Tillage used to be the easiest way to be first to the field and speed through the planting process for the VanTilburgs in Celina, Ohio. Now, the family can compete in both areas without tillage, thanks to advancing no-till planter technology and years of building healthy soils.

Photo by: Luke Vantilburg

Diversifying No-Till Operation with Dairy Makes Smart Business Sense

Switch to non-GMO seed feeds dairy herd & opens new opportunities with food manufacturer

By Luke VanTilburg As interviewed by Martha Mintz

Finding niches is somewhat of a family specialty. Sometimes changes in practices lead us to a niche, or sometimes a niche opportunity leads us to a change in practices. A mix of both have resulted in — and from — our fifth-generation grain farming family venturing into dairy production just 5 years ago.

Dairy is the most recent in a long history of diversification and stepping into new, unknown ventures for our Celina, Ohio, farm. Since our great-grandfather started the farm while working for room and board for a neighbor, we’ve gone through many transformations. My grandfather, dad and uncle started an ag retail center and commercial grain elevator. 

“There are a lot more choices these days for high-quality non-GMO seed…”

When my brothers Matt and Kyle and I were all ready to be back on the farm in the late 1990s, it made sense to pivot again into a niche within the ag retail world. My grandfather had retired, my uncle had moved away, and we weren’t scaled to compete in the traditional ag retail market. Instead of commercial fertilizer, we started to use poultry litter on our farm and broker poultry litter to other farmers. It was more logistics, recordkeeping and red tape, but it was a place we could excel.

Later we started an excavation business to leverage the farm equipment. That business has since grown beyond a side project, employing roughly 50 people today. At the root of…

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