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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When People Think Cheese, They Think Wisconsin

Wisconsin produces 26% of the nation’s cheese, including over 47% of the nation’s artisan and specialty cheeses.

Eighty-six percent of consumers think of Wisconsin when they think of cheese. 

When people say they can’t find Wisconsin cheese in their store out-of-state, the issue isn’t that the cheese is unavailable, it’s that many people simply do not know how to identify Wisconsin Cheese. Wisconsin cheese is available in 98% of the nation’s grocery stores.

This is exactly why Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin (DFW), farmers’ marketing and promotion organization, created the new “Proudly Wisconsin Cheese™” brand and badge. The new logo improves Wisconsin’s presence on cheese packaging and increases awareness of Wisconsin Cheese in grocery stores.

The new logo, or badge, resembles a ribbon that represents the world’s most awarded cheese. Wisconsin Cheesemakers took gold in 58 of the 116 classes at the recent U.S. Championship Cheese Contest. And, at the World Cheese Awards, Wisconsin won more awards than any other U.S. state or country.

The awards create a halo effect on cheese. As proof, Wisconsin cheese was recently featured on CBS This Morning. The new badge was released with a new video ad and website. There are also billboards with the words, “The State of Cheese.”

I feel proud when I see the badge on cheese at the grocery store or on a billboard driving down the highway. Knowing that the milk from my farm is made into delicious, award-winning Wisconsin cheese makes me proud to be a Wisconsin dairy farmer.

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Sharing our trade secrets

Due to the friendly nature of farming, we tend to share everything about our businesses.

Farmers are unique in a few ways. If another farmer visits the farm and asks a question, farmers are sometimes too transparent. It’s our culture. We have a friendly nature and are trusting. But, usually I’m willing to share information because I know someone who knows someone. You feel like you are talking with a friend.

I enjoy that aspect of meeting farmers. It’s something long gone in most businesses. We are less than two percent of the population, and anything we can do to help each other is great.

We had people from four or five countries visit during World Dairy Expo. It’s a week we look forward to because there’s an internal aspect. I like meeting new people and having that interchange of ideas.

We share ideas and solutions. What I’ve learned is that the sum is bigger than the parts. If our farm wins, we all win.

The result of this helpful culture is that when a farmer has a tragedy, all of the neighborhood farmers stop everything to move cattle. You don’t ask questions, you just take care of it. There are a lot of neighbors around. We had a fire recently in our neighborhood, and when the police saw us drive in with our trailer, without questions they said, “You get the calves out.”

Farmers help farmers. Farmers bond with farmers. I can go to California and meet someone who knows somebody I know. It’s a small world in farming, and I’m happy to be a part of it.

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One year with the robots

This winter, we are analyzing a year of data to learn how to better care for our cows.

We now have one year under our belts with our robots. It feels good because we have a year of data to study, and this winter, we can dive deep into the data to analyze the results.

Milking robots are still new to all of us. For example, usually you get a 20-year construction loan from a bank, but lenders put robots on a 10-year life. Even the bankers had a learning curve. We believe we will possibly get several more years.

Even without analyzing the date, we have noticed some advantages to having the robots. Labor, feed and reproduction costs have all decreased, and water usage is down about 30 percent because cleaning the robots requires less water than our previous equipment.

We’ve had a lot of tours come through, and people love the robots. Recently, we hosted a tour group, and I recognized a woman who had been here on a tour two years ago. At that time, she expressed concern about the cows being milked three times per day. When she saw the robots on this tour and it was explained the cows get milked when they choose but four times a day, she said, “That’s so nice!” That made me smile because even though we know that our cows were very happy before we got the robots, I was glad to see she approved of our new upgrades on the farm!

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Our Christmas Wish: Above-Freezing Temperatures!

Photo of Majestic Crossings cozy barn
The cows are comfortable even on cold days, because the barns are
approximately 15 degrees warmer than the temperature outside.

When you own a farm, someone always works on Christmas. There are cows to feed and bed, waterers to check and calves to be born. On Christmas, we keep our fingers crossed that Mother Nature is kind to us. Warmer temperatures give us a better chance of fully-functioning equipment, meaning we can spend more time with family rather than fixing things around the farm. If a farmer can get through Christmas and New Year’s without bitter cold and freezing equipment, it’s definitely a more pleasant holiday.

As we all know, Wisconsin winters can be harsh. We have certainly had our fair share of bitter cold holidays where the tractor didn’t start, or the skid steer didn’t work because of the below-freezing temperatures. We work hard to keep things going, but if all else fails, we find a way to do things differently. When this happens, it adds extra hours to the day where we aren’t home with family celebrating the holidays.

One Christmas I remember very well was during the winter of 1998 when we built our barn. The temperature was so cold that we were only able to stop at church for a short time, and then had to go right back to work caring for the cows. Luckily, even with below-freezing temps, the cows are very content. Cows will typically adjust their caloric intake by eating more food in order to stay warm. This makes it extra important to ensure that they have access to plenty of food and unfrozen water during these cold winter months. And, those high-tech side curtains that allow a cool breeze to enter the barns during the summer months are pulled down to block the wind chill and keep the barns approximately 15 degrees warmer than the temperature outside.  

Christmas time may pass, but the cold weather certainly doesn’t leave us once the new year arrives. These below-freezing temps also seem to make appearances throughout January and February — for even a week or two at a time! As the winter drags on, the hours of work on the farm get longer, and all of us get more and more tired. In the bitter, windy cold, even the sound of the fabric of your jacket crinkles differently. One year during a cold week, I noticed a day where my jacket finally didn’t crinkle. It was still zero degrees outside, but there was no wind. I actually found myself feeling some relief.

There is something special about caring for the cows on Christmas — as long as it isn’t too cold. This year, I’ll make sure to ask Santa for a beautiful snow-covered ground and the sun in the sky on Christmas day. Happy Holidays, everyone!

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More Than the Cows

When people think of dairy farmers, oftentimes they only think of how we milk and care for cows. The reality is that dairy farmers also do a lot to care for the land. Taking care of the soil — a living, breathing organism — is a huge responsibility for dairy farmers.

One of the benefits of dairy farming (aside from the delicious dairy foods) is that the crops we plant help to protect the land. The nutrients in the soil are crucial for the crops. When the land is bare, it could expose the soil to erosion, and if the soil erodes, potential nutrients could go with it. Nutrients, like phosphates and nitrates, are essential for crop growth and nourishment. If these nutrients erode off the soil, they can go into the water supply, which isn’t ideal for aquatic plant growth or water oxygen levels.

The crops planted on our land — from cover crops over the winter months to alfalfa in the spring, summer and fall — hold the soil, including those essential nutrients, in place. The roots of these crops not only hold the soil in place, but also help to maintain the integrity of the soil. Also if we can provide a healthy soil, water infiltration is increased and the potential for soil movement is reduced. We are proud that by using cover crops, winter wheat and alfalfa, 35% of our land is covered. If we include the corn and soybean fields where we leave the stalks present in winter, that number rises to 45%.

Because we have livestock, it is important that we keep the land protected all year round to provide our animals with nutritious feed. To be able to grow the crops that we need to feed our cows, we need healthy soil. Not only are our cows benefitting from the healthy soil, but the environment as a whole is better off, too.

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