MMPA is committed to cooperative social responsibility and sustainable business practices throughout our entire supply chain. At the farm level, MMPA members are also on a sustainability journey. We’re checking in with a handful of member farmers leading the charge with this sustainability spotlight series. 

Pictured back to front, left to right: Jenn Bleich, Eric Bleich, Otis Bleich, and Sutton Bleich

The Bleich family does it all on their 1,000-cow dairy in Hudson, Michigan. Eric and Jenn Bleich of Bleich Family Farms have diversified their dairy operation to be both financially and environmentally sustainable.

“We’ve been selling pasture raised Angus-Holstein crosses as halves and wholes for several years in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. My wife is from the area and has connections with the American Legion that allow us to market our beef,” Eric said. “We’re doing it to give a little extra niche to what we do.”

Along with raising beef, the Bleich’s custom chop feed for local farmers and custom manure haul as time allows. Diversifying the business is a tactic Eric has taken advantage of to ensure their farm’s sustainability. “We do all the custom work so that we can spread out our risks. If the price of milk is down, we can at least have some extra revenue coming in to help balance things out,” Eric said.

Eric is also a member of the Western Lake Erie Basin Advisory Group. He is one of two dairy farmer representatives in the group that comes together to discuss ways to improve the water quality of the basin.

“There’s a wide variety of people on this board who bring a lot of new ideas to the table for solving the problem,” Eric said. “Having people like myself in the group puts a face to the farmer, and since I’ve been on the board I’ve realized that while we hear about these groups that we may see as a threat, at the end of the day, we all have to meet the same goals and none of us want to harm our environment.”

On Bleich Family Farm, Eric has taken his own steps to maintain and improve water quality on the dairy. “We are a permitted Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) and have zero discharge. We’ve done a lot of work with the Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS) to keep barn roof runoff water clean and away from the facility.”

For 22 years the farm has also been applying manure with a dragline and an airway. Eric described that the dragline is a minimum tillage tool that works to reduce runoff. Weather forecasts are also considered when applying manure. “We’ve been fully following our Comprehensive Nutrient Management Planning (CNMP) guidelines, we retain our setbacks and if we have a forecast predicting rain, we don’t apply.”

Per regulation, manure samples are required twice a year, but Eric and his crew are going the extra mile to take samples once if not twice everyday that they’re applying. “I had 10 different samples from this spring to see the variance from the first to last day we started hauling, and there is a significant difference in what we’re putting down.”

By taking additional samples, Eric can see the true value manure provides the crops he grows on the soil. “Manure is a good thing. It has all the natural nutrients that our crops need and if we can manage that right, put it where it needs to be, when it needs to be there for the plant, then we’re being sustainable by using the nutrients that we have.”

Eric takes pride in the dairy’s success in becoming more efficient, including recent efforts to reduce their power consumption. Several management decisions have led the dairy to reduce their energy usage by 47.12% from 2021 to 2023. “I am proud of the reduction in our power consumption. We have reduced our footprint because we have reduced our usage of electricity. We’ve become more efficient users of that resource.”

Energy has been reduced by installing LED lights, temperature sensors on fans, variable frequency drive’s on well pumps and milk pumps, and most recently the installation of a chiller. The use of the chiller has made cooling milk easier and reduced the number of compressors needed from five five-horsepower compressors to one nine-horsepower compressor.

The energy savings on the farm are just one of the opportunities Eric and Jenn Bleich have taken advantage of to stay sustainable, and to ensure longevity in the dairy industry.


Dragline Manure: A dragline hose system allows manure to be pumped through a hose from the farm to the field where it can be applied to the soil. This approach reduces compaction caused by the weight of tractors and equipment and can reduce odor from field application.

Certified Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO): An animal feeding operation that either meets a certain animal population threshold, or, regardless of population, is determined to be a significant contributor of pollutants to waters of the United States.


