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

September 27, 2009

Bill Rowekamp is a dairy farmer in South Eastern Minnesota. His family farm, built by his grandpa in 1914, milks 275 cows daily to produce about 25,000 pounds of milk – that’s 95 pounds per cow per day. Rowekamp’s milk is distributed in bottles throughout the country and used in Kemps products like cheese, ice cream, yogurt and sour cream. Rowekamp has been farming all his life.

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

Agriculture is rapidly changing. We’re adapting new technologies to help our animals become more efficient and produce more using fewer inputs. We’re very computerized. We have computer records for all of our cows. Our milking parlor is computer operated. All of our financial records are done by computer. In our cropping enterprise, we’re using GPS to be more precise on the land where the manure’s going. It’s rapidly changing, and the pace of change quickens every year. 

What steps are you taking towards conservation on the farm?

On our farm we do a number of things. I would say one of the biggest things we do is use our manure as a renewable resource for fertilizing the crops that we feed to our cows. It’s sort of like a big circle. I produce the crops. We have 600 acres of corn and hay, and that’s what the cows eat. They produce milk, manure and meat from that product, and we sell the milk. Also, our cropping practices are such that we have contour strips, which is strip farming that follows the contour of our land. We’re in a rather hilly area in South Eastern Minnesota, and this helps reduce soil erosion and keeps nutrients from running off the soil. 

Are you using bovine growth hormone?

Yes. I started using it when it was cleared safe by the USDA and FDA and have had very good luck with it. It helps my cows produce more milk, makes them more efficient, and saves resources. It helps my bottom line too. Part of being sustainable is utilizing nutrients and the land in better, more efficient ways. In my herd, I haven’t seen any detrimental effects. My cows are highly tuned and highly efficient. 

How will dairy farming evolve in the next five years?

I think sustainability will be more important. The consumer is becoming more and more concerned about better practices. They want to know how their products are being produced and that they are produced in a sustainable manner. They want to feel good about the food that they’re eating. They want to know that the practices that farmers are using are in line with their morals or their code. I think that desire is going to keep increasing. 

What is your greatest challenge as a dairy farmer?

The biggest challenge other then financial, which is a big one right now, is finding good reliable help. In the past, it has been a challenge to find good help that buys into my vision of where I want my farm to go. Thankfully, I do have good help on my farm now. The other challenge is rising to the consumer’s expectation or rising to the level to help consumers feel good about the food that I produce. I want the consumer to feel that my product is safe and produced in a social, responsible and humane way. As farmers, we have to step up and meet these challenges.

What kinds of reactions do you get from consumers when they meet you in person? 
Consumers want to become educated about our practices, and they are seeking out valid information about how their food is produced. We open our farm up to tours, and it is extremely satisfying to have people from the city come out and see how we do things. People are just amazed that this is the way we take care of our cows. The American farmer produces the safest, most abundant, and probably least expensive food in the world. We do a very good job, and I think the consumer should feel confident that we do have their best interest at heart.

Bill Rowekamp will be just one of the many farmers featured in our upcoming Public Television special, Phil Lempert’s Food Sense, now in production. This interview is an excerpt from his story that is scheduled to air Winter 2009.