Koppenol Dairy Farm was honored by MMPA at the 101st Annual State Delegate Meeting on March 23 for producing the highest quality milk in the cooperative. From left: MMPA Member Representative Joe Packard, Alan and Deborah Koppenol, MMPA President Ken Nobis and MMPA Director of Member Services Dean Letter.

LANSING, Mich.—Koppenol Dairy Farm of Coopersville, Michigan were named Michigan Milk Producers Association’s (MMPA) Top Quality Award Winners at MMPA’s annual meeting in Lansing on March 23, 2017.

Alan and Deborah Koppenol run a 195-cow dairy that obtained the highest quality records in 2016 among the nearly 1,200 farms belonging to MMPA. To qualify, a producer must meet MMPA’s quality premium requirements for an entire year.

The Koppenols stress prevention first over treatment to ensure the health of their herd and maintain high quality milk. They have always taken extreme personal pride in producing high quality milk.

Since 1990, MMPA has recognized the farm that produces the highest quality milk for the year. “It takes commitment by everyone on the farm to meet MMPA’s quality premium levels every month of the year,” says Dean Letter, MMPA director of member services.

Koppenol Dairy Farm was featured in the April issue of the Michigan Milk MessengerRead more »

MMPA—established in 1916—is a member owned and operated dairy cooperative serving approximately 2,000 dairy farmers in Michigan, Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin.

MORE ABOUT THE ANNUAL MEETING

MMPA recognizes 35- and 50-year members

During the MMPA annual meeting on March 23, 35- and 50-year members shared stories and words of advice about their membership with the cooperative through the years.

LANSING, Mich.—Twenty-three MMPA members were recognized with 35 or 50 year member awards at the MMPA 101st Annual State Delegate Meeting, March 23, 2017. MMPA has traditionally recognized 35-year members and last year added the new MMPA Milestone award to honor those holding membership for 50 years.

MMPA President Ken Nobis congratulated and praised the 35-year members for their dedication to the cooperative: “We commend you for your dedication and loyalty to MMPA and the dairy industry over the years.”

After the 35-year members were recognized, Nobis recognized the group of MMPA Milestone award winners who joined MMPA in the year 1967.

A video presentation showcased the vast changes the Michigan dairy industry has undergone the past several years and since these members began dairy farming.

The presentation highlighted information from 1982 and 1967, when these members joined MMPA.  In 1982, there were 6,046 MMPA members in who marketed a total of 3.4 billion pounds of milk, while in 1967 membership totaled 7,973 and marketed 2.6 billion pounds of milk. Today, MMPA has approximately 1,200 members and marketed over 4.8 billion pounds of milk in the 2016 fiscal year.

MMPA—established in 1916—is a member owned and operated dairy cooperative serving approximately 2,000 dairy farmers in Michigan, Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin.

35-Year Members

  • Kenneth Vredenburg, Alma Local
  • Albern Olson, Alma Local
  • Nelson E. Frye, Constantine Local
  • Gary Zuiderveen, Evart Local
  • Louis & Karen Fifelski, Kalamazoo Local
  • Jeanne Drummond, Mid-Michigan Local
  • Raymond Zimmerman, Mid-Sanilac Local
  • Richard Kaufman, Mid-Thumb Local
  • William Gruppen, West Michigan Local
  • Robert Gruppen, West Michigan Local
  • Dennis Raterink, West Michigan Local

50-Year Members

  • Larry Crandall, Barry-Eaton Local
  • Robert Lee, Evart Local
  • William Stein, Evart Local
  • Larry L. Keinath, Frankenmuth Local
  • Ronald N. Keinath, Frankenmuth Local
  • Petzold Dairy Farms Inc., Frankenmuth Local
  • MSU Dairy Farm, Ingham County Local
  • Thomas Goodman, Mid-Michigan Local
  • David J. Lee, Mid-Sanilac Local
  • Harland Schultz, Mid-Sanilac Local
  • Leonard Schaub, Upstate Local
  • Darwin Huff, West Michigan Local

More about the Annual Meeting

LANSING, Mich.—The 101st Annual State Delegate Meeting of the Michigan Milk Producers Association (MMPA) was held on March 23 at the Lansing Center in Lansing, Michigan.

Ken Nobis, MMPA president, presented The Kroger Co. of Michigan with an inaugural Valued Partner Award and announced the donation of 150 gallons of milk per day for an entire year to the Food Bank Council of Michigan. The donation recognizes the 50th anniversary of Kroger’s Michigan Dairy plant in Livonia, Michigan and builds off last year’s donation in recognition of MMPA’s 100th anniversary.

