Dairy farmers take Madison Magazine title of “Person of the Year”

Grazing cows on the farm of Sassy Cow Creamery in Columbus, Wisconsin. Photo by The Conscientious Omnivore (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Maggie Ginsberg-Schutz’s cover story in the November issue of Madison Magazine profiles the publication’s 2012 Person of the Year, the dairy farmer. She focuses on a few area farms in her piece, including Berry Ridge Farms in Waunakee, a family enterprise run by fifth-generation farmers Jeff Endres and his brothers, Steve and Randy.

Like most Wisconsin dairy farmers in the 1950s, Endres’s parents milked a barn full of about sixty cows. Endres, now forty-seven, joined them straight out of high school. When the brothers decided to band together to run the family farm they expanded steadily over the years, first to a hundred cows, then 220, and now 350. Another 350 or so young stock are housed in the old barn waiting their turn, and a sleek new free-stall barn and milking parlor with an upstairs office sit just up the driveway on the hill above it. Between the three men they’ve got nine kids; eight of them girls, all of them “very interested” in farming and two now old enough to study dairy science, one at UW–Madison and one at UW–Platteville. The brothers employ about four people on the farm, splitting the operation in three parts: Randy is in charge of the feeding, a process that takes four hours on a good day. Steve supervises the milking, now three times a day instead of two, just as in many modern dairies, since they built the parlor. Jeff is in charge of the crops.

As Ginsberg-Schutz continues,

The number of dairy farms in Wisconsin has shrunk dramatically in recent decades, from 30,000–40,000 statewide to fewer than 11,000 today. Many smaller farms have closed or consolidated into larger operations but, despite public perception, remain family owned and operated. In fact, almost ninety-nine percent of dairy farms in Dane County are family owned. Some of them have just gotten really, really big.

Luckily—or, more accurately, deliberately—Wisconsin’s agricultural infrastructure, a thick web of independent farmers, agribusiness, governmental agencies, cooperatives, producer groups and a land-grant university system with a farming mandate, is built to withstand change and support a steady evolution. And guys like Endres are at the forefront of innovative practices credited with cleaning up the county for everybody, including restoring Madison’s lakes—most of the time at great personal expense—all the while running complex, locally owned businesses in a multibillion-dollar industry that’s helping keep Wisconsin afloat through an ugly economic time.

It’s quite a nice (and lengthy) piece that touches on everything from the economic strain posed by the weather this past year to (as the quote above suggests) efforts by some farmers to be active stewards of our area waterways . Find the full article on newsstands now or online.

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