Blair Chamber to honor low-profile Kulp family

MARTINSBURG — Phil Kulp likes to keep a low profile.

“I try to fly under the radar. I prefer other people in agriculture get recognition for all they do,” Kulp said.

Kulp, his wife, Becky, and their six children will be honored Wednesday with the Blair County Chamber of Commerce’s Agricult­ural Community Excellence Award at the Freedom Township Fire Hall.

The award was started as a continuation and expansion of the chamber’s successful Farm Family of the Year Award, initiated in 1970.

The award is an effort by the chamber to recognize all facets that make agriculture a primary industry in the county.

“It is humbling. There are a lot of quality people in agriculture who have received that award. I didn’t think it was something we would be chosen for,” Kulp said.

The Kulp family is a worthy recipient, said Joe Diamond, chairman of the chamber’s Farm-City Comm­ittee.

“The Kulps are being honored because of their commitment to working with the community and their willingness to be involved with agricultural education, opening their farm up through tours and promotional events. Public interaction is were they have been very strong,” Diamond said.

Kulp Family Dairy — comprised of farms in Morrisons Cove and Sinking Valley — is one of the county’s largest dairy farms.

It employs a staff of 35 full-time and 12 part-time people, includes 2,900 milking Holsteins and about 3,100 young stock and encompasses about 4,000 acres.

“Last year we shipped about 82 million pounds of milk. That is about 9.5 million gallons of milk,” said Kulp, whose milk has been shipped to Land O’ Lakes since 1999.

Kulp grew up on his parents’ farm just east of Martinsburg.

“I’ve done chores since the age of 5. When I was a kid, I bedded the cows, fed the cows hay, learned to operate the machinery. I did milking while I was in high school,” Kulp said.

After graduation from Central High School in 1987, Kulp went to Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., where he studied business management. He graduated in 1991.

He moved to Texas and was studying for his master’s degree but got into teaching.

“A junior high principal needed a teacher, so I got out of school and taught math for a year,” Kulp said.

He discovered teaching wasn’t his thing.

“Teachers are amazing people, but it wasn’t my first love. I was more suited to be a farmer,” Kulp said.

While in Texas he met Becky, a Baylor University graduate with a degree in elementary education, and they got married in 1995.

In 1996, Phil and Becky moved back to Morrisons Cove, and he worked for his father, Larry. Today, Becky home schools their children.

In 1999, Phil and his father formed Kulp Family Dairy LLC.

“Becky grew to like the area and was willing to stay. In 1999, we made a commitment to build a new milking facility and barn to keep competitive for the next 20 years,” Kulp said. “In 1996, we had 200 cows and 500 acres. In 1999, we expanded to 800 cows and have grown ever since.”

Kulp Family Dairy has helped create stable business models for nine other farms that no longer milk cows but now provide land, buildings and services to support the Kulp cattle.

“We have a tremendous team of talented people that God brought to us. A team that has the ability to work with other farms and neighbors to use their strengths, to pick up synergies with other farmers working together. We’ve been able to compensate other farmers for their resources and use them in the Kulp Family Dairy business plan,” Kulp said.

Kulp said it takes many skills to be a farm manager.

“You need to be a businessman, veterinarian, agronomist, mechanic and engineer. I can’t think of any other vocation that is more demanding. You also have to be a good manager of people,” Kulp said. “You never have a boring day and never have two days the same in farming. Agriculture is constantly changing. We are adapting to new technology and becoming more efficient and producing more food every year. Farmers are good stewards of natural resources and do great things as far as conservation.”

Farming has changed over the years.

“It is a much more regulated industry, so more time is spent on doing reports. Margins have become tighter. The difference between being a profitable and non-profitable business is not much,” Kulp said. “The industry has consolidated. The number of farm families continues to drop. Today agriculture makes up less than 1.5 percent of the population. Just 15 years ago it was 4 percent.”

Today’s farmer faces many challenges.

“It is the challenge of competing against other regions of the country that can be more efficient and produce milk at a lower cost. We also have the burden of regulations of the Chesapeake Bay,” Kulp said. “The other is finding agriculture labor. It is hard to attract people to a job that is 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. Dairy farming is a very demanding business.”

The Kulps are known for hosting many events at their farm, such as Altoona Blair County Development Corp.’s Agriculture Career Day.

“Having 1,400 seventh- graders here is quite an undertaking. It is a major education event for the community. It is very important the public gets accurate information, not false information on GMOs and sustainable agriculture. There is a lot of misinformation on the internet. It is very important we have advocates for modern agriculture. We want people to understand a career in agriculture is a first-class career,” Kulp said.

Kulp encourages young people to consider a career in agriculture.

“Find an internship or get a job on a successful, well- kept farm and plug yourself in and become part of the team. The sky is the limit as far as working in agriculture,” Kulp said.

Kulp said he is not sure if his children — who range in age from 11 to 19 — will wind up on the farm.

“I want my kids to try different things. If being part of agriculture is what God has for them and called them to do, they will do it with excellence. They have the freedom to try and experience any career they would like to try,” Kulp said.

Meanwhile, Kulp is optimistic about the future of the business.

“We have to continue with the same focus we have had the last 40 years, create an environment for people and cows that is exceptional, pay attention to details and have an agricultural environment where people and cows can excel,” Kulp said.

Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.