Southwest Plains Dairy
Wilhelm Geven started a small dairy farm in Denmark with the goal of building a small business to support his family. Starting with only nine cows, the business grew slowly for several years. After his untimely passing at the age of 49, the family was faced with a tough decision: to give up on the dairy or keep the business going and growing. Wilhelm’s son, Richard Geven, stepped up to the plate. Together with his mother and nine siblings, originally from the Netherlands, Richard resuscitated the family business.
After 16 years of operation in Denmark, the company hit a wall. The country’s agricultural laws prevented the Gevens from exceeding a land quota. The company’s growth was stunted. Striving to succeed, Richard and his wife, Carolina, decided to move to the United States to try their luck in a new place with more wide-open spaces. The pair immigrated to Texas in 2003, where friends were around to help out. Two years later, an opportunity opened up in Syracuse, Kansas. The pair moved once more and firmly established Southwest Plains Dairy (SPD).
Today, the farm has 7,000 cows – all Holsteins. Richard employs approximately 45 people, who help keep the dairy running efficiently. The company’s assets include two dairies across the street from each other and 4,000 acres for grazing. SPD is consistently upgrading facilities to improve cow comfort, and improve automation equipment for milk production. After nearly 10 years at the new location, the team has worked out most of the kinks in the operation.
SPD is affiliated with Dairy Farmers of America (DFA). The business sells all of its milk to the cooperative, which connects around 13,000 dairy producers throughout the country. Membership offers several benefits to the business and other dairy farmers. Profit-sharing offers dividends to members based on volume. The association also guarantees a market and a competitive price for producers.
Beyond monetary value, SPA also benefits from empowered representation. The DFA makes decisions based on member input, helping dairy farmers make further gains in the industry by determining the structure and policies of the organization. The cooperative also offers programs and services, such as health insurance and workers' compensation assistance as well as risk management tools to help these operations run more efficiently.
While today the business is operating smoothly, Richard admits to some bumps in the road along the way. “We have had our challenges with projecting good and bad years for milk prices and trying to lock in a profit,” Richard explains. “A very expensive lesson came in 2007, when we projected incorrectly and owed the bank $3.7 million. It turned around for us in 2009, though and now we are operating well.”
There have been other challenges for the business too. Like many animal farmers, the fluctuating cost of feed has impacted profit margins and made it hard to plan ahead. Severe draughts in recent years have added further challenges. “We have worked hard to keep our costs down,” Richard says. “We have developed relationships with our business partners that have helped us stabilize. We work with a service company for the roads, we buy feed from select companies and we lease trucks for transportation.”
Backed by these strong relationships, Richard is making investments to the operation to secure long-term growth. “We recently constructed a new commodity barn to store feed so the wind doesn’t get it,” Richard explains. “Shrinkage can be eight to 10 percent just due to the wind here in Kansas. We do everything we can to keep our Labor efficient. We also have fans for cow comfort and create long daylight with added lights which generates more milk. These investments help us produce more and obtain better margins.”
In the coming years, Richard has continued plans for growing the business. He plans to acquire more land to help the business grow in size. Meanwhile, he will continue his efforts to maintain efficiency so that these investments will be worthwhile. With more land, he will be able to purchase more cows and boost the company’s production of milk.
Farming is no easy business. Richard takes great pride in the dedication and efficiency of his staff. As a family-owned and –operated business, the Geven family farm focuses on integrity and quality. No matter how large the operation gets, Richard and his team refuse to compromise. The couple have three teenage children who they hope will carry on the business someday. Meanwhile, Southwest Plains Dairy remains committed to producing high quality milk efficiently as the business grows in the current generation of family ownership.