Inside Track: A farmer with dreams
Bryan Heffron hopes to use experience running family farm to enact future policy changes.
Bryan Heffron has been farming nearly his entire life.
The fourth-generation farmer has deep roots in the Belding-based family farm, Heffron Farms, which was started by his great-grandfather in 1921 and survived the Great Depression. When Heffron Farms started, it only raised livestock and crops on a few hundred acres.
Now, it includes hundreds of bulls, which are bought from local dairy farmers and raised on the farm. Heffron said once the calves are born on a dairy farm, they then take the calves to grow them themselves.
Afterward, they are sent to a Byron Center Meats, where they are processed.
Corn, soybeans, wheat and alfalfa also are grown on the farm that has expanded to a few thousand acres over nine decades.
“We have steadily grown both in cattle and acres, and we have to because there are more family members involved,” Heffron said. “My younger brother farms with (my father and I), so we have to get big enough so that our three families can have enough income to survive.”
Heffron has two farm markets in Grand Rapids, one in Wyoming and another located on the farm, where fruits, vegetables, grains, chicken, beef (from their own cattle), pork and turkey are sold.
Aside from owning their farm markets, Heffron also uses the crops to help the community.
“Some of our corn we use to feed the cattle and the rest we sell for cash grain,” Heffron said. “We have a few different places it can go. They can either go to the ethanol plant in Ionia to make ethanol, chicken farms to feed their chickens and/or go to feed mills to feed turkeys and pigs.
“All the soybeans go to Zeeland Farm Services. They use them for either making cooking oil or biodiesel. The wheat goes to King Milling in Lowell to grow white wheat to use for pastry flour, and the straw wheat that is left over we use for bedding for the cattle and most of the alfalfa we use here for our cattle.”
Heffron learned from a very early age what it is like working on a farm. He said it has taught him discipline and how to be responsible at a young age.
“When we were younger, we would wake up and do chores before we went to school,” he said. “Depending on how old we were, we would go over and give the baby calves milk, grains, feed some of the bigger cattle, mow the grass and drive the tractors.”
Heffron said it was right around high school when he came to the realization he might have to take over the family farm one day.
He went to Michigan State University to pursue agribusiness, and while there were different options for Heffron after graduation, he said he wanted to go back to the farm because there was an opportunity to continue the family business.
“This is what I wanted to do,” Heffron said. “I had an opening here. My dad expressed to me and my brother that if we want to take this over and take the operation of the farm we can because he plans on retiring soon. The way farming is, it is hard to start your own operation because it takes so much capital.”
But Heffron said he doesn’t just want to operate the farm, he wants to be an advocate for other farmers in the area. Although he has three young children and his wife to support, Heffron said he plans to get involved with his township.
“Where I live, near Lowell, there is a lot of urban sprawl in that area and there is really good farmland down there,” Heffron said. “So, I want to get involved with the township as a trustee or something along that line, where I can have input too because right now, I am just a voter, just a regular constituent. I can go to meetings to voice my opinion, but I don’t have any other power other than my voice.
“With my agricultural background, I can bring a different perspective to the planning commission or any board that a lot of other people don’t have. I see the rural side of it that some other people don’t see.”
Heffron is familiar with policymaking. He served four years on the Michigan Farm Bureau State Young Farmer Committee. He and another person represented district four, which includes five counties: Kent, Ottawa, Allegan, Barry and Ionia.
“I have sat in a lot of meetings,” Heffron said. “One of the meetings was about the height of utility line requirements where they cross fields; that was a big deal a couple years ago.”
He said he also has a long-term goal of getting involved with policymaking at the state level, but not any time soon.
“I think West Michigan is a great place to farm,” Heffron said. “There is a lot of diversity, and I think there is a lot of potential in this area. We have so many different soil types here, we have a lot of retail stores.
“We are close enough to the city but far away enough where we have that interaction where we don’t have to drive 500 miles to sell our products. We just have to go 20 miles in town to market our products. It gives us great potential there to do more things like that. This is a good area to farm.”
In January, Heffron will have a national platform to show other states how his family farm has thrived while also learning from other farmers across the country.
Heffron recently was named the winner of Michigan Farm Bureau’s 2018 Young Farmer Achievement Award.
According to the MFB, the award recognizes “a successful young agriculturalist or couple, ages 18-35, who derives a majority of his or her income from an owned production agriculture enterprise. Winners are recognized for outstanding achievement in the business of farming and leadership in the agricultural community. Finalists are hardworking, intelligent planners whose savvy management skills have contributed to the success of their farm businesses.”
As the state winner, Heffron received a Kubota tractor lease, a $1,000 AgroLiquid gift certificate and the opportunity to represent Michigan in the 2019 American Farm Bureau Federation Young Farmers and Ranchers Achievement Award contest in New Orleans.
Heffron will be competing against representatives from the other 49 states. Participants will be judged on their farm’s operation, financial progress and their involvement with the farm bureau and leadership “outside of farm bureau.”
Despite all the hard work that goes into running his farm, Heffron added there have been some hilarious events.
“It is always fun when the cattle get out,” he said with a laugh. “When someone forgets to lock a gate or something. The (cattle) always do it at night, at least it seems like it when everyone else is gone. Usually, we will find out because if we don’t see it, the neighbors will call saying ‘Hey, I have your cow in my yard.’ So, that is always exciting.
“Farming is just a great occupation; I mean, I love it.”