Bleich Family Farms
Hudson, Michigan


1,000 Holstein milking cows


 2,500 acres of corn and alfalfa


MMPA Sustainability Survey, Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan, FARM* Animal Care

This article was originally published in the September/October 2023 issue of the Milk MessengerSubscribe »

Mikayla Bowen

Addison, MI

Internship: Communications
College: Michigan State University
Year in School: 2023 Graduate
Major: Animal Science with Dairy Concentration
Dream Job: Dairy Reproductive Consultant

What previous experiences do you have that have helped prepare you for your internship?
I gained a lot of dairy experience from my time at MSU. I competed on the Dairy Challenge Team, Dairy Judging Team, was involved in the Dairy Club, and worked for a dairy focused research lab. I was also involved with Dr. Barry Bradford at MSU, where I helped run the MSU Dairy Extension social media and Spartan Dairy Newsletter. My time with Dr. Bradford is where I gained much of my communications knowledge.

How does this MMPA internship experience fit into your future career goals?
My goal in the dairy industry is to help producers. MMPA is a co-op that focuses on doing what is best for their members and that is something that I appreciate. Through my internship role I have helped communicate to members and the public on not only current events, but ways that MMPA can be a support in the industry.

What do you like most about working in the dairy industry?
I enjoy helping producers keep their cows happy and healthy. As I gain more experience in the industry, I hope to become an asset to farms when problem solving and troubleshooting on the dairy.

What was your favorite experience working as an MMPA intern?
Working with the communications team and everyone at MMPA has been the most exciting. Everyone at MMPA is extremely helpful and friendly. The communications team has taken me on as one of their own, and I have gained so much knowledge from them, all while having fun along the way!

Cecelia Brandt

Cedar Springs, MI

Internship: Member Representative Intern through Food Systems Fellowship
College: Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine
Year in School: 2nd Year
Major: Veterinary Medicine
Dream Job: Traveling the country and fixing up old barns and farmhouses

What previous experiences do you have that have helped prepare you for your internship?
I come from a farm background and grew up in 4-H and FFA, but I do not have a dairy background (other than my dairy goats!). However, I did work for a year on a dairy in Sparta, Michigan prior to starting vet school. I loved my experience there and I was eager to learn more about the dairy industry. So, when I saw this internship, I thought it would be a good fit for me.

How does this MMPA internship experience fit into your future career goals?
This internship gave me a more in depth look at the dairy industry where I might like to work one day. I gained insight on what goes into shipping Grade A milk, the National Dairy FARM Program, and many other aspects of dairy production.

What do you like most about working in the dairy industry?
My favorite part about the dairy industry is never having the same experience every day. There is always something new to learn about or something new to overcome. Even with a routine, the experience is never the same.

What was your favorite experience working as an MMPA intern?
I had a lot of wonderful experiences this summer thanks to my mentor Lyndsay Earl, member services director Ben Chapin and all the field staff. However, I think my favorite experience was seeing all the different facilities since I had only been on a couple dairy farms previously and how they operate day-to-day to produce a safe, high-quality product for our tables.

Jack Ignatowski

Bloomfield Hills, MI

Internship: Financial Planning & Analysis Intern
College: University of Michigan
Year in School: Junior
Major: Business
Dream Job: Finance related, but not sure yet!

What previous experiences do you have that have helped prepare you for your internship?
In terms of communication, I would say that managing my local Dairy Queen for a few years prepared me to interact with a wide range of professionals. Applying these skills to MMPA, I was able to effectively vary my communication style depending on whether I spoke to my FP&A coworkers, the department heads, or the CEO.

How does this MMPA internship experience fit into your future career goals?
This internship has allowed me to really take a deep dive into the world of business. While it is one thing to learn about business in the classroom, it is a completely different thing to practice it within a specific industry.

What do you like most about working in the dairy industry?
Funny enough, I think what I like most about working in the dairy industry is that it is complicated! The dairy industry is intricate, regulated, and unlike many other business models. The challenge of learning dairy forced me not only to think in a different way but also to keep an open mind about how businesses (and particularly their pricing) work.

