Family dairy farmers ‘with benefits’ looking toward another generation
You might call John and Fraser Doan family dairy farmers with benefits.
Having a personal understanding of the complexities of succession planning, they have laid out early foundations for their own families while creating synergistic advantages within linked independence.
“You won’t see any fancy new barns here,” Fraser smiled. “But we’ve bought land and set ourselves up that we’re going to have our own identities.
“And in time, we will modernize.”
Farming is a constant throughout the Doan family along Pleasant Valley Road southwest of Norwich. Their line stretches back through John and Fraser’s father Donald and mother Catherine to Donald’s parents Alec (the first Doan to own registered cattle) and Maxine, and ultimately Cyril Doan who ‘came up from Port Dover’ to purchase the original 80-acre property in 1919 with the intention of cash cropping. “Everyone starts from somewhere,” said Fraser.
It would be a much simpler succession equation if all farm couples had a single child, one who married another singlet and thence begat a single offspring. However, that would generally be the exception rather than the rule.
Like the generation before theirs, John, Fraser and their siblings all have an interest in agriculture. Don’s sister Marlene ended up producing pigs via a nearby operation, Denise was involved with Holstein embryos, their son marrying a dairy farmer in Abbottsford, B.C. Youngest sister Mary’s husband is employed with Pioneer Seeds while the lone ‘urbanite’ Suzanne, who earned her living as a physiotherapist, still holds a warm place in her heart for her rural roots and family.
John and Fraser’s eldest sister Lisa began in dairy, their sister Sarah although a dietician married to a husband employed in the insurance industry, still cash crops 200 acres.
The brothers’ dairy journey began in 2000 in conjunction with middle brother Clair, the three siblings purchasing milk quota together. In 2009, Clair transitioned into turkeys, John and
Fraser buying his dairy quota to bring their individual totals to around 10 kilos each.
Clair, his wife Kathryn and their children live across Pleasant Valley Road a short drive to the east where they have expanded their foray into the ‘feather’ side of supply management (see the associated article).
Currently, John and Fraser each own around 100 kilos of milk quota on separate licenses.
“Mom and Dad allowed us to grow the business,” says Fraser, crediting their late mother for helping encourage their father Donald to enter politics, a developing passion which ultimately led to being elected mayor for The Township of Norwich.
“He had his thing,” Fraser explained. “They gave us the reins in a roundabout way.”
Admittedly, the contemporary operation would be more efficient producing 200 kilos of milk out of one larger, new barn, rather than 100 from two separate structures.
“But this gave us a second homestead,” said John. “If tomorrow we say we aren’t together, we each will have our own quota and farms.”
He, wife Krista, who supports their operation with a career as a nurse, and their children Emily, Lyndsey and Ryan are based out of the Doan home farm, while Fraser, wife Alisha (a teacher) and their offspring Brynn, Kira and Max are located on a separate property a short distance down the road.
The approach is consistent with a modus operandi of prioritizing land and quota acquisition over infrastructural enhancements.
“Why not a new barn, this or that?” Fraser asked rhetorically. “We all know land doesn’t pay for itself,” he continued, “but dad’s motto was ‘They aren’t making any more of it.’”
There are shared components, such as one set of equipment which not only services their operations, but also does the custom work for Clair and Kathryn’s acreage.
There are unofficial divisions of labour, Fraser’s affinity for the breeding (he has been ‘fortunate’ to sell embryos to European countries) and ‘cow stuff’ means he is more involved with the livestock while John takes primary responsibility for the field work and planting rotations.
“We still do both, but at the end of the day, John plants the corn,” Fraser smiled.
They also consider themselves fortunate to have local access to quality, committed Amish employees involved mostly with the milking.
“You have days, everyone has days, but at the end of the day, we enjoy what we do,” Fraser smiled.
And while family farming can be complicated, it is also rewarding.
“We all get together for everything, we all get together for Christmas. That’s the nice part about it.”
An appreciation for things rural lies at the core of their efforts, endless hours of work, responsibility and financial commitment to their chosen lifestyle and extending an opportunity for the same to another generation. Their children are involved in the operations, enjoy participation in 4H for example, and John’s oldest daughter has begun her post-secondary studies at The University of Guelph, among decidedly ‘aggie’ compatriots.
“It is about rural life, really,” John summed up. “To me, that’s what makes the world go round.”
And if it could work out that one or more of their children shared this appreciation, he’d be more than happy if their approach helped make it happen.
“You have to consider the next generation,” he concluded. “You don’t have to give it to them on a silver platter. But you have to be in shape and have a viable operation the next generation can take on if they choose to.”