Local business to reach national market
28 Jan 2014
A local farm operation that runs five generations deep is launching a new line of value-added products that it hopes to take nationwide in the coming year.
J.P. and David Rhea of Rhea Cattle Company are expanding the family business with the launch of Elkhorn Valley Animal Care, a new line of pet products that will be sold primarily in retail outlets.
J.P. Rhea said the family farm has a history of value-added agriculture dating back to its beginning in 1872 when his great-great grandfather raised Percheron draft horses. The farm was known for raising top-end work horses – raising a number of state champions.
That business model quickly changed with the mechanization of agriculture, said Rhea, and his grandfather adapted and became a pioneer in alfalfa processing in the 1940s.
Rhea said before good bailing technology alfalfa processing was a unique way to get high quality hay and forages to livestock producers. But over time and with the advent of better haying techniques, the alfalfa industry became less of a livestock commodity business and more of a specialty business.
Rhea said his father, Bill Sr., recognized the coming shift and the business restructured to become a bulk supplier of a specialty commodity.
Over the years the alfalfa industry shrank dramatically. Rhea estimates production today is probably 10 percent of what it was at its peak, and the Rhea’s dehydration plant is one of about six left in the state. That’s down from more than 100 when the alfalfa industry peaked, said Rhea.
Because the family farm was diversified, it was able to survive the consolidation and shrinking of the alfalfa industry. Today David Rhea is in charge of the alfalfa processing business, Dehy Alfalfa Mills, which is rebranding itself Elkhorn Valley Animal Care and once again expanding.
J.P. Rhea returned to the family business four years ago and helped develop a strategic plan. The farm is still selling alfalfa as a specialty commodity, but wanted to get closer to the consumer and customers by making it more of a value added product. That’s when the company decided to launch Elkhorn Valley Animal Care. The company will sell forage-based products that are processed into foods for rabbits, guinea pigs, gerbils and even horses.