Making lemonade when many lemons are suddenly about…

The VAWelcome to Rockingham CountyLOR fellows found themselves touring the Shenandoah Valley for seminar 3, which somehow seemed eerily familiar to me.  On the afternoon of day 3 we found ourselves (again) in Rockingham County, and you can’t talk about agriculture in Rockingham County without talking about poultry, and more specifically, turkeys.

First up for the afternoon was a brief tour of the train unloading station belonging to the Virginia Poultry Growers Cooperative, along with a longer conversation with complex manager Mickey Baugher.  With the construction of the train unloading station the Cooperative can receive 75 car “unit trains” of grain which reduces their operating cost and also allows them to partner with other poultry integrators in the area to help supply their grain needs as well.  Throughout the tour and afterwards, Mr. Baugher shared some of the history of the cooperative and candidly shared his thoughts on some of the strengths and challenges facing the cooperative and the industry in general and outlined some of the initiatives and strategies they employ to succeed in the industry.

Next, to Glenn Hill Farms, for a visit with Dennis Stoneburner and a break from turkeys.  Glenn Hill is a family beef, hay and poultry operation – broiler chickens in this instance.  Mr. Stoneburner entered the broiler business in the late 70’s and shared some of his past experiences and vision for the future as well.

Back to turkeys for the last stop of the evening:  Rivermont Farms with David Hughes.  Mr. Hughes is a producer member of the Virginia Poultry Growers Cooperative with four turkey houses.  After the fellows were given an object lesson in proper attire for biosecurity, we toured an operating turkey house for some first hand experience with turkey production.

For taking time out of their Saturday to stop and stand for questioning from the fellows of VALOR, instead of the myriad of other, more exciting, things to do on a Saturday afternoon, we thank them.  Their insights offer much for us ponder and learn from.

Alright….what in the world does that have to do with a refreshing citrus beverage?”

Of course we have all heard what to do when life provides lemons in large quantity.  Yes…that’s right, lets all say it together…. Make Lemonade!   What we saw during these tour stops served to illustrate – perhaps not on purpose – the need to deal with what you are handed and make the most of it.

Mr. Hughes spoke of the need for a commitment to continuous improvement in order for his farm to remain viable.  Even with that, challenges will arise that cause great tumult.  Avian Flu, mechanical failure, operator error and the like.  But, by stepping back and examining the challenges that present themselves, in the context of the need for continuous improvement, the opportunity to learn and improve is presented.

Mr. Stoneburner has taken poultry litter – what some (not I) would call a lemon – and developed an income stream.  Initially, by packaging his poultry litter in 50 pound bags and serving an unmet need he has been able to increase the income he receives from the sale of poultry litter by a factor of 5.  He has continued seeking new opportunities for marketing this “waste” product and has started creating compost for sale in bulk, and continues to refine and create new marketing opportunities.

And finally the Virginia Poultry Growers Cooperative, an organization formed out of great adversity.  Their understated history available on the web touches lightly on the circumstances of their beginning but really does not do justice to just how dire the situation seemed at the time.  With no guarantees and little chance of success a group of people came together and, with a little luck along with some strategic partnerships, have created a thriving, successful turkey production company.

Life happens.  How you respond to what is thrown your way can make the difference between success and something less than that.  I think that is the true lesson to be learned from a Saturday afternoon in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.

Quick!  Follow me on twitter for when you only have time to read 140 characters, not 696 words but still want to read what I have to say for some reason…

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