Cogan Station couple is a ‘blessing’ to new farmers

PAT CROSSLEY/Sun-Gazette Correspondent Charles Ulmer Jr. and his wife, Bonnie, hold the plaque they received Aug. 5, along with the title of Master Farmers.

COGAN STATION — With the price of land rising and the cost of equipment and livestock spiraling out of reach for start-up farmers, many are priced out before they can even plow one field.

That’s where Charles Ulmer Jr. and his wife, Bonnie, are stepping in and offering a helping hand to first-time farmers.

For their efforts, the Ulmers recently were named “Master Farmers” by the Mid-Atlantic Master Farmer Association.

Established in 1927, the Master Farmer award is a career achievement that recognizes farmers with exemplary management skills and community leadership.

A visit to the Ulmers’ homestead shows the result of years of work in the farming business.

The couple, who have been married since 1978, admitted they see the work they do helping those who want to get started in farming as their calling.

“We started out from nothing,” Bonnie said. “His father helped us start out. We started out with two little children and two cows and a tractor.

“God has richly blessed us and, as we got older, we really saw the need to help others,” she added.

Both Ulmers grew up on farms, Bonnie near Salladasburg and Charles not far from where they now live.

“It’s in our blood,” Bonnie admitted.

They had been farming since 1981 at their present location and had dairy cows for 24 years until Charles was injured in a farming accident.  It was then that they made the decision just to grow crops, and they began mentoring younger farmers too.

In all, the Ulmers have helped seven local young farmers get started. Four are still farming here and one has relocated to another area.

“It’s hard to start farming,” Charles said. “Everything … you can’t afford it. We just had a desire to help people get started because you can’t today.

“Usually it’s a father and son and then the son takes it over,” he continued, “but what it takes to start a farm … cattle are $1,500 each and you buy 60 of them, but that’s just the cattle. The machinery is more than that.”

There also is the cost of land, which, he said, sometimes is out of reach due to land development and taxes.

The Ulmers have developed a system where they provide the food and facilities for start-up farmers and the farmers provide the dairy herd. When the milk is sold, the Ulmers get a percentage of the profit. In this way, those new to dairy farming have the benefit of the Ulmers’ years of experience plus a facility where they can keep and milk their cows, as well as have access to a supply of feed.

The Ulmers built a 220-cow free-stall facility specifically to be used by the families they mentor.

“We supply the facilities, the forage and the grains,” Charles said.

In all, they farm close to 2,500 acres of corn, soybeans, alfalfa, grass hay and wheat.

Both Ulmers are involved in the work they do. Bonnie sometimes drives the tractor and the truck and makes sure their farm is well-kept.

“I do whatever I can,” she said. “They tease me here that I’m the clean-up crew. I’m very fussy.  Anybody knows that if they let anything lay outside the barns, I burn it. They call me the Klump Road sanitation agent,” she added, laughing.

“We sell milk and we want to sell a quality product,” she continued on a more serious note. “It’s got to be clean. When you go by a dairy farm and they’re just all a mess, that doesn’t give the dairy industry any push. It doesn’t have to be, it doesn’t make you any money, but I think it’s an addition to selling milk to have a nice-looking place.”

Although they are nearing the age when most people are looking to retire, both Ulmers say that isn’t their plan.

“I’m at the age whe people are retiring,” Charles said. “I’m 62. You talk to someone a little older than me and they’re counting down the days to retire. That doesn’t appeal to me at all. I’m not saying I’m not slowing down, but to just sit in a chair, I would be bored.”

“I don’t want to stop either,” Bonnie said. “We’re just thankful we can help other people. Our faith is a big part of our life and our family. We have three children and four grandchildren. That’s a big part of our life too. We’re just thankful for it all and to be able to help people. Hopefully, we’re a blessing to someone. It’s what we’re put here on earth for … to help others.”