Ontario farmers Amy and Mike Cronin have relied on their management skills, sound core-business values and a team of trusted employees to help them build a successful international hog operation that has not only survived, but grown over the past 20 years amid often volatile market conditions.
Although they established Cronin Farms in 1998, during one of the deeper downward markets, the Cronins have developed an efficient and diversified hog production business headquartered in Ontario, with operations also in two U.S. states.
It has been their management skills along with their contributions to industry, community and family affairs that earned them recognition as Ontario Outstanding Young Farmers for 2015. They will be competing with other regional winners for the national OYF award in Edmonton in November.
Born and raised on their respective dairy farms, Mike and Amy married 20 years ago and launched into their own non-supply management farming operation at Bluevale, Ont., about an hour west of Kitchener.
“Working with my family we actually managed a 600 sow farrow to weaner operation for two years before we bought the business and started on our own,” says Amy.
Today Cronin Farms owns and operates a 3,600 sow farrow to weaner operation in Ontario. Weaners are raised to 55 pounds. Cronin sells about 85 per cent of those to finishing operations, and finish the rest themselves. They also crop about 1,000 acres of corn.
In the U.S., they bought their first hog facility in 2006. In Iowa they have a farrow to finish operation, and last year built an early-weaned pig production facility which markets 21-day-old weaned pigs to a niche market. They also have a genetic multiplier operation producing purebred stock in Missouri.
“We entered the U.S. market for several reasons, but primarily for risk management,” says Amy. “It helps us to diversify our business so we are not just dependent on the hog operation in Ontario. There are transportation issues when you move pigs across the border, and there are also different marketing opportunities in the U.S. than we have in Canada. So by having U.S. production facilities it was in some respects simpler and also gave us new opportunities. If the market is weaker in one area, hopefully it is stronger in another.” The Cronins applied the same business philosophy used in Canada to the U.S. operations.
As they have built a successful hog operation, Amy says developing and using a proper data management system over the past five years has helped them improve overall efficiency and profit. “We have been able to improve our system for collecting data and then analyze it to make better management decisions,” she says.
“It has helped us better manage significant inputs such as feed costs, which in turn has given us a much better understanding of cost of production. Through our very detailed data management system we can also look for hedging opportunities as part of risk management.”
While the entire family, including the oldest of their six children are actively involved with the farming operation, Amy says the farm also relies heavily on a dedicated team of employees.
“Looking ahead our focus will be to concentrate on the skills and abilities of our employees to make sure we have the right people in the right place,” she says. “We have a fantastic team now and we know we can’t run this operation without them. So our focus will be on fostering improved working relations, helping them to understand our core business values, which in turn will empower our employees to make good decisions as well.”
Along with the farm, the Cronins are actively involved in community and industry committees and boards. Mike is involved in the Huron County Pork Producers and Ontario Pork, the local parish and as a youth soccer coach for more than 20 years. He was recently invited to be one of two Canadians to join the 21st Century Pork Forum in the U.S.
Amy is a school board trustee, vice chair of the local credit union and is on the board of the Catholic Community Foundation of southwestern Ontario. She is the current chair of Ontario Pork and a recently appointed vice-chair of the Growth Steering Committee of Agriculture in Ontario.