January 09, 2004
Jon Ewy combines kidney beans,dairy heifers and container shipping
The phone doesn't stop ringing in Jon Ewy's office. Truck drivers, dairymen, feed nutritionists, crop consultants and sales representatives constantly call. Each time the phone rings, Jon slides his seed cap back a little farther on his head, picks up the phone and tackles the next problem.
"It can get pretty hectic," says Ewy, of Deer Creek, Minn.
But hectic is good. Hectic is exciting. Hectic means that there are a lot of things going on and, hopefully, all are generating profits.
"To me this isn't stressful," he says between phone calls. "Stress is not having anything to do. I like to stay busy."
Ewy is one of the new members on the Northarvest Bean Growers Association board of directors. He and his wife Jeanne, operate Pine Breeze Farms and Pine Breeze, Inc. They grow irrigated kidney beans, raise dairy heifers and operate an intermodal container shipping business. They have about 20 full and part-time employees.
The key to juggling several enterprises, Jon says, "is being able to finish one thing before you go onto another."
By some standards, Jon is a newcomer to the farm. After college he worked first as a corporate pilot for Marshall Foods, a food manufacturer in Marshall, Minn. He moved over into company operations and headed up a division. In the late 1970s, Jon and his wife left corporate America and moved back to Deer Creek, Jeanne's home area, and started a dairy. They milked cows for 10 years before participating in the dairy buy-out program. At about the same time he started growing irrigated dry beans. The dry beans soon led to a trucking business. Ewy was hauling his beans to processing plants in semi-trailers. Several plants hired him to transport their bulk beans.. One day one of his customers suggested that they get into the intermodal container shipping business.
Intermodal container transportation has been growing rapidly, increasing approximately 6% per year since the 1980s to a total volume of 15 million containers in North America. Containers offer shippers the opportunity to transport goods door to door over long distances while preserving the identity and safety of the product. Large amounts of dry beans are shipped in containers. So are
The Ewys have a piece of that business. They run 14 container trucks - 11 of their own and three owner-operators. They haul everything from dry beans to computer parts from factories and processing plants in the Upper Midwest to railroad yards in Minneapolis-St. Paul. The railroads load containers onto their cars and haul them to East, West and Gulf Coast ports. Longshoremen stack the containers on cargo ships for the trip across the ocean.
"We have hauled product that has ended up in almost every corner of the world," Ewy says, waving at a map covered with pins showing the destination of the goods they handled.
Transporting containers, growing kidney beans and raising dairy heifers is a good mix of enterprises, Ewy says.
The three businesses allow them to make good use of available labor and facilities.
"It is nice when everything is going well," Jeanne says, "but everything doesn't always go well."
That's when new communication technology comes in handy. The Ewys stay on top of all three enterprises at once because communication on their farm and on the road is almost instant. They all have Nextel two-way cell phones. A driver who has a breakdown on I94 north of the Twin Cities doesn't have to dial Ewy's phone number. He just picks up the phone, presses the button and talks. Each phone cost about $50 per month, but there is no minutes limit on the radio calls.
"I don't have to be the office to be in the office," Ewy says. "I can just as well be in the combine. It's just a matter a keeping it all straight in my head."