Nobis also addressed the approximately 450 attendees with his speech covering the current issues facing the dairy industry following two “volatile” years.  “One thing is stable in our dairy world, and that is our co-op, Michigan Milk Producers Association.  Your co-op is financially strong.  Your board of directors is made up of 13 dedicated dairy farmers who are feeling the same anxiety that you feel and are always searching high and low for answers that will help us all,” he reassured members.

MMPA General Manager Joe Diglio demonstrated the co-op’s value proposition, offering reassurance to members about the vision and actions of MMPA.

“The dairy industry has always been subjected to volatility and unpredictability, however it is how we deal with them that will define us and how we move towards our vision. We have strong connections and brand loyalty that positions us well for the future,” Diglio explained. “We cannot rest on our previous successes alone, we must continue to share our message with others and provide our customers with a safe reliable food source that makes them successful as well.”

MMPA Treasurer Eric Frahm presented the financial status of the cooperative, reporting a net savings in fiscal year 2016 of approximately $6 million.

Business conducted by the delegates included the adoption of the 2017 MMPA resolutions and election of Mark Iciek of Gladwin and Kris Wardin of St. Johns to the board of directors in three-year, at-large positions.

Nobis recognized 11 individuals holding MMPA membership for 35 years. He honored these individuals for their commitment and hard work to the dairy industry and MMPA. Each 35-year member was presented with a plaque. MMPA also recognized members with over 50 years of MMPA membership with the MMPA Milestone Award. Twelve individuals were recognized with this award and were presented with a plaque at the meeting.

MMPA Board Member Corby Werth introduced the 2016 Top 10 Outstanding Young Dairy Cooperators (OYDC) at the meeting, including Darrin and Barbara Siemen, of Harbor Beach, Michigan, who were officially recognized as MMPA’s 2016 OYDC.

Dean Letter, director of member services, and Joe Packard, member representative, presented Koppenol Dairy Farm of Coopersville, Michigan with the highest quality milk production award. The Koppenols achieved the best quality records in 2016 among MMPA’s 1,200 farms. Along with a plaque from MMPA, the Koppenols received a $250 gift certificate for the MMPA Merchandise Program from Ecolab.

Michigan Milk Producers Association is a member owned and controlled milk-marketing cooperative serving over 2,000 dairy farmers in Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin and Ohio.

More about the Annual Meeting

Regina Kopera, Site Leader of the Kroger Michigan Dairy and Rachel Hurst, Consumer Affairs Manager of The Kroger Co. of Michigan accepted the Valued Partner Award at the MMPA 101st Annual State Delegate Meeting on March 23 from Carl Rasch, Director of Milk Sales at MMPA and Ken Nobis, President of MMPA.

LANSING, Mich.—MMPA today honored The Kroger Co. of Michigan with the inaugural Valued Partner Award at MMPA’s 101st Annual State Delegate Meeting. In conjunction with the award, MMPA announced the donation of 150 gallons of milk per day for one year—a total of 54,750 gallons— to recognize the 50th anniversary of Kroger’s Michigan Dairy plant.

“MMPA is proud to honor The Kroger Co. of Michigan today with our inaugural ‘Valued Partner’ award,” Ken Nobis, president of MMPA. “It is not just the supplier-customer relationship between MMPA and Kroger that is key, it is our shared values on joint initiatives that makes us proud to work with Kroger. From youth development programs to dairy promotion to crisis response, Kroger has stood by our side for 50 years and counting.”

MMPA dairy farms have supplied the Kroger’s Michigan Dairy plant in Livonia, Michigan since it first opened in 1967 and the two organizations have sustained a partnership that extends into a variety of initiatives. Annually, Kroger welcomes a group of youth on MMPA’s 4-H Milk Marketing Tour to the Michigan Dairy plant to help the students learn more about the dairy supply chain.

MMPA and Kroger have also partnered in dairy promotion programs through the “Pure Michigan” campaign and in-store promotions featuring MMPA farms.

Last year, MMPA and The Kroger Co. of Michigan partnered on a milk donation initiative to support Flint, Michigan residents following the Flint Water Crisis. The Pediatric Public Health Initiative lists nutrition as one of the evidence-based interventions that will optimize the outcomes. Dairy is one of the foods encouraged for families to mitigate lead absorption and so MMPA and Kroger worked together to bring over 24,000 gallons of 2% milk to families in Flint in 2016.

