Skip to main content

CY Farms

A farmer's wife and artist, Bernice Yunker passes away at 98

By Howard B. Owens
bernice yunker
File photo from 2013 of Bernice Yunker in her studio, Farmer's Wife Studio, in the Yunker home on Transit Road in Elba.
Photo by Howard Owens.

Bernice Yunker was more than a farmer's wife.

Born July 26, 1925 in Mineral City, Ohio, Yunker led an adventurous life -- once biking from Buffalo to and around Conesus Lake -- as a young woman before meeting her future husband, Carl, in Bennington at a small church where her father was pastor. They married in Attica in 1947.

After her time with her family in Buffalo, where her father had been a pastor, and before joining her parents in Bennington, Bernice studied art at Heidelberg College in Tiffin, Ohio, and then at the Rochester Institute of Technology. She worked part-time at the DuPont Plant in Rochester as director of graphics to help the war efforts on the home front.

When the Yunkers married, Carl was already a farmer but a short time later, they acquired 100-acres in Elba and established a home, where they would eventually raise seven children.

The Yunkers quickly established themselves in the community and became active in the Elba Presbyterian Church.  Bernice became the first woman to serve on the Elba Central School District Board of Education. She volunteered at church, with the Arc of Genesee County, the Genesee County Nursing Home, and the Hospice of Genesee.

But she is perhaps best known in the community as a talented and creative artist and art teacher.  She was a member of the Genesee Arts Council and a founding member of the Batavia of Society of Artists.

In their home on Transit Road in Elba, Carl built an art studio for Bernice. In 2013, she told The Batavian that she was proud to call herself a farmer's wife, hence, the name of her studio -- Farmer's Wife Studio.

She often told her children, “Music and art are the frosting on the cake of life!”

Her husband and their children together built, from that initial 100-acre parcel, one of the largest farm operations -- CY Farms -- in Genesee County, growing crops, raising cattle, and notably operating Batavia Turf Farms.

Mrs. Bernice Dorothea Beisheim Yunker, 98, died peacefully at home with family at her side on January 15, 2024.

Carl Yunker, at age 97, died in 2021.

In her obituary, her family says, "Bernice was the best of moms and also cared for others in the community. She used her creative gift as a visual artist to serve others and honor God. During her 74 years in Elba, Bernice supported Carl, her family and the community with kindness, energy and frankly, a lot of art and art lessons!"

A memorial service will be held on Sunday, Jan. 28 at 3 p.m. at the First Presbyterian Church in Elba


bernice yunker
Bernice Yunker with a few of her paintings in her Farmers' Wife Studio in Elba. Previously unpublished file photo from 2013.
Photo by Howard Owens.

Batavia Soccer Park is ready to host Empire Cup & College Showcase over the next two weekends

By Mike Pettinella

The facility manager for the Batavia Soccer Park on Bank Street Road said that he is pleasantly surprised over the number of teams signed up to compete in the 2021 edition of the annual Empire Cup & College Showcase.

About 90 boys teams and 70 girls teams will make their way to the 16-field soccer complex over the next two weekends. That is about 40-percent less than usual, but a positive sign when considering the tournament was canceled last year.

“It’s definitely a better turnout that I expected, which is great. That leads me to believe that things are opening up again, including sports,” said Michael Henderson, of Fairport, coordinator of this and other activities at the park, which is owned and maintained by CY Farms and Batavia Turf.

Henderson, a teacher at Northeast College Preparatory High in Rochester, said teams from all over New York, plus Connecticut and Western Pennsylvania have entered. Competition will take place in age groups starting at 10 years old, all the way up to 19 years old.

The first weekend (May 8-9) is for the boys and the second weekend (May 15-16) is for the girls. Games are scheduled from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday and 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday.

Henderson said the schedule is “pretty active,” with 12 to 13 games going on at once. Each team will play a minimum of three games.

“We’re careful, however, working with the New York State Governor’s Office, to make sure we follow the (COVID-19) guidelines,” he said. “Unfortunately, we won’t have any teams from Canada, which usually sends a large amount, due to travel restrictions.”

In its sixth year, the Empire Cup & College Showcase features clubs at different levels of play – some Elite or Premier as well as strong travel league teams, Henderson said. Youth in the 15-19 age groups will have more than family watching them as the tournament serves as a venue for college coaches to see potential recruits.

Henderson called the tournament – one of several on the soccer park’s schedule this season – “an economic kick to the area.”

“We always give a heads-up to our local restaurants because if we don’t they will be inundated,” he said. “A group of 15 to 20 kids coming into eat, it fills you up fast. Also, we contract with local hotels and try to keep it within the Batavia area.”

He credited the staff at Batavia Turf and CY Farms for continuing to do “an amazing job” for the community.

“For the local people, if you have a couple kids in the family, you can go to one place to watch them play rather than running all over the city to watch them,” he said. “It’s an awesome park.”

The park, located across the road from Cornerstone Church, hosts the Rochester District Youth Soccer League, which includes teams from Batavia, Le Roy, Pavilion and other Western New York communities.

