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.


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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