“Throughout the Michigan Dairy’s 50-year history, we are grateful for our relationship with MMPA and its dairy farmer members to produce quality products for our Kroger stores. The Kroger Co. of Michigan is honored to be recognized for this award today and proud to support the 150 gallon per day for one year milk donation,” Regina Kopera, site leader of the Michigan Dairy, said.

At the 100th Annual State Delegate Meeting last year, MMPA announced a donation of 100 gallons of milk per day for one year to the Food Bank Council of Michigan. “The 100 gallon per day donation in recognition of MMPA’s 100th Anniversary was so successful and well received that our board of directors voted to repeat it this year and add 50 gallons per day donation in recognition of Michigan Dairy’s 50th Anniversary,” Nobis added.

The milk donation of 54,750 gallons announced today will be contributed to the Food Bank Council of Michigan and distributed to their regional food banks which serve all 83 Michigan counties.  Processing and packaging of over 18,000 gallons of the donation will be provided by the Michigan Dairy plant in Livonia.

Kroger is recognizing the Michigan Dairy’s 50th anniversary this year with an event this August and in-store promotions on its dairy products.

The announcements of the Valued Partner Award and the donation were made at MMPA’s 101st Annual Meeting in Lansing, Michigan. Approximately 400 members and guests gathered at the meeting today to discuss dairy exports, recognize members, adopt policy resolutions and elect board members.

 

About Michigan Milk Producers Association:

The Michigan Milk Producers Association (MMPA) is a dairy farmer owned cooperative founded in 1916. MMPA serves approximately 2,000 dairy farmers in Michigan, Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin, handling approximately 5 billion pounds of milk annually. MMPA operates two SQF Level 3 certified manufacturing plants in Michigan and a cheese plant in Indiana. Products made at MMPA’s plants include butter, non-fat dry milk, whole milk powder, cream and condensed skim milk.

 

About The Kroger Co. of Michigan:

The Kroger Co. (NYSE:KR) is one of the world’s largest grocery retailers and the nation’s largest operator of traditional grocery stores, with fiscal 2016 sales of $115.3 billion.  Kroger  employs more than 443,000 associates who serve customers in almost 3,000 supermarkets and multi-department stores in 35 states and the District of Columbia under two dozen local banner names including Kroger, City Market, Dillons, Food 4 Less, Fred Meyer, Fry’s, Harris Teeter, Jay C, King Soopers, QFC, Ralphs and Smith’s.  The company also operates 784 convenience stores, 319 fine jewelry stores, 1,445 supermarket fuel centers and 38 food processing plants in the United States.   Recognized by Forbes as the most generous company in America, Kroger supports hunger relief, breast cancer awareness, the military and their families, and more than 30,000 schools and grassroots organizations. Kroger contributes food and funds equal to 276 million meals a year through more than 100 Feeding America food bank partners. A leader in supplier diversity, Kroger is a proud member of the Billion Dollar Roundtable and the U.S. Hispanic Chamber’s Million Dollar Club.

Incorporated in Michigan in 1909 and headquartered in Novi, The Kroger Co. of Michigan includes 19,000 associates, 126 Kroger stores, 75 fuel centers, 104 pharmacies and the Michigan Dairy.

 

More about the Annual Meeting

NOVI, Mich.—Michigan Milk Producers Association recently paid $1.6 million in cash patronage refunds to its dairy farmer member-owners. This cash allocation represents 100 percent of the farm supply earnings and 25 percent of the milk marketing earnings. All members who marketed milk through MMPA for fiscal year 2016 received a portion of the allocation.

MMPA members received other cash payments in April 2016 of $4 million through retirement of half of the cooperative’s 2007 equities. With the current payment of $1.6 million, cash payments in the last 10 months total over $5.6 million.

“The nearly $6 million in patronage refunds and equity retirements we’ve recently returned to our member-owners speak to the financial viability of MMPA,” Joe Diglio, MMPA general manager said. “The earnings generated by the cooperative demonstrates our commitment to returning value back to its dairy farmer member-owners.”

Cash patronage funds and equity allocations are based on the amount of milk each individual member farm marketed and on the supplies purchased through the cooperative during the year in which the earnings were achieved. Under the current board policy, the non-cash balance of the equity allocation will be revolved back to the members in future years.

