2016 Members of Distinction: Southeast Area - Harmony Grove Dairy

Doubling your herd size comes with considerable risk. For Edward Coble, taking risks is necessary to maintain a thriving business and make sure there’s room for the next generation.

Coble has made this bold move twice.

“We haven’t always made very good decisions,” Coble says. “We’ve stumbled on things, but you just get up the next morning and try to do better that day than you did the day before.”

Coble operates Harmony Grove Dairy Farm with his wife Lana and sons James and Joel near Waynesboro, Ga. The operation more than doubled — from 300 to 700 cows — when the family moved from South Carolina to Georgia in 1998. Then they expanded from 700 to 1,400 cows in 2005 when they moved to their present location. Today, the family milks 2,500 cows.

“My dream was to get into milking 125 cows,” Edward says, “so my dreams have changed, I guess.”

It’s not just the size of the farm that is different about the business.

“My grandfather milked a few cows and sold Grade C milk,” Edward says. “I milked some in high school and sold Grade C milk, setting cans out on the side of the road.”

After high school, Edward attended Clemson University and earned a degree in dairy science. Degree in hand, he leased a small farm in South Carolina, bought 50 of the operation’s 65 cows and started his career in the dairy business.

Eleven years later, he built a facility in the same community and expanded his herd to 300 cows. In 1998, however, with his children growing up and expressing some interest in the dairy business, things had to change. More importantly, their community had changed. Farms and other agricultural industries were replaced by urban sprawl.

James was prepared to leave the family business after college.

“The area we were in was growing up. It wasn’t a good place for dairy,” he says. “I wanted to be in agriculture, but I was going to leave the farm. We had the opportunity to relocate to Georgia, and there was more of a future for the dairy business in Georgia. I wanted to be a part of that.”

When the farm acquired the land for their current operation, there were challenges. First, they didn’t move to an existing dairy. There were no freestall barns, no milk parlor — nothing.

“This particular place was just a farm,” Edward says. “There weren’t any livestock facilities here at all. I guess you would say this was a greenfield site.”

So the family worked with a design engineer to help them build a dairy facility from the ground up, with plans for additional expansions in the future. At the same time, they continued to milk about 600 cows at their leased facility.

“You need to have a dairy facility that can be operated efficiently as far as labor and still be able to be a good steward of the land and not over apply waste,” Edward says. “We were blessed in being able to acquire enough land that we can apply animal nutrients on the cropland and grow crops and feed back to them.”

James, who served as the general manager of the construction, says the family got ideas from other dairymen from around the country.

“When we decided we wanted to build a facility, we traveled all over the United States,” he says. “We looked at different dairies and different parts of the country and took different ideas from different dairies we had seen.”

When the move started, the family was milking 600 cows at the leased facility and 800 at the new one. That situation didn’t last long.