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Wisconsin dairy farmer Dean Strauss, of Majestic Crossing Dairy, was one of three farmers in the nation honored for Outstanding Dairy Farm Sustainability at the eighth annual U.S. Dairy Sustainability Award ceremony on May 8 in Rosemont, Illinois. 

The Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, established under the leadership of dairy farmers and leading companies, recognizes dairy farms, businesses and partnerships whose practices improve the well-being of people, animals and the planet. The award winners represent dairy’s commitment to sustainability, demonstrating how transparency and ingenuity lead to sustainable and scalable practices that benefit their businesses, communities and the environment.

Judges evaluated dozens of nominations based on their economic, environmental and community impact. The independent judging panel — including experts working with and throughout the dairy community — also considered learning, innovation, scalability and replicability.

“We had many high-quality entries and winners who make sustainable practices a priority in their own operations,” said Suzy Friedman, senior director of agricultural sustainability at Environmental Defense Fund and one of this year's judges. “Even better, their leadership can spark positive change across other parts of the dairy industry with practices that can be replicated.”

Strauss went to Facebook to thank his business partners Sartori Cheese and Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin, employees and family for helping Majestic Crossing win the award and the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin (PDPW) for nominating him. 

"I like to say I combine farming and my love for business," Strauss said in a Facebook post. "Dairy Farmers are in the nutrition business. We do it socially, economically and environmentally sustainably. This is a tremendous honor. Our commitment to sustainability begins with taking excellent care of our land and our animals."

Farming efficiencies

According to the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy website, Strauss implemented an array of efficiencies on his farm from GPS-guided tractors, to more efficient barn lighting, to introducing a herd of crossbred cattle. 

Strauss said sometimes there is value weighing your options and making a calculated decision to try and do something unique and different.

Related: Sheboygan County Farm Bureau Ag in the Classroom field trip

Related: Majestic Crossing Dairy hosts Sheboygan County Farm Bureau Field trip

The 2,000 cows at Majestic Crossing Dairy are the result of a unique strategic shift when co-owner Dean Strauss began building a herd of crossbreeds. The cows are typically smaller, requiring less food and producing less manure.

Strauss said they started building the herd in 2004, with the goal to build a more efficient animal, a more sturdy, hardy cow.

"Our whole goal in things is trying to add more value, with higher components, higher quality," said Strauss in a phone interview. "Our whole goal is to add extra value to every hundred pounds of milk."

Strauss also adopted a GPS guidance system on his tractors and other machinery that helps identify efficiencies in seed distribution as well as reducing fuel, pesticide and fertilizer use on the 3,600 acres of crops grown to feed the cows.

"If you're in dairy farming right now, most of us are doing things right, but it's always trying to find the next 5%, 10% in efficiencies," Strauss said. 

With the GPS guidance they can "get things down to an inch with seed placement, variable rate shutoffs, not wasting seed, that saves us money," Strauss explained. "It saves us fuel if we're not overlapping."

They also do a lot of data collection. Every tractor has an iPad with corresponding equipment and they can track down time with machinery or time wasted.

Majestic Crossing Dairy also invested in robotic milking machines about a year ago that have reduced the farm’s water use by 30 percent, or about 20 gallons per cow each day.

In labor reductions with the robotic milkers, Strauss said they are "about 38-40% off." However, labor reductions alone won't pay back their investment, but it's the consistency provided by the robots.

"Day in and day out they are there. You don't have that worry," said Strauss. 

Also, Strauss said they look at the cost of labor in three to five years. Strauss said they look at "who and at what cost are people going to milk our cows."

The dairy participates in the FARM Program Animal Care and has recently completed the FARM Program Environmental Stewardship module to show customers and consumers that the dairy industry is taking the very best care of cows and the environment, producing safe, wholesome milk and adhering to the highest standards of workforce development.

“We are humbled and honored to receive this award,” said Dean Strauss in a press release. “In 2011, four families that had been dairy farming in the area for generations came together to form Majestic Crossing Dairy. This partnership has allowed us to support all four families, expand our sustainability efforts, and invest back in our community.”

For other farmers seeking sustainability during difficult times, Strauss recommends "thinking out of the box, different ways we can do stuff."

"How do we keep pushing forward, because we have to have that optimism ... A lot of us have been kind of beat up over the last while here," said Strauss. "If you need help, ask for help. Don't be afraid to ask for help."

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“Majestic Crossing Dairy is one of the most innovative and groundbreaking dairies in Wisconsin,” noted Shelly Mayer, executive director of PDPW, who submitted the nomination. “The dairy believes in keeping an open mind on new practices.”

The farm encourages its owners and employees to take time for their families and community activities. Dean is a board member of the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, serves on the Executive Board for the Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin Board, financial secretary of his church, serves on the township Farmland Preservation Committee and is past chair of the Dairy Policy Committee for the Wisconsin Farm Bureau.

Other winners

Other farms receiving the Sustainability award were from Iowa and California. Awards were also given for Outstanding Dairy Supply Chain collaboration and Outstanding Community Impact to businesses in Michigan and Detroit, respectively. 

Award winners represent U.S. dairy’s commitment to sustainability, demonstrating how transparency and ingenuity lead to sustainable and scalable practices that benefit their businesses, communities and the environment.

“This year’s winners show how innovation and creativity sparked by one farm, one person or one organization can have a ripple effect that goes well beyond their farmgate or front door,” said Barb O’Brien, president of the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy. “Each winner exemplifies our industry’s values. They demonstrate that caring for the environment, our cows and our communities is our heritage and what we stand for every day.”

Carol Spaeth-Bauer at 262-875-9490 or carol.spaeth-bauer@jrn.com. Follow her on Twitter at cspaethbauer or Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/carol.spaethbauer.

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