Michigan Milk Producers Association is a member owned and operated dairy cooperative serving approximately 2,000 dairy farmers in Michigan, Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin.

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Three generations of the Simon Family are part of the National Dairy Quality Platinum Award winning team (L to R): Emily, holding Theodore; children Scarlet and Kaine; Brent, holding Annabell; Therese and Larry Simon, with Larry holding grandson Jude. Photo credit: Hoard’s Dairyman

NOVI, Mich.–Twelve MMPA members were awarded National Dairy Quality Awards, including 50 percent of all gold awards. These MMPA members were among 44 nationally recognized farms in the annual award program. One platinum award, nine gold awards and two silver awards were earned by MMPA members.

“Our member-owners do their best each day to produce the highest quality milk possible,” Joe Diglio, MMPA General Manager said. “The 12 farms presented with a National Dairy Quality Award demonstrates the superior quality of our members’ milk and each farm’s dedication and commitment to excellence. We are proud to see their accomplishments recognized on a national level.”

MMPA offers a portfolio of member services to help members produce the highest quality milk possible, with field representatives working closely with each member to achieve quality goals. MMPA also offers a quality premium incentive for its members producing higher quality milk. Over the last five years, quality premium payments rose 37 percent.

MMPA’s large representation in the National Dairy Quality Awards underscores the hard work of the cooperative’s farms while competing against other well-preforming farmers across the country.

“The vast majority of dairy farmers produce high-quality milk. But, as with most endeavors, there’s ‘good’ and then there’s ‘great,’” wrote Corey Geiger, managing editor of Hoard’s Dairyman in an article about the award program. “It’s those ‘great’ herds that recently were recognized by the National Mastitis Council (NMC) through its National Dairy Quality Awards program.”

The winners were selected from a pool of applicants nationwide. The winning operations stood out for having produced high-quality milk consistently. Applications were evaluated for measures of quality, systems of monitoring udder health, milking routine, protocols for detection and treatment of clinical and subclinical cases of mastitis and strategies for overall herd health and welfare. MMPA winners were nominated by their member representatives.

The Platinum Quality Award winners were honored today during the National Mastitis Council annual meeting in St. Pete Beach, Florida.

The following MMPA members received awards.

Platinum Award

  • Larry, Therese, Brent and Emily Simon, Westphalia, Michigan

Gold Awards

  • Don Beattie, Holton, Michigan
  • Harold and Ruth Ann Dodd, Falmouth, Michigan
  • Randy and Cindy Dragt, Howard City, Michigan
  • Brad and Debbie Kartes, West Branch, Michigan
  • Ryan Litwiller, Middleton, Michigan
  • William and Kimberly Pirman, Skandia, Michigan
  • Robert and Mark Rau, West Branch, Michigan
  • Ken and Duane VanPolen, Marion, Michigan
  • Doug, Jake and Andrew Wirth, Evart, Michigan

Silver Awards

  • Michael Bosscher, McBain, Michigan
  • Rod, Lynn, Chris Daniels, Luke and Audrey Bischoff, Whittemore, Michigan

Michigan Milk Producers Association, established in 1916, is a member-owned and controlled milk-marketing cooperative serving approximately 2,000 dairy farmers in Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin and Ohio.

NOVI, Mich.–As a long-time supporter of Michigan State University (MSU) and dairy education, MMPA annually sponsors scholarships for MMPA members, their children and employees enrolled in the Dairy Management program in the Institute of Agricultural Technology at MSU.

For the 2016-2017 academic year, MMPA awarded 10 scholarships, totaling $23,250. The scholarships recipients were honored and introduced to MMPA members at the annual Leaders’ Conference on Nov. 21 in East Lansing.

The scholarship fund aims to assist young students pursuing a career in the dairy industry. Scholarships are awarded based on academics, involvement in the dairy industry and letters of recommendation.

According to the Institute of Agricultural Technology, the program delivers innovative, educational programs that develop career-ready graduates through intensive, practical learning and skill enhancement. Students in the dairy management program, advised by Dr. Joe Domecq, undergo a two-year, hands-on training program for careers in the dairy industry.

“We invest in scholarship and leadership programs annually to ensure a bright future for the dairy industry,” says Ken Nobis, dairy farmer from St. Johns and MMPA president. “We encourage young people to explore careers in this industry, and scholarships are a primary mechanism to inspire these students to seek careers in dairy.”

