From humble beginnings with three grain bins 14 years ago, Court Farms has grown to become one of the largest grain handlers in Norfolk County.
The path to the present operation with Bruce Court and Tracey Kloepfer-Court operating the grain elevators was a long one, with a few detours along the way.
Bruce’s parents Bill and Sally were from the Ottawa area and moved to Norfolk when his father got a job as a phD chemist working at the Delhi Research Station in the late 1970s. They always had a desire to farm and purchased a farm on the 1st Concession STR outside of Courtland in 1977.
Tracey, who was originally from a dairy and cash farm in Burford, and Bruce met when both attended the University of Guelph to take the degree program ma-joring in Agronomy. The couple married in 2011.
Tracey was working in the crop pro-tection industry until the fall of 2012 when Court Farms reached the point it required her presence full-time. Bruce built the first bins in 2007.
“At the time, he was taking grain to Cargill in Springford,” Tracey recounted. “They approached Bruce to take grain on behalf of them.”
Although there weren’t natural gas lines running by the farm on the Bell Mill Side Road, it was at the corner, so Bruce just needed to pay to extend the lines.
“That is one of the good things about being in Norfolk is there was gas on almost every road because of tobacco days,” Bruce said. “A lot of counties don’t have that luxury.”
When the original one-year agreement ran out it was a time of change in the grain industry in Ontario.
“That’s when Cargill was getting out of the grain business,” Tracey said. “Some of the customers remained here and he started getting new people.”
“The co-op in Courtland was closing and Springford was closing,” Bruce said. “We didn’t think we would get this big. I thought we’d take grain for a few neighbours.”
Expansion has taken place every year since except for two. Court Farms now has 14 bins and capacity of two million bushels. Bruce started with one dump pit, and now has two. As a farmer, he knows if the truck does not get back to the field quickly it can hold up the combine.
With this in mind, he designed the facility so trucks can get in and out as quick as possible. It takes only seven minutes from the time the truck comes in to be weighed to when it is weighed out empty after being un-loaded.
The facility’s two tower dryers can handle 2,000 to 4,000 bushels per hour, dependent on the corn moisture level. With two dump pits, one can be dedicated to soybeans and the other to corn during the time when both commodities are being harvested. Once the soybeans are off and corn harvest is in full swing, both can handle corn.
Although the facility is highly automated, Bruce likes to keep an eye on it while drying takes place from the middle of October when the first corn comes in until it is all off. This means checking it every few hours around the clock.
Rye and wheat come off in July and August. Before soy-beans start in the fall, most of the wheat and rye has been shipped out and the bins are empty. Any that is left is moved to three smaller grain bins on the adjacent property where the main office is and where Bruce and Tracey live. Most of the wheat is used for flour and the rye is sold to Huron Commodities.
Soybeans are shipped to the terminals in Hamilton and can literally end up anywhere in the world.
A lot of the corn goes to the IGPC etha-nol plant in Aylmer. The remainder goes to domestic manufacturers for agriculture feed and sweetners and for export through the terminals in Hamilton.
In 2017, Court Farms partnered with Loft-house Custom Farming on Best Line in Elgin County. Lofthouse owns the bins but Court Farms buys and sells the grain moving in and out of there. Another 700,000 bushels are handled there.
Court Farms has three trucks of their own and hire additional trucks to move grain in the fall. Court Farms and their drivers’ truck about half of the grain they bring in, out. Some customers pick up the grain while some farmers move their own back out.
There is one full-time employee, John, to assist Bruce at the farm and elevators. Another is added during busy times to truck the grain and there is a part-time person in the office to assist Tracey. Although administration is her big thing, during busy season Tracey helps at the elevators with unloading and even moving trucks around the yard.
In the spring, Bruce and Tracey farm 2,500 acres of corn, soybeans, wheat and rye on rent-ed and owned land. One interesting thing of note is no-till has been used since 1988 when Bill first heard about it at the research station. Preserving the sandy soil, which is prone to blowing, was one reason for this move.
“Another reason we started doing it was that I was in school full-time then and he (Bill) worked full-time so it saved a lot of time,” Bruce said.
And even their children are involved. Their task is to sweep around the elevator and bins when switching from one commodity to another. The older ones also help load and unload trucks.
Bruce also follows the commodity markets throughout the year. As a supplier to IGPC, they need to have corn available year-round. This means some of it is sold in the fall and not stored, but some is kept right through to August.
Court Farms works with a few different ar-rangements for farmers. With some, the farmer delivers the corn; it is dried and stored until the farmer picks the corn up for delivery to the end business. To that end, they hired former agricul-ture banker Scott MacKinnon to promote their off-farm purchases and sales.
“We don’t have to have the facilities or man hours handling the grain, it’s a paperwork exercise,” Bruce said of off-farm sales.
As if this couple is not busy enough with the elevators, farming and raising their combined six children, they both are volunteers with farm groups. Bruce is a delegate for Grain Farmers of Ontario for Norfolk-Elgin and Tracey is the secretary-treasurer for Norfolk Soil and Crop Improvement Association.
In the past 14 years, hard work has paid off with tremendous growth for Court Farms.
“It’s just worked out because a lot of the commercial elevators are closing and a lot of private guys are filling the holes, and not just in Norfolk,” Bruce said.
If this pace will continue for the next 14 years, is something only the future knows.