The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

An alliance between The Lempert Report and The Center for Food Integrity

Dairy Farmer

Dairy Farmer

From the Farmer's Tractor

April 25, 2010

Will Gilmer, 31, is a third-generation dairy farmer in central Lamar County, Alabama. Along with his father, Gilmer owns and operates Gilmer Dairy Farm, which milks, on average, 200 cows each day on a 600-acre pasture and farmland. Gilmer Dairy Farm has been producing high quality, Grade-A milk since the early 1950s. 

How did you get into dairy farming?

With the exception of my college years, I've lived on the farm my whole life. I worked on the farm on weekends and during summers throughout high school. I returned home for a full-time career in dairy farming after I graduated from college in May 2001. 

How have your farming practices changed over the last 10 years?

We have adjusted several of our farming practices over the past 10 years. Whereas we previously planted our forage crops using conventional tillage, most of our crops are now planted using no-till or minimum tillage techniques. We still grow bermudagrass for hay and corn/sorghum for silage as we've always done, but we now also grow sorghum-sudangrass and cool-season forages (rye, wheat, ryegrass). These additional forages can be harvested as chopped silage or ensiled hay bales. These forages can also be grazed by our milking herd, which is something we do much more of now than in years past.  

We are also managing our cows' waste more effectively as fertilizer. We utilize soil tests and cropping data to determine where and how much we apply in order to get maximum use out of its nutrients.  

What is your greatest challenge as a dairy farmer?

Managing volatility, both in the price we receive for our milk and the costs of our purchased feed and inputs, is probably our greatest challenge.
How does a farmer know what a retailer will want a year from now?

Most dairy farmers do not sell directly to retailers, but instead to processors (either independently or as part of a cooperative). The processors take our raw milk and either bottles it or processes it into other dairy products based upon market demand. We market our milk through our cooperative, Dairy Farmers of America, who in turn sells our and other co-op members' milk to other companies for processing and bottling. Meanwhile, all of the crops we grow are used to feed our animals.

What steps are you taking toward conservation on the farm?

As I mentioned earlier, we mostly use no-till and minimum-tillage to reduce soil erosion and conserve fuel. More intensively managing our dairy waste as fertilizer also cuts down on the amount of commercially manufactured fertilizer we have to purchase. We further reduce fertilizer needs and build the soil's organic matter by rotational grazing.  
What kinds of reactions do you get from consumers when they meet you in person?

Most people seem to have a favorable impression of dairy farmers, and will ask lots of questions about it. I've been told more than once that I “don't look like a dairy farmer,” which is a great lead-in for me to educate people about what I do.