Morrison’s Custom Feeds Inc.
Morrison’s Custom Feeds Inc. has been providing northern New England farmers with custom-formulated animal feeds for over 30 years. Based in Barnet, Vermont, Morrison’s delivers both conventional and organic feeds to dairy farmers throughout the region, serving customers throughout its home state and into Maine and New Hampshire.
Producing both bagged and bulk feed from its manufacturing plant in Barnet, Morrison’s Custom Feeds also operates a retail outlet in nearby St. Johnsbury, Vermont, where it sells farm, pet, garden and wild bird supplies. The family-owned and –operated company backs its feed mixing business with professional in-house nutrition experts who perform on-farm consultations, tailoring the product to meet the specific needs of each producer.
“It’s more than just a feed mill,” says Earl Morrison, plant manager at of Morrison’s Custom Feeds. “We buy from farmers; we dry corn and roast soybeans from Vermont farmers; we do a lot of backhauling and we have a strong in-house nutritional team that plays a big part; it’s not just mixing.”
Early success with organics
Morrison’s Custom Feeds was founded in 1983 by Earl’s father, Les Morrison, a fourth-generation family farmer who grew up raising dairy cattle, chickens and sheep alongside his parents and four siblings. Les graduated from Vermont Technical College in 1971 with a degree in agriculture business and soon started a small company selling and installing automated farm and grain handling equipment.
“He always had the desire and vision to be an entrepreneur,” says Earl, who stepped into the role of plant manager upon graduating with his own agriculture business degree in 2005.
The business first took root in 1983 when Les mixed up his first batch of custom feed under the Morrison’s name. Working out of his home in Monroe, New Hampshire, Les quickly outgrew the space and by the end of the ‘80s, the company had its own manufacturing plant in Barnet.
It was in the late ‘90s that Morrison’s began to carve out its niche in the industry as it was one of the first producers in the state to embrace organic feed. “When we started that, no one even knew what organics were. Now that’s a very large part of our business.” says Earl. “We were using one facility for conventional and organic when it got started, but in 2003 we started building a separate plant on the same site for organic mixes.”
By adopting organic feed manufacturing techniques early on, Morrison’s has been able to establish itself as one of the region’s most trusted brands, a reputation that has helped Morrison’s to weather competition as more feed producers get into the organic side of the business. “Everyone has tried to get into organics and no one has been successful at taking our business away from us,” says Earl. “We have strong relationships with our core customer base, so when the new guys come in, they aren’t successful.”
While Morrison’s has not lost many customers to some of the larger manufacturers entering Vermont’s organic feed market, these producers have presented other hurdles. “It leads to issues of supply and demand when it comes to sourcing organic grains,” explains Earl. “For the past 10 years if you call for a load of organic corn and you don’t have it bought a year in advance, you wouldn’t get it.”
The lack of organic grain has also presented a challenge when it comes to pricing feed. “There’s virtually no grain out there, so keeping it reasonably priced has been a challenge. Some of the bigger producers change their prices weekly, but we try to keep a very consistent price throughout the year,” says Earl, who entered the family business upon graduating college in 2005.
Earl’s brother Greg joined the company in 2010, co-managing the mill before moving on to the nutrition side of the business. In all there are four Morrison family members working for the company, which has 21 employees overall between its manufacturing plant and retail store. “All of the family members work right alongside everyone else; no one is above anyone,” says Earl. Earl’s wife, Carolyn, manages the retail store, and he is already looking at where his own children – both still under the age of 5 – might one day fit into the picture
Looking to ride the next wave
Morrison’s owes a lot of its success to the decision to embrace organic feed, and the company is always on the lookout for the next industry trend that could help drive future growth. To that end, Morrison’s has introduced a line of non-GMO feed. “That’s a new, very small market, but we got in on it right at the beginning, just like we did with organics,” says Earl.
Driven by an increasingly health-conscious consumer base, the non-GMO trend is poised to ripple throughout the industry and Morrison’s is ready. Whole Foods Market was the first national grocery chain to set a deadline for full GMO transparency and by 2018, all products containing genetically modified ingredients will have to be labeled.
By getting ahead of the trend, Morrison’s can establish itself as a leader in non-GMO feed, giving it a leg up over the competition when GMO labeling policies such as Whole Foods’ become the industry standard.
Morrison’s also recently installed a soybean press at its St. Johnsbury facility, allowing the company to closely monitor quality and consistency. “Raw soybeans can’t be fed to animals, but pressing them makes them more useful and also raises the protein content,” say Earl. “It’s just another example of vertical integration — now we don’t need to truck the soybeans to Ontario or western New York to get crushed. It’s a lot more efficient and it’s bringing the cost down for everyone.”
The installation of the soybean press illustrates the role the Morrison family plays in keeping the business running smoothly while keeping costs down. “We don’t hire any outside contractors; family members have built a majority of the mill,” says Earl.
With strong family leadership, a trusted brand and a solid track record of commercializing on trends within the industry, Morrison’s Custom Feeds Inc. will remain a trusted name for custom feed mixes in the northern New England dairy industry.