Kaukauna-based Milk Source LLC has been named the 2014 Innovative Dairy Farmer of the Year by the International Dairy Foods Association and Dairy Today magazine. The award was presented at the IDFA Forum 2014 in Desert Springs, CA.
"As third-fourth-generation Wisconsin dairy farmers, this award means a great deal to us and our families," said Jim Ostrom, a co-partner in Milk Source along with John Vosters and Todd Willer. "To be judged along with your peers and to win this award is an honor that would not have been possible without our committed staff of 400 employees and dozens of vendors who help us in all phases of dairy farming."
Milk Source was actually nominated twice for the 2014 award, once by Ben Brancel, Wisconsin Secretary of Agriculture, and once by David Crass and Anna Wildemann of Michael Best Friedrich LLC.
In his nomination, Brancel said, "Milk Source is a premiere example of how innovation has allowed this farm to strengthen dairy processing in this state."
"As a company, Milk Source LLC is constantly investing time, energy and resources in identifying and researching new equipment, processes and personnel to make its farms more efficient, its nutrients a more valuable commodity and its environmental footprint smaller," Crass and Wildemann wrote in their nomination.
Both nominations also noted that Milk Source is working on biodigester projects at two of its farms to produce green energy by utilizing cow manure to make energy and still be able to be used as a valuable fertilizer to grow crops. At Rosendale Dairy, the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh had built and is running one of the digesters while Clean Energy North America is building the other digester, which will be used to power a food processor a few miles from New Chester Dairy.
Mike Source has four dairy farms in Wisconsin, plus a calf-raising facility and a show cow barn. In addition, the company has a heifer farm in Kansas and recently purchased three dairy farms in Michigan.
Vosters says creating a culture of commitment and continuity is a key to Milk Source's success, noting that more than half of the employees at Milk Source have been with the company for at least five years. "This stable environment allows us to continue the care cycle that has been in place since my mom and dad started Tidy View Dairy, which is where this company began, with 30 cows in 1965."
Vosters noted this commitment is demonstrated through the yearly culture training that each employee goes through, as well as more than a half dozen other farm safety training and animal handling classes that each employee is required to take and pass.
Willer says the Milk Source way is to grow leaders from within and points to a number of workers who started their careers in the milking parlor and now hold director positions within the company or have moved up to be managers on individual farms. "Our yearly two-day, off-site, leadership training for our more than 50 managers brings together our best and brightest, our youngest and most experienced, and allows them a chance to share the best practices of the company."
While Ostrom is proud of the innovator award, he says "Many people do the same types of things on their farms that we do. As third and fourth generation Wisconsin dairy farmers, John, Todd and I have watched the industry closely and we have seen what works best and brought those practices to our farms. Without the help and guidance of others in the industry over the past four decades, what we do would not have been possible."
The Innovative Dairy Farmer of the Year Award is co-sponsored annually by the International Dairy Foods Association and DairyToday magazine.
The 2013 winner was McCarty Family Farms, Rexford, KS. Previous winners include: Sweetwater Valley Dairy Farm, Philadelphia, TN.; Brubaker Farms, Mount Joy, PA; Haubenschild Dairy Farm, Princeton, MN; Mason Dixon Farms, Gettysburg, PA; Clauss Dairy Farms, Hilmar, CA; Baldwin Dairy/Emerald Dairy, Emerald, WI; Si-Ellen Farms, Jerome, ID; Pagel's Ponderosa Dairy, Kewaunee, WI; C Bar M Dairy, Jerome, ID; North Florida Holsteins, Bell, FL.; KF Dairy, El Centro, CA; Joseph Gallo Farms, Atwater, CA; KBC Farms, Purdy, MO; and High Plains Dairy, Friona, TX.