For more about the Empire Cup & College Showcase and other information, go to

Founder of CY Farms who loved aviation and serving his community dies at age 97

By Virginia Kropf

The loss of Carl Yunker is one which will be felt in many arenas – by his family, his friends, agriculture, his church, the community, and aviation.

Yunker, 97, died at his home near Elba on March 13, after being in failing health.

Born at the family farmhouse in Sheldon, Yunker was raised by his mother and two older brothers. He learned the meaning of hard work at an early age, helping to run the farm with his mother and brothers and a pair of horses.

He attended a one-room schoolhouse until sixth grade, then went to high school in East Aurora, where his ag teacher convinced him to go to college.

He entered Cornell University in 1940 and worked his way through college by working at the Curtiss-Wright plant in Buffalo, building P-47s. He received awards for marksmanship as a member of ROTC. He joined the Alpha Zeta, the agricultural honor fraternity, where he met classmates in the field of agriculture who would become lifelong friends. 

Pete Lockner, flight instructor at Genesee County Airport, told of Yunker’s love of aviation. Lockner said Yunker told him he would get up early in the morning and milk the cows, then go to Buffalo to build airplanes, and come home in the afternoon to milk the cows again.

Yunker had wanted to learn to fly at a young age and enrolled in classes at GCC in 1969-70, but his wife, Bernice, was so afraid of airplanes he didn’t pursue it any further. At the age of 70, however, with her approval, he approached Lockner in June 1993 and said he wanted to learn to fly. He got his pilot’s license in December 1993, and started building his own airplane – a Kitfox, in January 1994.

Bernice was at his side, documenting every step of the procedure as he went along. He built his own airstrip on a piece of land on North Byron Road. He became a member of the Vintage Aircraft Group at Pine Hill Airport, where he spent several years helping to restore three PT-19s.

Myra and the late Wayne Phelps, of Indian Falls, were lifelong friends of the Yunkers, along with three other couples who got together every month for years.

Myra was dating Carl while he was at Cornell and once took a train with another girlfriend to visit him. The other couples were Myra’s brother Richard Rudolph and his wife, Jean, the late Henry and Norma Calver, and Fred and Gloria Pletzker.

Carl met Bernice through their churches in Bennington and Sheldon, where Bernice’s father was pastor of both congregations. 

Myra said Carl was one of the most faithful and sincere persons she ever met.

Carl and Bernice were married Dec. 7, 1947, and their honeymoon to Key West was one of many trips they would take together throughout their lives. In 1951, with two young children, one tractor and a handful of cows they moved to the Merriman Farm on Transit Road, where they lived for the last 70 years.

Founder of CY Farms, Carl was known for his progressive farming and was active in both farm and community affairs. He was past president of Genesee County Farm Bureau, treasurer of Upstate Milk Cooperative and was named the “Outstanding Young Farmer of New York State” by the Jaycees.

A lifelong Republican, Carl was friends with the late NY Congressman Barber Benjamin Conable Jr. and helped him win his first election.

Along with Bernice, Carl was active in the campaign to establish Genesee Community College and he served on the board of Genesee Valley BOCES.

The Elba Presbyterian Church was an important part of Carl’s life, where he served on the session for 18 years of their 70-year membership.

The Yunkers had five children, including the youngest, Heidi Yunker Dorpfeld, of Medina/Middleport, who shared memories of her dad.

“My dad embraced me with absolute, unconditional love,” Dorpfeld said. “Even when I failed, he believed it was just another opportunity to grow. He supported me and my siblings in any endeavors we decided to pursue, which game me the drive to thrive.

"I watched him embrace life with positivity and perseverance. My dad reflected the love of God by intentionally looking for good in every person he encountered, believing man is created in God’s own image. I’m thankful to have been a part of his life and the legacy he is leaving us.”

Surviving with Dorpfeld are Carl’s wife, Bernice, who is receiving nursing care at home; children Gail (Bruce) Bartlett, of Baja California Sur, Mexico; Craig (Kimberly) Yunker, of Elba; Cyrus Yunker, of Virginia: Joy (Mark) Mistur, of Ohio; 16 grandchildren; and 13 great-grandchildren.

There are no calling hours. Private graveside services will be held at the convenience of the family in Springvale Cemetery, Elba.

A public memorial service will take place in the summer at Elba Presbyterian Church. Memorials may be made to Elba Presbyterian Church, 23 N. Main St., Elba; HomeCare and Hospice of Genesee County; or the Yunker Family Fund for Excellence at Cornell University, #0002768, Ithaca, NY 14850. 

Arrangements were completed by H.E. Turner and Co. Funeral Home. 

For Carl Yunker's obituary, click here.

Previously: CY Farms grew from the good land

File photo of Bernice and Carl Yunker from 2013.

Hand sanitizer for the ag community available at no cost, register by 4 p.m. Monday

By Billie Owens

Press release:

Cornell Cooperative Extension of Genesee County is pleased to partner with New York State Agriculture and Markets, CY Farms LLC, and Genesee County Farm Bureau to provide New York State hand sanitizer at no cost to the ag community in Genesee County.

