don’t have to comply with the Affordable Care Act.”
Challenges or not, it’s all in a day’s work for Craig. He looks forward to continuing to grow CY Farms and the sister operations with the help of his son and co-managing partner, Christian. “Christian went to college and worked as a banker for six years, which gave him a good business background,” shares Craig. “He joined me at CY Farms about three years ago.” With the third generation by his side, Craig continues to grow CY Farms, Batavia Turf and CY Heifer Farm, focusing on diversified agricultural service and family ownership.