For nearly 45 years, Lowell and Karen Piper have operated one of the most progressive dairies in the state of Maine. Today, 550 cows are milked three times a day at Piper Farm LLC in Embden, which runs along the Kennebec River.
Since 1968, the Pipers have worked the same land that Lowell’s parents purchased in 1948. While Lowell grew up working alongside his father and always knew he’d follow in his footsteps, Karen married into the industry.
“I didn’t know much about dairying until I met Lowell,” Karen says. “I just fell in love with a dairyman. When he proposed, he told me, ‘If you don’t want to be a farmer’s wife, don’t say yes.’ To this day, I’m still happy with my decision and thankful I had the opportunity to raise our family on this farm.”
Once their children left home to pursue other careers, Lowell and Karen started discussing next steps. But major discussions didn’t come to fruition until they neared their 60th birthdays and began considering retirement. In 2005, they contacted their field representative, Clayton Davis, who helped them start the process of finding a suitable partner for the farm.
While they interviewed a few candidates early on, they couldn’t agree on a compatible match. Their luck changed, however, after a call from Dave Marcinkowski, dairy specialist at the University of Maine’s Extension Office, who knew of a young couple looking to partner with a producer in Central Maine.
Once the Pipers met Matt and Marsha Hamilton, they were confident they had found the next generation to run Piper Farm.
“Before Matt and Marsha came, we had met with a lot of couples,” Lowell says. “But each time, only one person was interested in the farm, not both of them. With Matt and Marsha, we liked that they both were interested in farming. She is more into the cows and he’s more into the crops, which seemed to be a good fit for us.”
Prior to meeting the Pipers, Matt and Marsha had visited a number of farms in Vermont, but never took the plunge to partner with another producer.
“When we heard that the Pipers were looking for a couple to take over one day, we hopped right on it and talked to our extension agent,” Marsha says. “We asked him, ‘Is this true?’, because they came with a very good reputation and farm.”
The couples began initial talks in 2007, and although the Pipers liked what they saw, they didn’t want to rush into anything too quickly. To test the waters, Matt and Marsha spent three years working on the operation and familiarizing themselves with the Pipers before moving forward.
In 2010, the couples made the decision to form an official partnership. It took nearly a year before the paperwork was finalized, Lowell says. During the transition, a consultant from Farm Credit, a lawyer and two certified public accounts, one for each family, were hired to help the families develop a transition plan for the dairy.
“We came up with a plan that was based on profit, as long as there is profit, they can earn a share of equity until they can borrow to purchase the rest,” Karen says.
As partners, Lowell, Karen, Matt and Marsha make all business decisions together, but everyone has their own role on the farm. Lowell oversees the facilities and troubleshoots issues on the farm, while Karen works closely her sister, Betsy, on the farm’s books and with the farm’s 15 employees, which includes the Pipers’ son, Jason, who returned to the family farm in 2010 to work in the machine shop.