Please register by 4 p.m. on Monday, May 18.

Distribution will take place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Tuesday, May 19 at the local Cornell Extension office, 420 E. Main St., Batavia.

Genesee County production farms of any type are encouraged to participate, along with farm stands, CSAs, greenhouses and U-pick operations.

The goal is to support safe and healthy workplace practices to keep our agriculture workforce strong.

Liquid hand sanitizer is available by the case -- 4 gallons to a case (with a pump). This is a liquid, not a gel.

For ease of use, businesses may decide to purchase small spray bottles for daily use and refill them from the gallon jug.

Please note that this is a 75-percent alcohol-based liquid gel. It is highly flammable. Keep away from heat, hot surfaces, sparks, open flames and other ignition sources. No smoking. It is not drinkable.

Farms interested in picking up hand sanitizer should complete the online registration here.

Include farm contact information, requested quantity and time slot for pick up (to limit wait times and traffic). 

Quantities may be adjusted before pick up to ensure adequate supplies are available to as many farms as possible.

Details for picking up:

  • Stay in your vehicle and wait for a staff member to direct you to the pick-up area;
  • Whoever is picking up the sanitizer for your farm will need to wear their own face covering and load the cases of sanitizer into their vehicle;
  • If you are getting more than one case, consider bringing a handcart;
  • Please maintain social distancing when picking up;
  • Staff will need to collect some information from you before you can pick up the sanitizer.

Supplies are limited.

The suggested guidelines for each farm are:

  • 1-6 employees: 1 case
  • 7-15 employees: 2 cases
  • 15 plus: 3 – 4 cases

Crop production manager for CY Farms wins statewide award from Farm Bureau

By Howard B. Owens


Emmaline Long didn't grow up on a farm, but she grew up loving everything about farming. She always wanted to work in agriculture and after graduating from Cornell University with a degree in Agricultural Sciences, Long landed what she describes as her dream job, crop production manager for CY Farms in Elba.

The 2008 graduate of Byron-Bergen High School has a passion for farming that goes beyond just her job. She is chair of the New York 4-H Foundation, co-chair of the Genesee County Young Farmers and Ranchers and serves on the precision agriculture advisory committee at Genesee Community College.

All this passion, all this dedication to farming is why she received the Excellence of Agriculture Award from the New York Farm Bureau at its statewide convention last week.

The award is given annually to a person between the ages of 18-36 who derives most of his or her income from agriculture but doesn't own a farm.

She describes the award as humbling.

"Because I’m passionate about a lot of things, it’s nice to be recognized for the things I have been doing, and that putting myself out there and being a leader doesn’t go unnoticed," Long said.

Although Long didn't grow up on a farm, farming was always part of her life. Her dad had owned a dairy farm before she was born and she and her parents always worked their garden and her dad would ride her around in his lap on their tractor. In high school, she started raising a rare, heritage breed of sheep, Lincoln longwools. She was a member of 4-H and competed annually at the Genesee County Fair.

"(Agriculture) is in my blood," she said. "I've always loved it. It's always been something I've been interested in."

She still has her flock and hopes someday she can make enough from selling wool to pay for her hobby.

Her job at CY Farms, which she started two and a half years ago, affords her the opportunity to be involved in a wide variety of ag-related jobs, from managing and planning what crops get planted where, and managing the nutrients they will need, to handling disease and pest control in an environmentally friendly way, plus handling all the ag precision data. She also puts out the farm's newsletter. 

“I found it difficult to find one aspect of the industry I liked more than the others," she said. "I like forage crops and I like vegetable crops and I like grain crops and I couldn’t decide what I wanted to focus on, so I was specifically looking for a farm to work on that I could get involved in all the different aspects of the industry."

She's currently working on her master's thesis for a degree in Animal Science.

When she first graduated, she kind of thought her career path might have her working on a farm for a couple of years and them moving to a job with another, bigger agriculture company, but she's found she loves being involved in the local ag community, where everybody knows everybody and supports everybody, and she loves working at CY Farms, so it's now hard to imagine moving on.

"I love the operation and the opportunity they've been able to give me, so it’s hard to look forward because I’m content to work where I am now,"

Next month, Long will find out if her experience and passion for agriculture helps her win the same title at the national level of the Farm Bureau. She will be among 40 candidates for the award when the national organization holds its convention in Phoenix.

Previously: CY Farms grew from the good land

Farmers bracing for lower profits in 2015

By Howard B. Owens

The outlook for farm profits in 2015 is far from sunny, according to media reports, and Craig Yunker, CEO of CY Farms, sees things much like other industry experts and economists who are predicting tight and declining margins.

Yunker, who stays abreast of agricultural markets and trends in the normal course of business, just returned from trips to California and Chicago, where he met with other farm executives and farm profits were very much the focus of discussions.

