Danish farmers get whirlwind tour of Wisconsin farms, agribusinesses

John Oncken

The group of 17 Danish farmers and agricultural advisors landed in Chicago on Sunday June 23 to begin a whirlwind tour of Wisconsin farms and agribusinesses. The group were winners in a competition among regional agricultural advisory (Extension) Centers in Denmark aimed at developing the best plan to improve the outcome of both forage production and dairy production.  

The group was led by Mogens Stendal a retired national agricultural advisor who was well-known in the dairy cattle world (Jerseys) and had spent some time working at Voegeli Farms at New Glarus several decades ago and has been in the U.S. many times since.   

Farm visits

On Monday the group began visiting dairy farms with a visit to Mitch Breunig’s Mystic Valley Dairy at Sauk City where they viewed the near 500 cows and talked with Mitch and nutritionist James Bailey. They then moved on to Echo-Y at Loganville, where the farm’s heifers are grown.

Mogens Stendal, retired Danish dairy advisor, led 16 farmers and ag advisors on a whirlwind tour of Wisconsin agriculture.

In the afternoon the group visited an Amish farm near LaValle.

Tuesday the first tour stop was at Crave Brothers, Waterloo where they viewed one of the outstanding diversified dairies (2,000 cows and the nationally known Crave Brothers Cheese factory).  In the afternoon they visited the also  very well known Rosy-Lane Dairy owned by Lloyd and Daphne Holterman and partners Tim Strobel and Jordan Mathews and their 950 cows with  a 32,000 pound herd average. 

Wednesday began with a stop at Renk Seed, near Sun Prairie, one of the few  remaining family owned, independent, seed production and marketing companies in the midwest.

Saw 2,400 cows

Then it was on to Statz Bros. Farm, Marshall,  where they saw and toured the B-Farm operation where some 2,400 cows are housed in three 800 cow free stall barns and milked three times a day in a double 50 parlor.  Note — there are another 2,000 cows at the original home farm nearby. You will remember this site hosted Farm Technology Days four years ago and as recently announced will host the annual Farm Tour Concert, Sept. 26 with over 20,0000  visitors expected to gather at that same site in the same field. 

Of course the visitors saw the manure digester and a commodity shed of immense size,  They were led on the long walk through the facilities by Troy Statz  and office manager Amanda Jolma. I had a few moment to talk with Joe Statz, another of the owners, who said they still have 500 acres of corn not planted (of a 5,000 acre total) as of June 26.

Lots of ice cream

The group stopped for a pizza lunch at Sun Prairie’s Pizza Ranch where many had ice cream for dessert then bussed on to Sassy Cow Creamery for even more ice cream.  Sassy Cow Creamery is another successful dairy farm diversification as the Baerwolf brothers celebrate 10 years of Sassy Cow while still milking two dairy herds (600 traditional, and 200 organic). 

Construction of additional seating and serving space is underway as the creamery continues to draw visitors from afar  to enjoy the ice cream and buy dairy products. It’s a destination!

Erling and Henrette Futtrup (front), who milk 230 cows  with four robots and farm 600 acres, enjoy ice cream while listening to the Sassy Cow story.

The next stop was R & G Miller and Sons at North Bristol. This 450 cow operation was one of the first larger organic dairies in the state. 

Corn and bourbon

The last visit of the day was at Henry Farms, owned by Joe and Liz Henry at Dane, which has been in the seed production business for many years  but recently has achieved considerable fame for their production of J. Henry and Sons fine aged bourbon.   

Thursday the Danish group visited Next Generation Genetics, the beef farm owned by former  Wisconsin Ag Secretary Ben Brancel and his family near Endeavor where they talked about politics and government.  

Into the barn to watch the milking from the observation deck.

The rest of that day and Friday were spent visiting the UW Arlington Research Station, Dairy US Forage Research Center and DATCP.   

The formal tour ended on Saturday with a visit to the Dane County Farmers Market in Madison and a visit with Bryan Voegli and Voegeli Farm at Monticello where Stendal had worked some thirty years ago. The group left O’Hare in Chicago at 10:45 p.m. for the trip home. 

Top farmers already

A friend commented that “the Danes must have learned a lot from this tour.” I’m sure they did, but not because they aren’t already top farmers, which they are. Denmark has a long history in dairying and are as modern as U.S. farmers.

I talked with dairy farmers Rene and Tena Sondergaard who milk 170 cows (27,000 herd average) with three Lely robots and two employees. Erling and Henrette Futtrup milk 230 cows  with four robots and farm 600 acres. Both couples said they did more pasturing of dairy cows than apparently we do in the U.S. 

And both were enjoying the tour especially as they were hearing what our farmers were thinking and doing what they do. They agreed that  Danish dairy farmers are facing the same challenges U.S. farmers face — low milk prices (about $18 per hundred); labor shortages and environmental issues.  

Taking notes.

The Danish dairy  processing industry consists of the international dairy group Arla Foods and 30 smaller dairy companies, together processing 4.7 billion kg of milk from a total of 61 production plants in Denmark.

Denmark: home of Arla

Arla Foods is Europe’s largest dairy group and is cooperatively owned by Danish and Swedish milk producers, The Arla  group processes more than 90 percent of the Danish and two-thirds of the Swedish milk pool. The remaining 30 Danish dairies are evenly distributed between cooperatively and privately owned companies. The small dairies typically specialize in various product areas within cheese, butter and liquid milk production. A large part of their production is exported by specialized exporters.

Danish milk producers have seen major structural change, with production now taking place on a smaller number of larger farms. In 2010, the 4,100 dairy farmers each had an average of 127 cows. This places the Danish dairy farmers among the largest and most modern in Europe. More than half the cows are housed in new loose-housing systems.

One of the dairy producers said the largest herd in Denmark was at 3,000 cows with herd expansion proceeding across the country since the EU quota system was lifted several years ago. 

I suspect the group — although already known as top farm managers — did learn and enjoy — the same as have our many farm groups who have toured other countries over the years have done.  

I’m a bit amazed that the tour leader, Mogens Stendal could put together, from Denmark, such an interesting and varied group of places to visit: among them Sassy Cow, Cabela’s, Pizza Ranch, several malls and the array of top dairy farms.

I’m also sure that the ag advisors and farmers who were on the tour need a couple of days to catch up on their sleep after returning home. 

My ending thought: what will the world — or Wisconsin — dairy industry be like 10 - 20 years from now with rising milk production and continuing innovation? Just consider the changes in the last two decades. Hard to believe although I lived it and wrote about it.

John Oncken is owner of Oncken Communications. He can be reached at 608-572-0747, or email him at jfodairy2@gmail.com.