Barkey’s Bossies perseveres
Erin Barkey sits in the office of Barkey’s Bossies, a clean, modern dairy operation north of Greeley, Colo. It was a dairy she and her husband, Dennis, bought in the fall of 2005, moving from a smaller dairy they had a few miles to the east.
The two, she said, were born into dairy farming. Dennis was raised on a dryland/dairy farm in Haxtun, in northeast Colorado, she on a dairy farm near Weldona, in the Weldon Valley northwest of Fort Morgan, Colo. They had met while attending classes at the newly opened Morgan Community College in Fort Morgan. They were married in 1974.
They had plans for their new operation, that they started with about 200 cows, but then things – bad things – hit the family hard.
“In May 2007 Dennis got one of those coughs. That was the year the flu was really bad and that’s what he thought he had, so he finally went in to see a doctor,” she said.
He was diagnosed with renal cell carcinoma and he lost his battle to the cancer about four months later. He left behind his wife, and their three children, Daniel and his wife, Wendy, Leianne Hastings and her husband, Shane, and Denise, who was engaged to Tyler Meis at the time, and has since married, along with five grandchildren.
But things, if possible, were to get worse.
Soon after Dennis passed, Erin said she got a telephone call about 3 in the morning from a fellow dairy operator and friend, who said her husband has just suffered a heart attack and could she and the kids take care of their cows, which they did for the next few days.
In May 2008, a tornado hit the Windsor area and while there was only minor damage to the dairy, Erin and her family had to deal with the stress that storm delivered to the community.
Then, the price of milk dropped like a boulder rolling off one of the mountain peaks to the west, which, as Erin said, “was to become the lowest prices in history.” And those prices have yet to rebound.
That was bad, but the loan she and Dennis had obtained to buy and improve their dairy was through New Frontier Bank, which was shut down by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. in April 2009.
“What a saga that turned out to be,” Erin said. She said she met with FDIC agents at the bank soon after its closure, and while she said the meetings were courteous, it quickly became evident those officials knew little about agriculture or agricultural loans.
“They told me that as far as agricultural loans went, I was in pretty good shape. I wasn’t sure if that was a compliment or not,” she said with a laugh. They suggested she find another financial institute to take over her loan, so for the next few months she either visited or talked with banks and other institutions – 18 of them to be exact – none of which was able, or willing, to take on her loan.
That’s when she eventually ended up with the Mountain Plains Farm Credit Services in Greeley in August.
Mike Flesher is a senior vice president with Mountain Plains.
He said when New Frontier Bank collapsed, FCS was able to help the Barkey family, but in order to do that a loan guarantee was needed through USDA Farm Service Agency. And, he said, an effort by Sen. Michael Bennet and others to extend access to those loan guarantees will go a long way toward helping families like the Barkeys.
“We’re really tickled to be able to help (Barkey). That’s a family who deals with what life brings to them. They are not just going to stand there and take a body blow or be a victim like when they lost Dennis, or when New Frontier collapsed. They deal with it and move on,” Flesher said.
Bennet, in a press release, said the measure he co-sponsored is critical.
“During these tough economic times, ensuring Colorado’s farmers and ranchers retain access to these loan guarantees is critical. As farm families across the state gear up for the 2010 crop year, we must do everything we can to make sure they have access to credit when they need it most,” Bennet said.
Erin said she “thanks God every day” for getting together with Farm Credit and the FSA, noting that
both Bennet and Rep. Betsy Markey, D-Colo., set up meetings and promised help.
“They stepped up and kept all of us informed,” she said.
When her husband died, their son, who was a practicing veterinarian, gave that up to come back to the dairy full time, although he continues to help neighbors with veterinary needs when called upon. Both daughters and their husbands also help on a regular basis, with son-in-law Shane assuming some milking duties. Erin concentrates on carrying for calves on the farm, and, once a week, takes a day to spend with her grandchildren, who now number six with the arrival of Dennis, born to Shane and Leianne about nine months ago.
Currently, Barkey’s Bossies is milking about 220 cows twice a day and the original expansion plans may yet be in the works. A lot of that, Erin said, will depend how soon Leprino Foods gets its planned cheese plant in Greeley operational and the price of milk goes back up to where the industry is profitable.
“Leprino can’t come fast enough,” she said.
Erin credits her faith and the upbringing her late husband provided their children for weathering the emotional storms of the past.
“There were a lot of tearful nights,” she said.
And she can see a part of her late husband in her children.
“He instilled in all them the importance of God in their lives, and it’s that faith above all that’s allowed us to continue. I think that’s a part of growing up involved in agriculture,” she said.