"We're looking at softer prices, tighter margins and a tougher year," Yunker said. "The good news is, farmers are in pretty good shape. Dairy farmers are coming off a strong year. The guys growing grain had good years when the market was strong. A lot of them paid down debt and pre-paid expenses going into 2015. Most farmers are strong financially in terms of balance sheets and that should help them survive these tighter markets."

Yunker is a member of the Association of Agricultural Production Executives, which is a group of 150 farmers. They just met this past week in California. He's also a trustee for the Farm Foundation, which just met in Chicago.

Much of the concern about farm profits is being driven by a recent USDA report, which predicts a 25-percent decline in farm income for 2015.

Corn prices have fallen substantially from their high of two years ago.  

In grains, the nation's farmers enjoyed record exports in 2014, but export revenue is expected to decline in 2015 (volume should remain roughly the same, but prices are down).

Globally, grain inventory is up, cutting demand.

The rate of economic growth in China is slowing, which cuts the demand for exports.

India has a big stockpile of wheat.

The strong U.S. dollar makes U.S. exports more expensive for other countries.

There's a glut of dairy products on the market.

While lower fuel costs will mean some savings, the cost of fertilizer hasn't caught up yet.

There's been no impact on seed prices yet.

With unemployment rates down, the labor market is tight, especially for truck drivers. Yunker expects that to push labor costs higher.

On the farm labor front and immigration, there are not as many immigrants coming to the U.S., so there are fewer available workers. As workers return to their home countries, or get arrested, or take jobs in other sectors, they're not being replaced by new workers. That will mean higher wages for the available farm workers.

A lot of vegetables grown locally go to food processors and those seasonal contracts haven't come out yet, so it's hard to predict what the prices will be, but Yunker said he's expecting prices to be softer this year.

There's a lot going on in the world that has a ripple effect on farm prices.

There was a huge worldwide onion crop last year, but the dockworkers' strike in California also means that onions that would normally be shipped to Asia are starting to flow East, so onion prices are down and dropping.

The weather has meant people are less likely to dine out, which has a big impact on cabbage prices, since a lot of the cabbage market is driven by what restaurants buy (think, for example, cole slaw).  

While lower fuel prices mean consumers have more dollars to spend, they don't typically spend that extra cash on more or better food or eating out more often.

"The benefit of lower fuel prices really goes to Walmart and those places rather than farmers," Yunker said.

As for ripple effects, the turmoil in the Ukraine could have an impact on corn prices. Ukraine is typically a big corn producer, but civil war could disrupt production, but worse for Ukrainian farmers is the deflation of their country's currency. Corn seed could be prohibitively expensive, so what do they do? Yunker wondered. They could dip into their wheat bins for seed and grow a lot more wheat, which costs them nothing. Whatever Ukrainian farmers do will impact the worldwide grain market.

"Those kinds of things are going on all over the world," Yunker said. 

The lack of a pipeline for shipping oil from the north into U.S. production facilities and ports has oil producers turning to rail. (Notice, there've been more oil tanker fires recently?) 

Haulers moving oil on rail means there's less capacity for shipping grain by rail, Yunker said. Midwest grain growers can't move their grain, so they're forced to lower prices.

The dock strike in California is having several impacts on ag prices. Milk powder, for example, that would normally sail to Asia, is being trucked (because rail cars aren't available) to the East Coast for shipment to Asia by that route. That's leading to higher milk powder prices.

Yunker expressed some frustration with how Obama is handling the strike, or not handling it.

"I don't understand why the labor secretary goes out there," Yunker said. "He's going to be a labor guy. He (Obama) should take a stronger stand. Trade is so important to ag. Ag depends on exports.  ... there's been no push for trade since Obama took office."

There was a time, Yunker said, when trade talks would be in the news all the time. The past few years, not so much.

"Generally, agriculture is disappointed in that," Yunker said. "We haven't seen any trade deals in six years. Now he's asking to fast-track trade, but the Republicans are loath to give it to him because they're mad at him for a lot of reasons."

The boom in farm revenue the past couple of years drove up the cost of farm real estate, Yunker said, which means some farmers are paying higher mortgages, and farmers who lease land are being asked to pay higher rents when those leases come up for renewal.

Predicting farm revenue with any certainty is about as trusty as predicting the weather months from now, which brings us to the weather. Another drought in the Midwest or an El Nino will impact crops and prices, thereby changing the whole outlook.

Local impacts both in WNY and everywhere there are farmers means car dealers will sell fewer pickups as cash flow for farmers tighten, and farm equipment dealers could see sales decline.

For the most part, Yunker thinks local farmers will hold on in 2015.

"There are players who will be really pinched because they don't have their house in order," Yunker said. "But for the most part, guys will be in good shape because they have good balance sheets."

Craig Yunker appointed to GCEDC board of directors

By Howard B. Owens

Press release:

The Genesee County Legislature has appointed Craig Yunker to the Genesee County Economic Development Center Board of Directors. His term will begin Tuesday, July 1, 2014.