The following students received an MMPA scholarship:

Second-Year Scholarships

  • Shelby Berens from Holland, Michigan
  • Rachel Ekkel from Fremont, Michigan
  • Evelyn Okkema from Blanchard, Michigan

Second-Year Employee Scholarships

  • Zeke Breuninger from Dexter, Michigan
  • Seth Hulst from Coopersville, Michigan
  • Mason Smith, a native of Homer, Michigan

First Year Scholarships

  • Cameron Cook from Pewamo, Michigan
  • Morgan Luoma from East Leroy, Michigan
  • Casey Tebos from Falmouth, Michigan

First-Year Employee Scholarship

  • Hope McAlvey from Carson City, Michigan

Scholarship applications for the 2017-2018 academic year are due Sept. 1, 2017. MMPA offers scholarships to members or children of members attending Purdue University. In continuation of MMPA’s efforts to support youth development and education, MMPA is a supporter of the Michigan Dairy Ambassador Scholarship and Leadership program and the Michigan Dairy Memorial and Scholarship Foundation.

MMPA is a member owned and controlled dairy cooperative serving nearly 2,000 dairy farmers in Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio and Indiana.

 

mmpa-scholarship-students
Scholarship recipients were recognized at the 2016 Leaders’ Conference. Pictured, back row (L-R): Casey Tebos,, Seth Hulst, Mason Smith and Shelby Berens. Front row (L-R): Cameron Cook, Morgan Luoma, Evelyn Okkema, Rachel Ekkel and Hope McAlvey.

More about scholarships 

EAST LANSING, Mich.—MMPA announced the launch a new logo yesterday as the cooperative brings its centennial year to a close. The logo—which now only includes the co-op’s initials—features a modernized look, deeper blue and the addition of a cow silhouette.

“As we prepare to bring our centennial year to a close, we are looking forward to the next century and the opportunity to enhance the MMPA brand,” Joe Diglio, MMPA general manager said. “This transition reflects our strong foundation while demonstrating our five core values: quality, integrity, progress, community and leadership.”

The logo was unveiled to members at MMPA’s annual Leaders’ Conference in East Lansing, Michigan yesterday. Throughout 2016, MMPA has utilized a commemorative centennial logo in place of the traditional logo used by MMPA since the 1950s. The new logo marks a transition in MMPA’s brand identity.

Also at the Leaders’ Conference, MMPA launched a new website for public audiences. The new site is mobile friendly with improved design aesthetic and site usability. Information on MMPA products and member services has increased. Postings with MMPA news and articles from the Michigan Milk Messenger also have an improved presence on the site.

Michigan Milk Producers Association, established in 1916, is a member-owned and controlled milk-marketing cooperative serving approximately 2,000 dairy farmers in Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin and Ohio.

 

MMPA logo

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The Jahfestons were named MMPA’s 2015 Quality Award Winner for the third straight year at the Annual State Delegate Meeting on March 24. Pictured (l-r) are Jason, Elaine, Jacob, David and Jackie Jahfetson.

“There are many salesmen, researchers, neighbors and even veterinarians who have complex formulas for keeping healthy cows which produce high-quality milk. Yet when you visit the farms recognized for producing the highest quality milk, you won’t see fancy ultra-modern setups or secret formulas put in the teat-dip cups. What you see are two hard-working, dedicated families who have established priorities in such a way that milk quality ranks number one,” a Michigan Milk Messenger article read in May 1990.

Twenty-six years later, that sentiment proves steadfast on Jacob and Elaine Jahfetson’s Upper Peninsula dairy. They don’t have state-of-the-art technology or magic milking procedures, but what they do have is a perfectionist mindset and a true dedication to quality. The Jahfetson’s farm was named the 2015 Top Quality Award Winner for the third consecutive year at the MMPA 100th Annual State Delegate Meeting in March.

The 1990 article detailed the successes MMPA’s first Top Quality Award Winners: Ridge Run Farms and Weber’s Meadow. The farms—both averaging less than 77,500 somatic cell count (SCC) in 1989—set the standards for the coming years of quality award winners.

This year’s winners have consistently produced quality milk year after year, always perfecting their results. In the 2015 fiscal year, the Jahfetsons averaged a SCC of 34,833, pre-incubated bacteria count of 1,500 and raw bacteria count of 1,083. The most recent year’s numbers are an improvement over their winning results in 2014 and 2013, where they averaged a SCC of 40,083 and 54,417, respectively.

