No One Does It Alone

This photo was taken at sunrise after the crew planted all night.
The planter and crew are folding the equipment to transport it back to the farm.

Farming takes a team. There are no true solo acts. My guys who work here are dedicated, and I can’t say enough about them. When we were planting, it would rain for four days and then stop. We would have to go like crazy. Some days we would head out to the fields at 5:30 p.m. and plant until 1:00 a.m. That’s a run.

We chose this profession, so I’m not complaining. I had a wedding to attend on June 8th and couldn’t help with planting. One of my guys planted for 23 hours straight. He sat in the tractor for 23 hours! Thankfully, our tractor is high-tech. It has auto steer, so you are basically watching monitors and gauges, which minimizes operator fatigue. Before the high-tech tractors, your brain would start to hallucinate staring at the line in the field for hour upon hour. Now, drivers can look around. It really helps.

Technology today has made farming less labor intensive, but you still have to put in the time. Remember to always say thanks to the people who got you where you are going. I have gratitude for my guys every day.

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Planting later than usual

Photo by Len Villano

We finished planting on June 22nd. We are usually finished 10 days to two weeks prior to that date. This spring, most farmers — like us — were three weeks behind schedule. 

You may have noticed how plants in your own yard didn’t grow as fast as usual this spring. My wife, Kris, manages the flowers in our yard, and now that it is warm, her plants have really taken off. While we all experience frustrations when the plants in our yards are not growing at their usual pace, for farmers, having our crops behind schedule can have a huge impact on dollars.

Imagine if you had hundreds or thousands of acres. Our first crop of hay that we feed our cows sat in the field and didn’t grow for two weeks. In farming, every crop we plant is scheduled on a deadline based on “typical” weather. We try to get a crop to full maturity before the first frost in the fall. Farmers don’t need a frost in the last week of September. That would be detrimental because it would kill the plants we feed our cows, and our yield wouldn’t be as strong. Wisconsin is technically a grain-deficit area to start with. If farmers have to buy grain to feed our animals, it is expensive. 

This isn’t simply happening in Wisconsin. Farmers in Illinois, Minnesota, Michigan, New York and Kansas are facing the same issue. It’s a major concern.

How will this impact you? That’s hard to answer. Milk prices may go up, but it is always a nutritional bargain at about $.25 cents a glass. Let’s hope we have a long growing season so we can keep it that way.

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My Dad, FFA and Farming

My Dad, Ed Strauss, receives the Outstanding Achievement Award for Agriculture from the Future Farmers of America, now called the FFA.

This photo was taken in 1967, the year my dad graduated from high school. In this photo, he is receiving the Outstanding Achievement Award for Agriculture from the Future Farmers of America, now called the FFA. The other person is receiving the Outstanding Future Homemaker Award. I feel honored to have followed in my Dad’s footsteps by being quite involved in FFA as well.

I was an FFA officer for three years and also served as the president of our local chapter. Just like my Dad, I was proud to receive awards from FFA. I went to our State Convention and received the State Farmer Award and the American FFA Degree, nationally.

I asked my Dad to tell us about the photo.

“Working on the farm always attracted me. I didn’t do sports. Instead, I preferred to go out to the barn to help milk our 50 cows before and after school. Farming and FFA were my extracurricular activities. I had a guidance counselor who once told me that if I was going to farm, he would write me off as a lost cause. It was different then — the agriculture courses at our local technical college didn’t exist. If you wanted to study farming, you had to go to Farm & Industry Short Course at the UW, but that didn’t materialize for me.

My dad was 35 when I was born and 52 when I graduated high school. He had a few health issues, so I stayed at home and helped on the farm instead of heading off to school to study farming. My mother’s favorite comment was, “The world will always need food so they will always need a farmer.” Her comment still stands true; however, the world of farming is drastically different than when this photo was taken.”

One thing that will never change: My love for dairy farming that my Dad and I still share.