“Craig Yunker was selected to serve on the GCEDC board because of his extensive business and agriculture experience,” said Genesee County Legislative Chairman Ray Cianfrini. “He has lived and grown a successful business in Genesee County and will be a tremendous asset to the board."

Yunker is a managing partner of CY Farms headquartered in Elba, New York. CY Farms is one of the largest crop farms in Western New York, growing turf, corn, wheat, soybeans, alfalfa, onions and green peas. The farm encompasses more than 6,000 acres in Genesee County and has been in operation since 1963.

Yunker is also owner of Batavia Turf, a turf farming operation in Batavia, as well as CY Heifers, a 4,000-head replacement heifer business that raises calves for local dairy farms.

In addition to running CY Farms, Yunker is very active within the community. He is the past Genesee County Legislature chairman serving from 1984-1991, and former trustee of Genesee County Community College. Currently, he serves as director of Tompkins Financial Corporation/Bank of Castile and is a trustee of Cornell University.

Yunker holds a B.S. in applied economics and management from Cornell University and a M.S. in resource economics from the University of New Hampshire. He resides in Elba, with his wife, Kimberly, and is a proud father of three children and has three grandchildren.

“We are pleased with the County’s appointment of Craig to the EDC board and look forward with working with him to advance the mission and goals of the agency,” said Wolcott T. Hinchey, chairman of the GCEDC board.

CY Farms grew from the good land

By Howard B. Owens

The third in our series on Genesee County farms and farmers.

The house was ramshackle. There were broken doors and windows that wouldn't close, but the land was good. Carl Yunker knew it was soil he could grow something in.

"I was after the dirt," Carl said. "I said, 'if I got the dirt, I'll get the rest.' This is good land."

He couldn't buy the 200-acre farm and its 30 cows, but he could lease it. He moved his family from Sheldon to a house without plumbing in Elba. It was 1951. The house was more than 100 years old. The Yunkers, married in 1947, and with two young children, would put down roots near the intersection of Transit and North Byron.

Bernice went from cooking with gas to a wood stove in kitchen with warped floorboards.

That first Thanksgiving, she was expecting 17 people for supper. The night before, a cat crept in through the broken door from the cellar into the kitchen and feasted on turkey breast.

The day after Thanksgiving, Carl built a new cellar door.

In the kitchen, paint was peeling from one wall. Bernice drove into Batavia and bought the largest Rand McNally map of the United States she could find. She bought a series of smaller state maps. She decorated the wall with the maps, she said, so visitors would discuss the state of the union rather than the state of the house.

"I said if she lives with me for a year, she will stay with me for good," Carl said.

Craig Yunker

Craig Yunker, the Yunker's second of five children, was born in 1951 in Sheldon. He was raised in the house on Transit Road.

Today, the house that was falling apart 61 years ago, is now the home of Craig and Kimberly Yunker. 

It's fully restored, of course. Inside, the walls are white and the floor polished hardwood. Left exposed are structural beams that were hand hewn in the 1820s by strong men with axes and chisels.

Carl, who turns 90 next month, lives with Bernice in a farmhouse built in 1900. When the Yunkers first moved to Elba, the Merrimans, who farmed the land before the Yunkers, lived in the newer house while the Yunkers lived in the older house. After Carl and Bernice moved in, Bernice wanted a little storage room at the back of the house fixed up to use as an artist studio.  Carl expanded the room and added a second level, giving Bernice all the space she needed to paint and draw and display her work.

When Carl and Bernice met, she was a preacher's kid in Sheldon. They saw each other for the first time in the foyer of a church.

"When I saw him, he was sort of looking me up and down one Sunday when I went into church and I thought, 'you young snip, you,' " Bernice said. "I thought he was 17 years old and he was 25."

Bernice Yunker

Bernice knew nothing about farming when she met Carl, but she's proud to call herself a farmer's wife. That's the name of her studio -- Farmer's Wife Studio -- where she paints and teaches art classes.

Bernice has been a member of the Genesee County Art Society for more than 50 years. 

Her favorite subject is trees. She paints and draws a lot of trees. Well, she paints and draws a lot. Carl said she's a workaholic when it comes to art. When she has five minutes, he said, she's in the studio working on something.

Bernice has completed thousands of pieces of art. Earlier this year, she threw out about 700 of her paintings.

Living on a farm, Bernice said, her children learned the value of work. The boys started working in the barns when they were 7, getting paid for their work. By the time they were 12, they were buying their own clothes.

"I don't see how the city people to it," Bernice said. "These boys were never under my feet because they were working."

After all that farm work, Craig wasn't sure he wanted to be a farmer. His mother dropped him off at Cornell University for his freshman year and that's when he told her, he wasn't sure he wanted to farm.

He read Jack Kerouac. As Dean Moriarty took to the road, so did Craig Yunker. After the first semester of his second year at Cornell, Craig  left on a six-month ramble across America. He drove a 1963 Chevy. He packed  a Mamiya/Sekor 1000 DLT camera. In Las Vegas, his car was done and he was out of money. He managed to make it to California and spent some time at a commune before returning to New York.

