EDITOR’S NOTE: This year Ag Innovation News will go beyond a snapshot view and follow the life of an entrepreneur for an entire year. We will journey with farmer Bruce Tiffany, who with the help of his wife Ann has designed a new product from local farm commodities. Soon Tiffany Family Farms will launch that product into the marketplace. In this first of four installments, discover what motivates the Tiffanys to diversify their farm income, and glimpse the passion for entrepreneurship Bruce has
exhibited since childhood.
Redwood Falls, Minn. — Ann Tiffany says her husband Bruce “spends too much time in the tractor thinking.”
Not content just to raise corn, wheat, peas, sweet corn, alfalfa, soybeans, sheep, cattle and hogs, Bruce also manages Quality Repair by Tiffany, a farm equipment repair shop. And now he’s planning a new value-added ag product for the market — wildlife feed produced and marketed by Tiffany Family Farms.
Why is he inspired to do so much? “You drive — and get steeped in thoughts,” Bruce says. “I’ve always thought about how we can better utilize things and get the most good from what we have.”
Though he won’t reveal specific ingredients, Tiffany is blending and pelletizing ag commodities to make Trophy Treats™, palatable to deer, wild turkeys and possibly bear. In some states it is legal to bait wildlife; in all states it is legal to feed before hunting season to establish travel paths for deer and other wildlife. Tiffany hopes sporting good stores will carry the 10 and 40 pound bags of wildlife food.
For backyard feeders and photographers, Tiffany will market Nature’s Treats™, sold in two and five-pound bags. Both products, mixtures of pellets and whole grains, are made from a proprietary blend of commodities and food processing byproducts.
“Making feed for animals is not difficult for a farmer — we make feed formulations all the time,” Bruce says. “I don’t have near the dollar investment that goes into livestock feeding. But there are more unknowns.”
“I have plenty of people telling me I can’t do it. That’s my motivation.”
His own way
A 43-year-old Redwood Falls native, Bruce has been doing things his own way since childhood. “That’s what drove my parents crazy and irritated more than one of my teachers.” He cocks an eyebrow mischievously and adds, “I kinda like it that way.”
Bruce’s entrepreneurial ventures started at age 11. He raised peas and sweet corn on 40 acres that he and his brother rented from neighbors. Eventually, Bruce purchased the entire 191-acre farm — rich, rolling land along the picturesque Redwood River, a tributary of the Minnesota River.
Bruce received a degree in diversified agriculture from the University of Minnesota-Waseca, where he met Ann. They started farming and raising three boys — now 19, 17 and 14. To bring in additional income, Bruce repaired farm equipment at an implement dealership. Ann says Bruce surprised her one day when “he came home and said he quit. I said, ‘You can’t do that.’ But by noon that day he had his first customer. The next day he ordered business cards.” Ann admits that starting Quality Repair by Tiffany “is the best thing Bruce ever did.”
“I probably spend more time on the farm now,” Bruce adds. “When I was working in town, that was 45 hours per week.”
“I would look at the clock and hope it’s time for coffee, then hope it’s time for lunch, then hope the day is over with.” Now time flies, and with a flexible schedule he doesn’t miss events like a son’s football game.
Factor in personal responsibility
The care and attention Bruce and Ann give their farm and family is obvious. Ann works in early childhood education, helps Bruce with the business, and maintains their turn-of-the century farmhouse, decorated with antiques and conversation-starters, including a porch arrangement of animal skulls her son collected. In their trimmed and tidy farmyard, even junk from the past — an old farm wagon, ’58 Oldsmobile, an aging red granary — seem strategically placed.
While Ann admits they’ve had some lean years, she says they’re doing fine with 1,500 acres and diversified income sources. Beside bulk commodities — corn, wheat and alfalfa they raise soybeans for seed; and sweet corn and peas under contract.
“People complain about how hard they work and how little they have,” Bruce says. “I’d rather change my position than complain about it. It’s not up to somebody else to do it for you.”
The Tiffanys continually look for ways to add value to their crops and livestock. Several years ago, they designed a lamb product with the help of AURI meat scientist Darrell Bartholomew. They dropped marketing plans, however, because “we weren’t in a situation to continue; it was a busy time of our lives,” Ann says.
Germ of an idea
Several years ago, Bruce met a businessman at a national sheep conference who told Bruce he was selling scented corn to hunters in the South.
“We laughed, ‘Why would anyone be dumb enough to buy it?’ Then we checked to see how he was coming along, and he was doing very well,” Bruce says. “That convinced me it was something we should take a look at.”
Around the same time, Bruce spotted an Ag Innovation News article about AURI’s Waseca pilot plant and pelleting equipment and contacted AURI. “When he approached us, I saw he was a go-getter,” says Al Doering, a specialist at the Waseca plant. “Bruce gets his mind on something and goes for it. His enthusiasm will push the project to completion.”
Doering turned various blends of commodities and food processing waste into pellets. One of the challenges was dehydrating wet ingredients enough so they would be shelf-stable but still retain their flavor.
Tiffany then set out varieties at several locations where deer were known to graze. As a control, he placed piles of apples and corn nearby, which deer favor. “What we thought they’d like wasn’t necessarily what they ate,” Bruce says.
“We kept developing product until 100 percent of it was eaten by the deer,” Doering says. The final mix was more appealing to the deer than apples and corn. By examining the tracks at one location, they discovered wild turkeys were also eating the pellets.
Now the Tiffanys are testing the feed on bears, although the results are not in yet.
“We want to develop a product that could be sold all year,” for turkey hunting in the spring, bear hunting in the summer, deer in the fall and for backyard wildlife enthusiasts all 12 months.
Packaging and red tape
To prepare feed samples for test marketing, “we had a batch of these pellets packaged commercially and we’re testing them for moisture, durability and shelf life,” Doering says. When the lab work is complete, the Tiffanys plan to set up a packaging operation in a granary on their farm. “I priced equipment for bagging and decided it was cost prohibitive, so I’ve scrounged to find what I needed and built most of it myself,” Bruce says. “But I haven’t tried it yet.”
Developing the product is just part of the challenge, Bruce says. They’ve also had to cut through masses of red tape: “Trademarks, copyrights, registrations have all been at issue here.” Setting up the company as a limited liability corporation or LLC “was more work than we thought,” as was getting rights to the name and a feed manufacturer’s license.
Currently, the Tiffanys are working on package design with a Redwood Falls firm and will soon present their wildlife treats to sporting good retailers and distributors.
“Marketing is always a big hurdle,” Doering says. “I’d like to see his product in Cabella’s and Gander Mountain. There are feed companies and independents manufacturing wildlife feeds. But I don’t believe a lot of them have done the research and field checks on what these animals want. That’s what will make these products stand out.”
“Hunters don’t want the product, they want the big buck and the wild turkey that we can help them get,” Bruce adds.
As if this doesn’t take enough time, Bruce still looks for every possible avenue to get more income from his farm. He holds up bundled corn stalks and asks, “How do you decorate in the fall? If this were in a store and you could take it home wrapped up nice like this, would you buy it? How much would you pay?”
Continue the journey with the Tiffany Family Farm in the next three issues of Ag Innovation News.