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

January 25, 2009

 Amanda Heisner, 32, runs a dairy operation with her husband’s family in Mineral Point, Wisconsin. Farming organically since 2000, the Heisners ship their milk to Organic Valley, where it is made into cheese, butter, cream cheese, cottage cheese and sour cream. They are part of the Discovery Farm system in Wisconsin, a research program that evaluates farming practices aimed at reducing pollution while protecting profitability.

How did you get into dairy farming?

My husband Adam's father, Jim, had been a part of the Low-Input Sustainable Agriculture (LISA) movement and had been pasture raising their dairy animals for a number of years prior to the conversion to organic agriculture. Adam returned to his parent's farm in the summer of 1999, and in 2000, the decision was made to switch to organic due to the stable milk price and sustainable practices. Adam is partnered with his father and brother in the dairy operation. His younger brother is also now working as an employee on the farm.

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

We will be reaching our 10-year anniversary of organic farming in 2010. The change to organic allowed us to support three families with our modest 100 head herd. We have been able to modernize, including retro-fitting a dairy parlor into our old stanchion barn. We have added more modern equipment to our machinery line and have built winter housing for our cattle in the form of a free-stall barn. 

How will dairy farming evolve in the next five years?

Conventional farmers and organic farmers will continue to face challenges in the next five years. Organic consumer demand continues to grow year after year. We will be challenged by keeping up with this demand. Consumers, both conventional and organic, are becoming more interested in where and how their food is raised. Dairy will continue to evolve to allow consumers more access to products they demand.

What is your greatest challenge as a dairy farmer?

Our biggest challenge as young dairy farmers is balancing family life and farm life. We do our best to incorporate our children into our business, particularly in the summer. We have been blessed to be able to watch their love of dairy farming grow as they have. We definately want to pass that passion on to our children.

How does a farmer know what a retailer will want a year from now?

We are fortunate to be members of the CROPP cooperative, formed by farmers for farmers. We leave the marketing and forecasting to our talented employees at the co-op. Adam's father taught us a long time ago that farming is a full-time job, and marketing would be another. We decided that we had enough on our plate, and that was part of the reason we joined CROPP.

What steps are you taking toward conservation on the farm?

We have had our farm open to researchers who are looking at best conservation practices since 2001. We apply organic fertilizer in accordance with our Nutrient Management Plan. We practice rotational grazing, which allows the pastures to have resting periods. We always look for ways to get the most from the natural resources on our farm.

What kinds of reactions do you get from consumers when they meet you in person?

When I am out and about, shopping in Madison, and I see consumers with Organic Valley products in their cart, I often share with them that we ship our milk to Organic Valley. Consumers are generally full of questions, which we gladly answer. We also have a number of people who ask to come out to the farm and see how we operate. We are always glad to open our farm and share our passion for agriculture.