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Customer Feature: Wesley Kent (Winding River Farms)

Customer Feature Stories

How often do you hear of a single lecture in a college class changing the course of a student's life and career? Well, that was the case for Augusta County dairy farmer, Wesley (Wes) Kent. During Wes's senior seminar at Virginia Tech, Patti Craun (a former Farm Credit loan officer and lending leader who retired in February 2024) came to speak to the class. Patti spoke to exactly what Wes needed to hear – how to get started in the agriculture industry on a fiscally responsible path and the importance of building a strong relationship with an ag lender. As a result of that guest lecture and Wes’s drive and determination, he built a diversified farming operation from the ground up, which he continues grow, improve and evolve his practices. 

Following graduation from Virginia Tech in 1996, Wes worked as a herdsman at two different dairies. During that time, he learned valuable lessons and best practice. He worked toward starting his own operation with the purchase of a few cows and a tractor. In 2000, Wes signed a lease on the land and facility in Weyers Cave, VA that he continues to operate today as Winding River Farms. At that time, he was milking about 80 cows on 180 acres. 

In 2003, Wes worked out an arrangement with American Farmland Trust, in which they purchased the farm and set-up a lease purchase agreement for the farm. Wes took over the existing turkey operation on the property, which consisted of one turkey house. 

By 2004, Wes built up enough equity to get a loan through Farm Credit to purchase the original 180 acres. With owned land and five years of experience (as an operator) under his belt, Wes was looking for opportunities to grow. In 2005, he began a long-term lease of the 350-acre farm that adjoins his, which is still in effect today. This expansion gave him enough room to begin building his own herd of beef cattle, in addition to hay and crop production. 

Beef cattle

In 2011, Wes purchased the farm next door and added another 120 acres to the operation, allowing him to begin raising his own Holstein replacement heifers. In 2013, he built a second turkey house on the property which he later converted to a chicken house due to increased profits and decreased labor needs. 

Recently, Wes demolished the original, 30-year-old turkey house that was on the property and he has plans to build a new chicken house in the coming months. It was too costly to revamp the existing, outdated house and as a grower for Pilgrim’s Pride, he would receive an incentive to build a new house. He has also received a Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) grant from the USDA to help with energy efficiency costs in the new house. 

In 2015, Wes reached a point with the dairy operation where his old, dated parlor was causing labor issues, so he sat down with his Farm Credit loan officer to crunch the numbers and they came up with the plan to add two Lely robotic milkers, which enabled him to grow the dairy herd to 130 cows without hiring additional help. The addition of the robots has been positive overall, though not without growing pains in the early months. The cows now average 2.7 visits per day and production has increased 10-15 pounds of milk per cow per day, depending on forages. 

Wes’s current beef operation is a partnership with a neighboring farmer, which consists of 85 cow-calf pairs. The pastureland that the beef cattle graze would not be productive as cropland, so the partnership works well and provides even more diversification for Winding River Farms. In addition to the expansion of his operations, Wes has improved the facilities in his 24 years. He built a new pack barn, parlor, dry cow barn, heifer barn, machine shed and poultry house (with another one in the works). Wes also fenced off all of the streams and put in watering systems in the pastures. 

Farming can be a thankless job, but Wes is motivated knowing that he is doing his part by raising food for people. “Given my skillset and the abilities I’ve been blessed with, I’m able to raise quality food products for others, whether it’s chicken, beef or milk," he said.

Wes continued, “I also try to keep things here at the farm looking nice in order to put a good image out there for agriculture. I try to promote the industry as much as possible by giving tours, hosting groups and inviting hay customers to the farm to give them a firsthand look at what happens here.” Wes is also proud to be building a legacy on the farm through owning and caring for the land, so that it will be in good shape for the next generation. Wes works alongside his partner, Annie, as well as a full-time employee. His older son also helps out after school and his younger son seems to be enjoying running around on the farm, too. 

Future plans for Winding River Farms include the addition of the new poultry house this year. Wes would like to purchase all or part of the land he currently leases and renovate the dairy facilities surrounding the robotic milking system in the long-term. Looking to the future, Wes plans to continue to enhance his sustainable farming practices, with cover crops and no-till planting. He also has an exciting partnership with a new buyer in the works on the dairy side, who will pay a premium price for the milk as long as the farm can meet sustainability requirements.

Winding River Farm conservation easement

As with all beginning farmers, Wes faced a number of challenges over the years, including labor issues, low milk prices in the years following the installation of the robots and other unexpected hurdles. At times, he had to be creative to make expansion projects happen. From the lease purchase agreement with American Farmland Trust, which involved putting the farm into a conservation easement, to putting up three cost-share buildings on the farm with the help of Maryland & Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative Association and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, to the REAP grant from USDA, Wes has taken advantage of a variety of programs to help grow his operation. These programs, as well as good working relationships with Virginia Cooperative Extension, service providers, neighbors and other local farmers, have been instrumental in getting his operation to where it is today. He also credits much of his success to his strong relationship with Farm Credit and the guidance of his loan officers. 

Wes would like to extend a special “Thank You” to Patti Craun for her many years of support, partnership and dedication to helping his operation get off the ground and find success during her time with Farm Credit of the Virginias. 

This feature story was published in the June 2024 Leader Magazine. Access the full magazine (digital version) HERE.

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