“The member who receives the Top Quality Award is an inspiration to all MMPA members. If one member can do it, it shows what is possible for others to achieve,” MMPA Director of Member Services Dean Letter said. “The Jahfetsons are an excellent example of quality producers and continual improvement. The family pays incredibly close attention to every detail, they know exactly what their cows are doing and address any problems immediately.”

The Baraga, Michigan farm milks 25 cows in an 85-year-old stanchion barn. They have a rolling herd average of 19,092 pounds per year, with 685 pounds of butterfat and 585 pounds of protein.

The Jahfetsons take a “perfectionist” approach to milking. They first wash the udder using Bac-Drop—a phosphoric-based solution—mixed with water and use Sani-Prep towels to wipe and clean the teats thoroughly. The unit is attached only when the teats are completely clean. When the milk stream lessens, they release the vacuum and pull the unit straight down. Then they post dip the teats with iodine-based I-deal. The unit is dipped in a mixture of sanitizer and water and allowed to drip.

“Most bacteria enters the udder when milking, so the teats need to be absolutely clean. We teat dip after to prevent bacteria from entering the udder after milking when the cow wants to lay down,” Elaine Jahfetson advises. “It can be good to go fast, but it’s more important to be thorough and ensure the udders are clean before proceeding. When you’re focused on speed during milking, you will see more cases of mastitis and therefore lose income.”

And Letter notes the importance of attention to detail. “What makes the difference in quality is what farmers are going to do day in and day out. Monitoring the herd, cattle housing, nutrition and addressing issues, it’s the little details. You have to sweat the small stuff,” Letter attests.

Over the last decade and a half, the Jahfetsons sharpened their quality figures. In July 2000, their SCC was 435,000, raw bacteria count was 16,000 and pre-incubated count was 460,000. Since understanding their quality issues, their counts have dramatically dropped.

“There are three important things we did to improve our quality: getting rid of chronic cows, checking the vacuum level and getting everyone on the same page,” Jahfetson explains. “We used to treat all of our cows with infections, but we found the same problems would return after the cow was treated. Now we address any concern immediately and cull if the issue is chronic. We also found the vacuum level was too high in our milking units. If the pressure is too high, it will cause teat end damage and allow bacteria to enter the udder. It’s also important all workers are working toward the same goal and following the right procedures on the farm.”

The couple, farming since 1982, plan to retire later this year. Jahfetson views winning the Top Quality Award for the third time as “icing on the cake” in their last year before retirement and during MMPA’s 100th Anniversary.

And throughout MMPA’s century of existence, all farmers have developed higher quality milk. Even just 30 years ago, the MMPA SCC average was well over 300,000. Yet every year, farms work day-in and day-out to improve their results and produce a better product.

“MMPA members produce high-quality milk because we have a culture of quality,” says Letter. “There is an expectation of continuous improvement. Our customers expect continuous improvement and our members expect continuous improvement.”

And honing in on the members driving the change, the Jahfetsons rise above the pack. From high SCCs to unprecedented lows, they are persistent improvers.


A Culture of Quality

2015 was an excellent year for MMPA member quality, with the average SCC reaching a record low of 151,000 in December. The weighted average SCC for the year was 167,250. A “culture of quality” on MMPA farms helped the cooperative realize an almost 200,000 drop in average SCC from 1986 to today.

Average Somatic Cell Count

2015……….167,250

2006……….251,453

1996……….309,453

1986……….344,313

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When the milk truck turns off the driveway and passes the old bank barn, it’s easy to step back and let the haulers, processors and marketers complete the supply chain. But MMPA Member Hank Choate keeps his eye on the entire milk route, knowing consumer demand for dairy is what truly milks the cow. A dairy farmer with 47 years of experience, Choate is a fervent promoter of dairy and agriculture.

In recognition of his passion for dairy, involvement in the industry and accomplishments on the farm, Choate was recently recognized by the Michigan State University (MSU) Department of Animal Science with the 2016 Dairy Farmer of the Year award.

“I am completely humbled by this award from MSU. I see myself no different than any other producer because I know we all work hard to provide safe, wholesome and nutritious product for the world. I, along with other farmers, take great pride in fulfilling that need,” Choate admits.

Efficiency for Seven Generations

Choate farms with his brother, Randy, son, Levi, nephew, Rick, and seven full time employees on Choate’s Belly Acres. In addition to Levi, Choate and his wife, Katie, have two other children: Stacey, who also assists on the farm, and Dustin, who is a student at Davenport University. Choate and Randy—who took over ownership in 1989—are forming an operating LLC and to enable family members to have ownership.

