Dairy Farmer: Bremer Farms
From the Farmer's Tractor
July 30, 2014
Janet Bremer, 59, owns and operates Bremer Farms with her husband John and John’s parents Roy and Karen. Their children, Sara and Michael, live and work on the farm as well. Sara, Michael and Janet also work off the farm. When Janet is not farming, she is an educator working with students who struggle with reading and math. The Bremer’s own 270 acres and rent additional acreage. They milk 130 Holstein dairy cows, and also raise calves that will become part of their milking herd when they get old enough. Their bulls are sold as feeder cattle and they raise some steers for beef.
How did you get into farming?
I come from a farming family. Both sets of my grandparents and all my aunts and uncles were farmers. I am proud to say I am a sixth generation farmer. I have lived on a farm all my life. I grew up on a chicken and dairy farm and as a teen I remember saying, “I’ll never marry a farmer. Farmers work long hours, and rarely get a day off.” I always knew that farming was a gratifying and fulfilling way of life, but it wasn’t until I became older that I realized that the long hours are what brought that gratification. As the saying goes, “never say never.” Farmer John and I were married 30 years ago. I truly believe it was his commitment and enthusiasm of farming that brought us together.
How have your farming practices changed over the last 10 years?
Change is a constant in dairy farming. Over the past several years we have added additional irrigation for our cropland. Much of our rental acreage was sold by its owner for development, so additional irrigation was added to our property allowing for better production using less land.
Change has also happened in our milking herd. We have increased the size of our herd and because of this we remodeled our milking parlor five years ago. Two people used to milk 6 cows at a time, and now we milk sixteen cows, still with only two people. Remodeling also brought more efficient milking equipment. We also added a plate cooler system which aides in cooling the milk before it reaches the bulk milk tank. This saves on the energy needed to rapidly cool the milk, and the water used for cooling is then recycled as water for our cows to drink. Sustainability is very important to us.
Another change is feed storage. We recently demolished our 3 silos and replaced them with a bunker system. This form of storage preserves the feed better and is also a safer working environment for us.
Technology is always improving the way we farm. Whether it be how we determine what or how much to plant, or the proper feed quantities and proportions for our animals, technology factors in. Social media has also become an important part of farming. It gives us easy access to other farmers to “compare notes” on farming practices that do and do not work. It helps us to form a network of co-workers, similar to what you would find in other occupations. As a dairy farmer I also use social media to teach consumers about farm life and how their food gets to their family. Since most folks are now several generations removed from farming, many consumers are curious about what goes on at a farm, and how their food is produced. Social media gives us an opportunity to be transparent about our practices and reach consumers.
How will farming evolve in the next five years?
In regards to our farm, specifically, I don’t foresee a lot of changes over the next 5 years. What I do see is improvements in our farm. We are in a situation where our children have careers away from the farm – careers that they love, and I feel blessed as a parent that they are happy. But because of their careers, our children will probably not be full-time dairy farmers, planning to take over the family farm. Their career decisions, and my husband’s aging parents affect our future planning of the farm. John and I have begun making changes to make our day less labor intensive. Machinery purchases are made, buildings are remodeled, projects are completed, part-time help is hired, all with the goal of “working smarter, not harder.” We love what we do, and we have no plans of retiring any time soon, so we are making changes to our farm to make this possible.
What is your greatest challenge as a farmer?
Our greatest challenge is the weather. I think most farmers would agree. It is a part of farming that we have no control over, but it affects everything we do. We grow everything we feed to our animals, so proper conditions for growing are vital. Since losing our additional rental acreage to development, we can no longer plant extra crops in hopes of selling the excess at the end of harvest, or using it to feed our animals if the crop is poor. We no longer have that buffer so everything planted is needed. Irrigation has been a huge help, but of course we would rather have the rain than pay for the electricity to run the irrigators. Besides rainfall, our Minnesota winter weather can be challenging too. Cold winter weather requires additional care for our animals, additional feed, and additional bedding to keep them comfortable, which is our number one goal!
How does a farmer know what a retailer will want a year from now?
Our milk is sold to Dairy Farmers of America (DFA), a member owned cooperative. We rely on DFA to research what and how much of our products are needed. They also work on what the foreign market will be purchasing. The past few years, fluid milk consumption has been down slightly, however consumption of other dairy foods has been up, so DFA also looks at developing new products as well. Dairy farmers are fortunate since dairy can be consumed in so many different forms!
What steps are you taking toward conservation on the farm?
Our crops are rotated between corn, alfalfa, and oats to assist in weed and pest control, and to rebuild the organic matter in the soil. Due to our irrigation, we are getting the best yield possible while using the least amount of acreage. We recycle the cow manure, using it as natural fertilizer for our crops. We follow federal, state and local regulations on how manure is applied to the cropland, so the nutrients are absorbed by crops, rather than the ground water. We live and work on our farm, so it’s important to protect the land, water, and air for our animals, family, surrounding communities and future generations too.
Do you sell any of your products locally, and if so, what is the process?
We do not directly sell any products locally. Our milk, which is sold to Dairy Farmers of America (DFA), is currently contracted to be sold to Land O’Lakes in Woodbury, Minnesota. The milk is picked up from our farm by tanker truck every other day and delivered to Land O’Lakes. There it is packaged as fluid milk, or other dairy foods and delivered to your grocery store within two days!
What kinds of reactions do you get from consumers when they meet you in person?
Mostly surprise! Since only about 2% of Americans are now farmers, most people are surprised to hear I am one of the 2%. Also, because I work off the farm as well, I hear, “You live on a farm? What kind of animals do you have?” I feel it is a responsibility of farmers to teach people about what we do. If we don’t want consumers to latch on to misinformation, then we as farmers need to supply consumers with outlets to learn about farming, and their food, directly from us. I do many school presentations, conduct farm tours, and talk “dairy” to anyone who will listen. I also share our story through my blog MyBarnyardView.blogspot.com and @mybarnyardview on Twitter and Pinterest.