He came home and went back to Cornell. Craig has a degree in agricultural economics and a master's in resource economics.

Carl had gone from tenant farmer to farm owner in 1963. When Craig came home, father and son became partners.

All of Craig's siblings found pursuits other than farming. Gail, the oldest, lives on a boat north of Seattle. Chris, three years younger than Craig, is a military man and lives in Virginia. Joy lives in Troy and Heidi lives in Medina.

CY Farms is owned today by Carl, Craig, Craig's son, Christian, and P.J. Riner, who is now retired but for years handled the day-to-day operations of the farm while Craig managed the business and CY's growth.

What started as a 200-acre tenant dairy farm is now 6,000 acres of turf, corn, wheat, soybeans, alfalfa, onions and green peas.

How CY transformed from a small dairy farm to one of the largest crop farms in WNY is as much a story of persistence and hard work as good fortune, Craig said.

"I'd like to be able to tell you that I had everything planned out, but some things just happen," Craig said. "Our success is sort of a hybrid of luck and timing with some hard work thrown in, but a lot of it is just luck."

The big turning point came in 1986, when CY Farms was a 400-acre operation with 300 cows.

The federal government decided the country was awash in dairy products. The USDA wanted fewer cows and fewer dairy farms. The government set up a reverse auction -- farmers would set a price for their herd and the government would start with the lowest bid and buy up more and more herds at higher and higher prices until the target number of cows were purchased.

If farmers put in a bid, they obligated themselves to destroying their cows or exporting them to a foreign country.

"We submitted a fairly high bid and I was fairly confident that we wouldn't get taken," Craig said. "We only bid it because it's just one of those things where everything has it's price, so we said let's put in a number high enough that if we get taken we'll be happy. We didn't expect to get taken and we did. We were surprised that our bid got accepted, but we had already signed it so we had no choice at that point."

The Yunkers had a year to dispose of their herd. By contract, they couldn't produce milk for five years.

The story continues after the jump. Click on the headline to read more.

They were left with 400 acres of land. As Carl said, good land. Good soil. You can grow things in good soil, things like corn and peas and cabbage.

"I thought at that time, maybe we'll get back in the dairy business, but we never went back to milking cows," Craig said.

Carl Yunker made the right decision in 1951. He came to Genesee County because he thought the good, flat farm fields of Elba would give him more flexibilty as a farmer than the hill country around Sheldon.

Without cows, CY Farms became a crop farm and began to grow.

Carl was also working on his own plan. By age 65, he wanted to start backing out of the business and handing over more control to Craig.

Too many farmers, according to Carl said, don't have a plan for handing their farms off to their children.

"That's one of my big criticism of family farms where dad hangs on so long and doesn't give the younger generation the opportunity to develop themslves and move on," Carl said.

Family farms that cease being family farms have meant opportunity for the Yunkers.

There was, for example, a 900-acre farm -- including muckland -- that fell into the hands of four brothers. Four feuding brothers. The brothers sold off their farm equipment and leased the land to CY Farms.

Craig knew better than to sit all four brothers in a room and try to buy their land.

"If one guy liked this deal the other guy wouldn't like the deal because the other brother liked the deal," Craig said.

He was patient. He stayed friendly with each brother.

"It took, I think, two years, but I got that deal," Craig said.


It was a big deal. Too big for CY to handle on its own. To help finance the purchase, Craig sold off some of the land to a neighboring farmer.

The purchase included muck, good onion-growing muck. CY Farms added onions to their product line.

Next, they added grass.

Perhaps the biggest deal for the Yunkers was the purchase of Batavia Turf. Initially Craig was just interested in acquiring more crop land. Tony Peca owned 600 acres of farmland. Craig was thinking about the land, not the business.

Peca started Batavia Turf in 1960 and it was the original turf farm in New York. When the Thruway was constructed through Genesee County, part of the deal was Peca could keep his billboard next to the I-90. Batavia Turf has the only billboard in New York on Thruway Authority property.

"(The business) was very well known," Craig said, and as he dug into the particulars of the deal, he realized it would be a good thing to buy not just the land, but the business.

"We looked at it as an opportunity to expand," Craig said.

Peca's two sons signed on as Yunker employees to oversee turf production and manage the marketing for two years. They were paid above-average salaries, Craig said, to help the Yunkers break into the business.

"We didn't know anything about growing turf and we didn't know anything about marketing turf," Craig said.

Calves at CY Heifer Farm

The Yunkers, of course, as former dairy farmers, do know cows, and in a different way, the next CY Farms expansion got the family back into the dairy business. Rather than milk cows, they raise them for area dairy farmers.

The opportunity came to the Yunkers when Agway let one of its business units fall into bankruptcy.

A few years before, Agway managers decided one of the secrets of success for dairy farmers in California was the replacement heifer business. Rather than dairy farmers raising their own calves, there are whole farms that do nothing but raise calves for other farmers. Agway thought that might be a good business line in WNY.

