“I told him I wanted to come back to the farm,” Desmond said. “He told me, ‘If you want to farm, you got to buy a farm.’ We were able to buy a farm on a contract for deed. It was his way of making me prove that I was serious about farming – having the debt and responsibility of having a farm.”
Their first season back was, in their words, a disaster. Jean and Desmond went to a farm sale and bought seven lactating cows to get started on their new dairy operation – the cheapest ones on sale that day.
“They were all we could afford, and they were not great milking cows, but we milked them anyway,” Desmond said.
Over time, they bought more cattle, more pasture, and more farm land with the main focus of supporting the dairy. After 30 years, the operation evolved into quite a success. However, by the 2010s, the Millers reluctantly came to the realization that they could not care for their cattle indefinitely, much to Jean’s disappointment in particular as she had truly fallen in love with working with the animals full time.
“When our sons decided to pursue different interests than the dairy, Desmond and I were running it by ourselves,” Jean said. “We decided it was too much work at our age, so we made the decision to transition to crop farming, which was difficult for me because I enjoyed that part of the farm.”
Until this point, the Millers had no time to pay much in-depth attention to the production agriculture portion of their business, previously having had their acres custom farmed so they could focus 100 percent on dairy operations. With the dairy getting phased out, they began taking direct control of their fields again – and had to start over from scratch when it came to raising crops.
“I had never had an agricultural course in college, and here I was all excited about this new career in farming.” Desmond said. “I was kind of out of the loop until the cows were gone, but I had this insatiable hunger for knowledge about soils and fertility. So, I went to everything I could get to, whether it was a conference or seminar. But the first thing I did was I recalled my dad’s innovative foresight from 30 years earlier. He said, ‘You should really be looking at ridge till.’”