Young farmers see big opportunities

Alyssa Bloechl
Now Media Group


Agriculture is offering a lifetime of opportunities for one Door County farm family. The Brey family of Cycle Farm outside of Sturgeon Bay showcases how the Wisconsin ag industry provides room for many talents.

Owners of the farm Tony and Jacob Brey are working with their parents, Bill and Clarice, to transition from one generation of the next. Tony has been managing the homestead for the last eight years, and Jacob joined him after college graduation.

Each sibling brings a different set of qualities to the farm, including the skills and agricultural backgrounds of their wives.

Tony, 31, his wife Moriah, 35, Jacob 25, and his wife Lauren, 25, are all graduates of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. All four young professionals also graduated with bachelor degrees in an agriculture-related field. Tony and Jacob are dairy science graduates, Moriah has an agricultural journalism degree and Lauren has a degree in food science and life sciences communication.

Moriah is working as a senior corporate credit analyst at GreenStone Farm Credit Services. GreenStone is one of the country's largest rural lenders, providing financial services to the agricultural industry. Both of her parents grew up on registered cattle dairy farms, and they owned an elite herd of Holsteins and later expanded into cattle marketing and cattle auctioning. Moriah was heavily involved with all aspects of the business as a child and young adult.

Lauren grew up on a dairy farm in Watertown, where her parents are still active in the business. She is currently working as a market development manager for the Dairy Business Milk Marketing Cooperative. With her work, she travels to farms all over the state working with members of the Coop while promoting agriculture and farming.

Jacob classified cattle for Holstein USA for two years after graduating. At the time Lauren was working for a cheese factory, and then they decided to settle on the Brey farm.

'We're all passionate about agriculture, which I think is unique,' Lauren said. 'It is nice we are all working for the same thing and have our different interests and skill sets.'

The Breys are all millennials and young professionals, and they are excited about all of the opportunities the agricultural industry has to provide for other young people. They not only want to grow the dairy, but to also continuously spread the word about what happens on their farm.

The Cycle

The generational transition for the Breys is part of the cycle of the farm's life.

The farm itself is named Cycle Farm, because Bill, their father, recognized that agriculture is all about managing the seasonal cycle from winter to summer, the market cycle from high prices to low, the life cycle of the herd, and the cycle of a farm family.

Bill and Clarice, who are semi-retired and still help out in the fields, have farmed at the family's Door County land for 42 years. Jacob and Tony are the fourth generation along with their sisters Christy, Angie and Katie.

Bill grew up on the farm, which started in 1904 by Bill's grandfather George Sr. The farm looked a lot different than it does now, with chickens, pigs, an orchard and many other facets that helped sustain the family. George Sr.'s father, Anton, immigrated to Wisconsin from Germany.

'Our parents gave us the opportunity to farm; they encouraged us to stick with agriculture by joining 4-H, FFA and showing registered holsteins,' Jacob said. 'They gave us responsibility and a hard work ethic when we were young.'

Jacob said he did not even know what he wanted to do eight years ago when Tony started managing the farm. Now that he's here with his family, he's enjoying the life of a farmer.

'We're young farmers, and we're excited about the future of farming here in Door County and Wisconsin,' Jacob said. 'The world population is increasing and we need to be here to feed them.'

The Farm

Black and white Holsteins are the only breed of cow visitors will find on the Brey farm. The registered herd, meaning they are all properly identified and genetically traceable, has grown to about 450 milking cows.

In recent years, Tony and Jacob made the decision to start milking the herd three times a day, which has increased the overall production. To complement more milk, they have also made educated decisions on growing different forages that are better for milk production and overall health of the cows.

Additionally, all of the cows wear heat detection collars, which are essentially Fitbits for cows. A computer system tracks when she comes in heat, meaning she is ready for breeding, and the system stores information about her parents, when she was born, if she was sick, when she has had calves and more.

They are also putting more emphasis on the genetics of the cattle, working to give future cows better immunity qualities.

For the Breys, they have made these slight adjustments, including the addition of the softer and cleaner sand bedded stalls in their barn, to put a stronger emphasis on cow comfort and care.

'We always take care of our cows, but if we can improve their lives with a lower likelihood of getting sick and living healthier, longer lives, we're going to do it,' Jacob said.

Teamwork on farm

They are very happy to be farming in Door County, because the proximity to Lake Michigan keeps the summer months more moderate, because cows, in their large size, prefer cooler temps.

Along with a group of professional family members helping on the farm, the Breys also employ outside specialists, including a cattle nutritionist who assists them in creating a healthy diet for the animals. To help manage the farm successfully and sustainably, the Breys work with a business consultant, and an agronomist visits the farm frequently to consult about the fields, crops and manure spreading.

'We are proactive about how, when and where we spread our manure so it is safe and prevents non-point pollution,' Jacob said. 'The people we employ help us continuously find ways to be good stewards to the land and do more with less.'

Cycle Farm has six full-time workers to help manage the dairy and work the fields. Both Tony and Jacob speak Spanish, as do some of their employees.

'Many of the people we hire were not raised on the farm, so they need extensive training about the job and all of the safety precautions we take here,' Jacob said.

The Breys see Wisconsin agriculture as a place for everyone.

'That's why we see such diversity,' Lauren said. 'Wisconsin is producing yogurt, specialty cheese, ice cream, organic food, beef and so much more.'

'It's not an easy career, but you get out what you put into it,' Jacob said.