The company picked land owned by CY Properities for the operation. Raising calves means manure. Manure means noxious odors. Cow odors can cause complaints from nearby residents. The Yunkers owned a plot of land just southwest of the mucklands. Up on a ridge, overlooking the onion fields, a bit isolated from residential neighborhoods. The wind carries odors away from any homes in the area and out over the farmfields. It seemed like a smart spot to raise calves and convert manure into plant food.

CY Heifers takes in calves from about 10 dairy farmers in the area. As they grow, they move through a series of barns according to size and age until they're old enough to be moved back into the farmers production herd. The dairy farms can concentrate on milk production rather than raising their own calves.

The 6,000 acres of CY Farms is divided among 60 or so parcels in Elba, Byron, Batavia and Stafford. All of the land is owned by CY Properties, which leases land to CY Farms, Batavia Turf and CY Heifers.

Each business unit operates on its own P&L (profit and loss statement), but farm equipment and employees are shared among the operations.

The morning managers' meeting

It takes a lot of coordination to manage the crops, the land, the equipment and the people (just under 50 employees total). Each morning at 6:30, Craig Yunker and the farm's five managers meet in a Mid-century ranch home that has been converted to office space on the southeast corner of Transit and North Byron. 

Meeting with Craig every day are Christian Yunker, Charles Augello, Chuck Barie, Mac Ewell and Mike Riner.

First topic each morning: The weather. Cold, rain, wind and sun -- whatever the elements -- will determine much of the work schedule for the day.  It's hard to plow a field when it's muddy and darn near useless to spray pea plants in the wind.

"Everything starts with weather and then you plan your day," Craig said.

The morning meeting is a time to balance priorities against available resources. There's usually more work than hours in the day or feet on the ground.

"There are five us every morning judging who needs what tractor, who needs what truck, who needs what personnel or this or that, and sometimes, you know, something has to wait," Craig said. "One man is going to be frustrated because he's got his plan, but there aren't enough tractors, trucks and people to do everything."

What crops are grown each season is planned out up to a year in advance.

Craig and his team make a P&L for every crop they grow.

"Each crop is analyzed on its own for its own profitability," Craig said. "If crops are not profitable in one year, that's normal, but if it's a trend and they stop making us money, then we stop growing them. We did that with tomatoes."

This year, you won't find any cabbage growing on CY property.  When the management team analyzed the potential for cabbage, two problems loomed large: The Affordable Health Care Act and the difficulty in hiring migrant labor.

Cabbage may grow again on CY Farms, but first Craig said he needs to be assured that employing more than 50 people won't drive up the cost of health insurance and he needs to know he can hire legal workers that won't get swept away in immigration raids.

Solutions to those problems, if there are any, will only come out of Washington.

Then, there's the price of corn. Last year and this, corn prices have hit historically high levels.

Craig's office is dominated by a large wooden desk. He has a bookshelf and filing cabinet. On one wall are original color pen-and-ink drawings by Don Carmicheal of the Old Courthouse and County Building #1, momentos of Craig's tenure as chairman of the Genesee County Legislature in the 1980s.


On the back of door, Craig keeps a poster of corn prices.

For more than 100 years, it shows corn prices fluctuating in a fairly nominal pattern, then there's a big spike -- prices climbed above $5 a few years back -- then prices returned to a fairly normal level.

Craig points to a spot off the chart and says, "now prices are here."

That would be somewhere over the $6 mark.

Six-dollar corn is another reason not to grow cabbage.

Last year's drought in the Midwest and this year's flooding in the Eastern Corn Belt have been good things for WNY corn growers.

"Last year we got prices higher than we ever expected and we had a very good year because of that," Craig said. "We forward-contracted our corn and sold a good portion of the next year's crop."

Near the corner of Route 262 and Ivison Road are a half dozen storage bins that glisten in the sun. They're made to store feed corn. Cabbage is a perishable crop and must be sold close to harvest. Corn can be stored much longer.

"The idea is to sell it when it's profitable and not when you have to sell it," Craig said.

Onions are a crop that must be sold at harvest, too. It's one of the most challenging crops CY Farms grows. Out on the muck, farmers battle wind, rain and weeds. It's no different for the small muck farmer or the big muck farmer. 

The demand for onions doesn't change much year to year.

As Craig put it, a restaurant isn't going to buy more onions just because the price drops. If the price is high, it doesn't suppress demand.

That can make growing onions at a profit a challenge.

Which is why Craig thinks CY Farms has an advantage with its 6,000 acres and more than half a dozen crops it grows. Farm managers can rotate crops, react to changes in the market and the weather and absorb, in most years, unexpected price fluctuations.

"One of the advantages we have over somebody that just grows onions is that diversity and that stabilizing effect," Craig said.