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Farmers Practice Sustainability Every Day

Photo by Len Villano

Imagine if you weighed every bite of food in your kitchen. Then, you did everything possible to make sure every morsel was eaten to conserve costs. That’s what we do on the farm every day. 

We weigh every crop we harvest as it comes in from the field. Then, every day we weigh the wagon of mixed feed we give our cows. We compare feed input numbers to milk production statistics, while continually looking at the energy costs and emissions of how we grow feed, transfer feed and manage nutrients. 

It is important to farmers to be sustainable economically, socially and environmentally. Farmers are so far ahead in the U.S. on sustainability. Part of this is driven by a commitment the dairy community made to help accelerate the adoption of innovative waste-to-energy projects and energy efficiency improvements on U.S. dairy farms to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

I am on the board of directors of Dairy Management Inc., our national dairy promotion organization. At a recent meeting, I learned that the number of people making food purchase decisions based on beliefs is rising across all ages and incomes. People buy based on the company’s belief system. They call it “ethical eating.” Consumers believe ethical eating is sustainable eating. That’s why it is important dairy farmers talk about their sustainable practices. 

We’ve always practiced sustainability. It’s how we have continued to farm. Using technology like GPS, we are down to one inch of planting precision, which reduces fuel and seed costs. Last year, we installed Lely robots to milk our cows. An unexpected outcome was a decrease in water usage by 30%, equating to less than 20 gallons per cow per day. This saves us $30,000 – $40,000 in manure handling, plus improves nutrient density. 

We always need to look to do more with less. Sometimes our methods don’t work out and we change them again. Asking ourselves questions drives continuous improvement which makes us more sustainable. 

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How Fast Everything is Changing

I can look at my iPad and see someone on my farm driving a tractor through a field. I know how fast they are traveling and can message the driver. Photo of Dean Strauss by Len Villano

The world is constantly evolving and moving fast. The rate of change in business is incredible. There is 3-D printing of food. Your Samsung phone is now connected to the Samsung refrigerator and tells you when you need groceries. And, how we interact with the consumer keeps moving through social media. 

The same is true for farming. The majority of our equipment now has an iPad incorporated into it. When you log in, the iPad tracks your movement and time. We’ve come a long way since using a pencil and a notebook.

Another innovative method we use is a tracking beacon we put on the equipment, for example, in the tractor. When the tractor is pulling the corn planter and I’m off the farm at a meeting, I can look on my iPad and see that we are in the middle of a specific field going 6.2 mph. I can watch the icon move across my iPad and even message the driver if needed. We capture all the data to learn from it. For example, the data shows us what our down time is when loading or unloading. We always work to be more streamlined and efficient.

Fifteen years ago, we used a 90-horse power tractor, and we used to think a 6-row corn planter traveling 4.5mph was fast. Now, we have a 370-horse power tractor and a 16-row high speed corn planter traveling at 8.5 mph. If we are more efficient and gain just 30 minutes by doing something better, that can translate to planting an additional 12-15 more acres a day. Like any business, we have to keep evolving in order to get more done in a day and keep up with this fast-paced world.

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Dairy Creates 78,000 Jobs

March is Agriculture Month. I thought it might be a good time to look at what dairy means to Wisconsin, especially the jobs, taxes and economic impact. These numbers give us a reason to celebrate agriculture every day. We hope you’ll join us on Agriculture Day, March 14th , to recognize and celebrate the abundance provided by agriculture. We are lucky to live in the U.S.

WISCONSIN DAIRY BY THE NUMBERS

8,000 dairy farms in Wisconsin

206 dairy plants

78,900 jobs

$3.9 billion to labor income

$7.2 billion to total income

$43.4 billion to industrial sales

$2.14 billion in wages

$3.84 billion paid in federal taxes

$2.01 billion in state tax revenues

173,887 more jobs indirectly supported by the dairy industry through suppliers and the indirect impact of the industry’s expenditures

Source: International Dairy Foods Association and Contribution of Agriculture to the Wisconsin Economy

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