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Lancaster SCORE Facilitates Dairy Profit Team

August 11, 2010

For dairy farmers Lowell and Debra Brubaker, the business is in their blood. In fact, this husband-and-wife team is the seventh generation to tend their Lancaster, PA farm, Hilltop Heritage Holsteins. But, like dairy farmers nationwide, market conditions over the last few years have threatened their way of life. While consumers benefitted from declining milk prices, the price plummet devastated the Brubakers. Matters didn’t improve when a long-term injury sidelined Lowell, forcing him to hire others to do the labor he normally would have done himself.

Lowell and Debra admit it wasn’t an easy time for their family. Lowell says that, at times, the only way he got through the day was by having faith and a positive attitude. “I was lying here in a bed, not able to work for a year. I had to take each day at a time and be very optimistic. If you’re a pessimistic person you’re just not going to make it,” he says.

Along with faith and optimism, the couple also recognized they needed to take action to preserve the farm and lifestyle that is part of their heritage. One of the first steps they took was to seek advice from a financial consultant with extensive agricultural experience. The Brubakers opened up their entire operation to scrutiny. “I asked him to rip my business apart and see where I had downfalls,” Lowell says.

The lifelong farmers didn’t stop with seeking professional financial advice. They also assembled a dairy profit team, a group designed to help farmers make informed decisions, troubleshoot challenges, and increase profits. Supported by Pennsylvania’s Center for Dairy Excellence, dairy profit teams typically include the owner/operator, veterinarians, breeders, nutritionists, and representatives from financial institutions.

When it came time to assemble Hilltop Heritage Holsteins’ team, Lowell had a clear vision for how he wanted the group to operate. Instead of seeking a facilitator who was entrenched in the dairy industry, which is the way many dairy profit teams operate, Lowell sought facilitators who had the hands-on business expertise that would guide them through the farm’s financial troubles.

Enter SCORE Lancaster, a non-profit business mentoring group. SCORE counselors Dan Evans and John Fleckenstein facilitated dairy profit team meetings and connected the couple to necessary resources. For example, Dan introduced Lowell to a course designed to help entrepreneurs craft and present their plans to bank representatives.

Lowell also notes that the counseling didn’t stop when John travelled out-of-state for a vacation. “When I wrote my elevator pitch, Dan had me sell myself to John over the phone. He critiqued me, and gave me points where I could improve or add things,” he says.

When it was time to secure financing, Lowell was able to walk into lender meetings with a solid, well-researched financial plan. And he didn’t face bank representatives alone. Financial advisor Tim Beck and SCORE mentor Dan Evans were there at his side. Even though Lowell admits “it’s been the very worst time ever to go and try to get on with a new bank,” he was recently able to lock in the needed funds.

Lowell says, “We have a lot of work ahead of us to make this plan work, but they aren’t unreachable or unreasonable goals.” As the Brubakers continue to work with the dairy profit team and utilize its resources, the couple knows they’re taking a giant step toward achieving one of their primary goals—turning their seventh generation farm into an eighth-generation farm.

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