The family’s history on their land in Cement City, Michigan, dates back seven generations to 1837 when the Choate homestead was founded. Choate purchased the homestead from his cousin in 1996 adding it to the main operation established in 1913. Now, all 2,000 tillable acres of Choate’s Belly Acres span three different counties. The farm underwent recent expansions in 2008 and 2012, bringing the milking herd up to 435 cows housed in new and enlarged freestall barns.

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Choate accepted the MSU Dairy Farmer of the Year award with his family at the Great Lakes Regional Dairy Conference on Feb. 5 in Mt. Pleasant. Pictured, from left: Katie Choate, Hank Choate, Stacey Hughes and Brandon Hughes.

The farm continues to maximize efficiencies in various areas of their operation, using Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) to ensure consistency and accuracy. They maximize feed efficiency through a feed watch system and the assistance of their nutritionist. All forages are grown on their land and the farm brings in additional revenue from cash cropping. Variable planting rates, grid soil sampling and variable application of fertilizer help keep their cropping operations efficient and sustainable.

For the last decade and a half, Choate’s Belly Acres has remained 100 percent Artificial Insemination (AI) to breed their cows, with the use of double ovsynch timed breeding. They also rely on weekly check-ins with their veterinarian to assist with breeding and other herd health concerns.

“We emphasize productivity and efficiency in everything we do, by maximizing comfort and minimizing stress of the animals. As best we can, we focus on the bottom line and strive for financial sustainability,” Choate explained.

From the days of crawling between the cows as two-year-old in the stanchion barn to present day as the farm’s CEO, Choate’s role has evolved in the family business. Today, every morning starts at 3:00 a.m. in front of the glow of a computer screen. Choate monitors market reports and data on his cattle before going out into the barn to keep up with his chores, his cows and his employees. Through time, he has become more a manager of people than a manager of cows.

“I’m still on my first job. Ever since I aced sandbox in kindergarten, I’ve known what I’ve wanted to do, Choate revealed. “I’m fortunate to have a family legacy built before me and I hope to lay solid foundation for the next generation so the farm will reach its 200th year.”

Promoting for the Next Generation

Choate knows the key to ensuring a strong foundation for the next generation: dairy promotion.

“I’m committed to being a consumer advocate and spokesperson for agriculture because some organizations and groups of people try to tell our story in a jaded manner. Activists against us have a slanted agenda,” he affirmed.

Chaote’s passion has fueled his active involvement in dairy promotion at the local and state level through programs like the Jackson County Fall Fest and MSU Extension’s Breakfast on the Farm. In 2012, Choate’s Belly Acres hosted Breakfast on the Farm and welcomed 2,675 people to the farm for three hours of fun educational activities. Choate continues to be involved in Breakfast on the Farm as a member of the statewide planning council and convincing fellow farmers to become a host.

“The beauty of Breakfast on the Farm is that it is producer-driven. Being there and sharing our story allows us to put a face of producers on a product,” Choate said. “The program is a great way to continue to build on consumer confidence.  If I lose the confidence of consumer, there’s nothing I can do efficiently on my farm to make up for the loss in demand.”

In addition to Breakfast on the Farm, his participation in MSU Extension has provided many opportunities including training on nutrition, finance, management, soils and crops.

“It is humbling to be chosen as the MSU Dairy Farmer of the Year, as I have no formal education beyond high school,” Choate revealed. “MSU Extension programs have been the basis of furthering my education. I’ve also learned through involvement in the industry and observing other agriculture leaders and how they engage in finding solutions.”

Choate holds various leadership positions in the agriculture industry, including organizations such as MMPA, Michigan Farm Bureau and Green Stone Farm Credit.  Since 2012, Choate has represented District 1 on the MMPA board of directors.

“In today’s economy, it’s important I meet my obligations to MMPA members as a board member. I take seriously our due diligence,” Choate relayed. “If we make the right decisions for today, it will carry us to the next 100 years. The dairy industry is definitely in time of challenge, but over its 100 years the co-op has navigated many challenges and survived. We are strengthening the co-op as we move forward.”

From efficiency on the farm to dairy promotion and industry involvement, Choate is one dairy farmer committed to his passions.

“As farmers we’re connected to the earth,” Choate illustrated. “It gives us a set of accomplishment and pride every day.”