The production numbers for CY Farms in a typical year are impressive:

  • Corn -- 3,000 acres at 146 bushels per acre
  • Wheat -- 700 acres at 75 bushels per acre
  • Onions -- 100 acres, at 650 50-lbs bags
  • Soybeans -- 700 acres, at 44 bushels per acre
  • Alfalfa -- 1,000 acres at 12 to 13 tons per acre
  • Barley -- 40 acres at 60 to 70 bushels per acre
  • 100 acres of turf harvested per year

Batavia Turf grows more than 100 acres of grass per year, but it takes 18 to 24 months to bring grass from seed to sod, sliced and rolled onto pallets ready for delivery to customers from Pittsburgh to Watertown.

Jose Castanada and Katie Houseknect

With 5,000 acres available for crop rotation, the grass-growing business has benefited from being absorbed into CY Farms. One problem smaller turf operations run into is that with only a few hundred acres available, used year after year for the same crop, the sod is more susceptible to weeds and disease. 

Jose Castaneda manages the turf operation and Katie Houseknect and Chuck Hoover sell the grass.

"Jose makes it easy to sell a quality product," Houseknect said. "We do have the finest quality sod in WNY because of our quality soil. The emerald green color, the guarantee of quality, the fact that we can rotate our crop and keep the sod clean of any type of infestations makes it easy to sell."

The grass is 20 percent Kentucky Bluegrass and varieties of fescue. The fescue is more drought and disease tolorant than Bluegrass and helps Batavia Turf's sod keep its emerald green color even in dry summers.

Every day (except rain days) during the spring and summer, crews use a precision, computer-controlled grass harvester to cut and roll the turf. Grass is delivered to clients the same day or the day before it's scheduled for planting. 

Customers include homeowners, schools, landscapers, contractors and sports field owners.

Yunker is clearly proud of the role Batavia Turf has played in helping diversify the family business and add to its overall growth.

Running a big farm keeps Craig busy, but he still has time for himself. He's never lost his love of adventure.

In his office, behind his desk, is a large photo of a sailboat charging through the waters of Lake Ontario.

Craig Yunker with his Hemingway collection

Craig loves sailing. The man who once drove a '63 Chevy across America still loves to travel. And he loves Ernest Hemingway.

When Craig travels, he prefers to stay where Hemingway stayed.

Hemingway lived in Havana for a time, so Craig has been to Cuba.

When visitors enter the home of Craig and Kimberly Yunker, they find themselves first in a room with few pieces of furniture. There are a couple of paintings on the walls. To the back of the room is a floor-to-ceiling window that frames a green back yard. Yellow roses grow by the patio. On the south wall of the room, at the center of the house, there is also a cabinet filled books by Hemingway and about Hemingway.

Craig and Kimberly have three children: Christian, 33, Cyrus, 35 and Katherine, 31. There's a picture of their children with the Hemingway books.

Upstairs in the old farmhouse, Craig pointed to a wineskin hanging from a single nail pounded into one of the exposed, hand-hewn beams of a guest room. The wineskin is autographed. 

The skin is from Pamplona, Spain. Hemingway made many trips in his time to Pamplona. He wrote about the bullfights there. In "The Sun Also Rises" men drink wine from bota bags in Pamplona.

When Craig sojourned in Pamplona, he stopped in a shop to buy a wineskin. Craig spoke to his travel companion. He mentioned Hemingway. The shop owner exlaimed, "Oh, Ernesto!" The little man scurried to the back of the store and retrieved a photo. It was a framed print of the shop owner with Hemingway standing behind him while the shop owner signed a wineskin.

Next to the wineskin, hanging from that wooded beam is a photo of Craig Yunker standing where Ernesto once stood while the shop owner signed his wineskin.

"What do you like about Hemingway?"

Christian Yunker

"His sense of adventure. He was his own person. He lived his own life. I like his style of writing. It's straightforward."

CY Farms is a big operation now, and Christian Yunker is next in line to run it. Like father, like son, Craig is giving Christian increasing responsibility for the farm over the years, just as his father did with him.

Christian is also a graduate of Cornell. After college, he worked in New Jersey for six years handling farm loans for Farm Credit East. It was good experience. It gave him a broader knowledge of what it takes to run a modern farm.

Like a lot of sons, Christian admires his father and thinks Craig has a real talent for the business.

"He has the ability to deal with people and negotiate deals," Christian said. "He's much more of a big-picture thinker. Most of his decision-making is about five, 10 years down the road, which for some people doesn't come as naturally as it does for him."

Christian has two young daughters -- much too young to know if they'll take to farming.

"I want them to be successful in life, so I'm not going to presume anything," Christian said.

Looking down the road, Christian said, perhaps they won't run the farm. Perhaps it will become an employee-run operation. It's too soon to say.

So these days, while little girls play and farmworkers work, one of the favorite pastimes of Carl Yunker is sitting on his porch reading novels and watching the traffic pass on Transit Road. Carl figures half the traffic is trucks and tractors owned by CY Farms.

He said he's proud of what the little farm in Elba has become. He thinks it will be around for a good long while now.

"I hope it keeps going successfully, and I'm sure it will," Carl said. "We've got a great team of people put together. People are the heart of an operation. You've gotta have good people or you don't have much."

Authentically Local