In one manifestation or another Arba-Vue Farms has been owned and worked by the Arbaugh family going on 200 years, officially celebrating its bicentennial next year. Nestled among the picturesque rolling hills and valleys of Harrison County in Eastern Ohio, what began as a 150-acre homestead now totals 1,400 acres (800 of which are under cultivation, with the farm also renting an additional 2,400 acres in Harrison, Carroll and Jefferson counties), evolved into a truly consummate example of technologically advanced, highly productive and self-sufficient family farming.
And the Arbaugh family is a prime example of how innovation, adaptability, thinking outside the box and deep-rooted family ties are a great formula for success.
Whether it be serendipity, genetics or just the strength, intuition and tenacity that can emerge from a family deeply rooted in their way of life and their bond with each other, the story of the Arbaughs’ success is manifest with hard work (naturally) and a constancy within the rhythm of rural life. Today there are five Arbaughs working the Arba-Vue, and each of them brings specific and essential expertise to their work that is at the core of their impressive and unique operation.
In 1819, John Arbaugh journeyed from Northern Europe to set up his 150-acre homestead in Jewett, Ohio, where he started a family and began farming. For many years dairy farming was at the core of their venture, growing to become the largest dairy farm in Harrison County in the 1990’s, when they had more than 1,000 head.
Arthur, Bruce and Keith formed a partnership in 1960, which lasted until 1995 when the next generation was brought in and formed a corporation. The original Arba-Vue homestead had been split into three 50-acre parcels among three brothers several generations previous, but Bruce and Keith were able to buy back one of the parcels.
Bruce has two sons, Dale and Kevin, and Keith also had two sons, Russ and Doug. Until Keith’s passing in 2004, the six of them worked the farm together, and today the four cousins and Bruce have continued a legacy of smart, adaptable and rigorous family farming that to many might seem a perfect prototype of American grit and amiability.
Like so many agricultural enterprises, financial cycles, changes in consumer behavior and new technologies alter the course of how best to manage land assets and capabilities. According to Matt Lesko, Chief Agronomist for Deerfield Ag Services, the Arbaugh family and Arba-Vue Farms have weathered truly transformational change and challenges over the past 20 years.
“While Deerfield and the Arbaughs were doing some business together for years, it was in the 1990s that our collaboration intensified. Years later, in 2006, amidst significant changes in the market, the Arbaughs realized that a major decision had to be made to ensure the ongoing viability of Arba-Vue,” Lesko notes.
“While they had been a successful dairy operation for many years, the four cousins and Bruce came to the conclusion that a better, more profitable use of the land and their talents pointed toward crop farming. That took a lot of courage and creative, thoughtful work, as well as a determined approach to investment and research.”
Deerfield’s comprehensive approach to agricultural services proved pivotal to the transition from dairy farming to crop farming, helping the Arbaughs navigate the new work-flow techniques and schedules, financing and marketing challenges, much of which, up until that time, had not been part of their regular routines and expertise.
“The hilly land in the Jewett area is fertile, but at the same time presents challenges for crop farming because of the contours of hills and valleys,” Bruce says. “And to make a profitable go of it, requires larger equipment and skills that most flat-land farmers don’t have to deal with.”
”We struggled with the decision to make the switch over the course of years,” Dale recalls, “with all five of us working hard to learn as much as we could within each of our own experience and education in order to determine the best route to take. And once we all agreed on a course of action, we began to implement the transition plan that took about six years to fully realize.”
Kevin talks about the dramatic changeover as if it were really rather routine in the life of American farming. “The dairy operation was in need of some significant upgrades and financial investment in terms of buildings and equipment if we were going to stay viable. And you have to remember that dairy farming is a ‘24/7/365’ job,” he points out. “Cows have to be fed and milked every day. There’s no time for vacations or days off. It’s a constant routine with no breaks. While the work is just as tough and often uncertain, crop farming, has a very different rhythm to it, and has turned out to be a great fit for our land and our growing family.”
There is an uncanny “symbiotic” working relationship among the Arbaugh men; while not completely compartmentalized, each man takes charge of a different area of managing the farm that matches best their interests and skillsets. According to Lesko, whenever major decisions impacting Arba-Vue are made, “The men are very deliberate and thoughtful, looking at all sides of the issue or opportunity, before coming to a final conclusion. They do their research and aren’t afraid to innovate and think outside the box,” he says.
Kevin oversees the planting and harvesting for the most part. Russ is charged with spraying and crop protection. Dale is the family’s finance guy, managing the purchasing and marketing and keeping the fiscal house in shape. Doug directs the nutrient and fertilizing operation, while Bruce, at 80 years old, still is the main distribution and transportation director, making sure the corn, soybeans and wheat are weighed, trucked to their new grain facility for drying and storage, before being sent to market. All five are engaged in the maintenance of the farming equipment and facilities.
Unlike many family farms, Arba-Vue is a true “turnkey” operation. They have all of their own equipment (much of which is quite specialized to accommodate the challenges of farming very hilly terrain, as opposed to the kinds of tractors, combines, etc., that flat-land farmers use.)They have their own truck scales and transport all of their crops themselves. They have devised their own sophisticated grid sampling system, and work with Deerfield agronomists to customize the products they need. For seed and crop protection chemicals, they consult with Deerfield to devise optimum fertilization and weed control plans. In addition to these services, Deerfield provides marketing expertise and consulting. “It is always a pleasure working with the Arbaughs on their grain marketing plans,” says Jen Pemberton, Grain Merchandiser for Deerfield Ag Services. “I have had the opportunity to work with them at our Profit Management Workshops one on one. They work to figure their costs and estimated yields and then place targets to allow the market to work for them.”
The grain bins were built first in 2013, needed for the monumental transition from dairy farming to crop farming. An impressive grain-handling and storage facility, enabled them to manage and distribute their product in a far more timely and efficient manner than before.
The next big construction project for the Arbaughs, however, came as a result of much less positive circumstances. One year later, in 2014, the Arbaughs’ shop was destroyed in a fire.
The family (as is their way) immediately got to work on building a new, state of the art structure; a huge new shop with offices and tools to maintain their farming equipment. The Arbaughs, being the hands-on, can-do family that they are, did almost all of the design and actual building of these facilities themselves, rather than rely on outside contractors and labor.
After two centuries of guiding Arba-Vue Farms through a myriad of minor and major changes to ensure its sustainability and their cherished way of life together, the Arbaugh family continues to grow and prosper as another generation prepares to join the journey.