What was your favorite experience working as an MMPA intern?
My favorite experience working as an MMPA intern had to be getting to know my coworkers. The staff at Novi were incredibly kind, helpful, and supportive of me and I can’t thank them enough for their help.

Selected from over 50 entries, the five winning photographs from MMPA’s sixth annual photo contest capture beautiful scenes on dairy farms throughout the Great Lakes region.

In this year’s contest, there were five awards given: first, second and third place judged by a panel of judges, along with a people’s choice award determined by public voting and a staff choice award, the favorite photo among MMPA employees.

1st Place

Photographer: Stephanie Weil
Photo Title: The Golden Hour After Rain
Hometown: Goodrich, Michigan

2nd Place

Photographer: Nicole Nickolaus
Photo Title: Feed Me
Hometown: Conklin, Michigan

3rd Place

Photographer: Joe Ankley
Photo Title: A Watchful Mother
Hometown: Imlay City, Michigan

People’s Choice Award

Photographer: Victoria Wright
Photo Title: Cows in the Pasture
Hometown: Cass City, Michigan

Staff Choice Award

Photographer: Drew Rupprecht
Photo Title: Our Chore Girl
Hometown: Vassar, Michigan

By Kelly Kerrigan, MMPA Human Resources Director

More so than ever, it’s critical that we provide a safe work environment for our employees. As an employer, we have an obligation to ensure our employees return home to their families, the same way that they came in. Today, people have options where they want to work, and every day employees are evaluating whether we’re worthy of their commitment to us. Workplace safety is important not only to attract and retain people, but it’s the right thing to do. People need to feel safe in their working environment.

Our Constantine, Michigan facility was recently awarded an International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) safety award for outstanding worker safety. This continues the success after MMPA’s Middlebury, Indiana facility received two awards in the program last year. The IDFA award program evaluates applicants on occupational injury and illness performance rate and is a demonstration of our efforts in improving worker safety across our entire campus. The Constantine plant has gone nearly two years without a lost time accident or recordable injury. Their impressive achievements are a testament to the facility’s management and employee commitment to safety.

Even after these notable achievements, we continue to prioritize safety in all of our plants At our facility in Canton, Ohio, we’ve partnered with OSHA to invite them into our facility on a monthly basis to proactively address safety concerns. When they visit, we work together to evaluate machine guarding, height of steps, handrail access, accessibility of fire extinguishers and more so that we can ensure a safe working environment for our employees.

The labor environment continues to be a challenge across the region. To hear directly from employees and address their concerns, MMPA’s leadership team met with each salary employee one-on-one to solicit feedback on why they like working at MMPA, what they find challenging about their jobs and what we can do better as an employer. We’ve been using the feedback we’ve received to prioritize our initiatives and address their concerns.

During the one-on-one meetings, it was obvious that our employees take a lot of pride in who they’re working for. At MMPA, we work for farmers who have a seven-day commitment and know what hard work is. Our employees take a lot of pride in making sure we support our members to the best of our ability. This unique level of commitment is one of many reasons that we have so many long-serving employees who will be recognized for achieving service milestones this fall, and for the many employees we celebrated retirements with these past few months. Their many years of service is a testament to their commitment to the cooperative and our members.

Looking forward, we continue to leverage technology to help with streamlining our employee communications and recognition and finding ways to continue improving our workplace safety. Our employees take a lot of pride in making sure we support our members to the best of our ability, and we want to ensure that we’re loyal to their commitment.

This article was originally published in the September/October 2023 issue of the Milk MessengerSubscribe »

Ryan Benthem has seen his family’s farm grow from 100 cows when he was young to 300 cows after he came home from college to the 3,400 cows it is today. The strategic growth was never outlined in a detailed plan but was just part of the farm’s philosophy to “keep taking advantage of opportunities when they came up and to utilize the land base the best we could.”

The straightforward approach led to the installation of a 60-stall rotary in 2016, the purchase of the 400-cow Benthem Homestead Farm in 2018, and the acquisition of an additional 400-cow farm in 2022. With multiple farm locations in a campus style network, Benthem Brothers Dairy’s success is in part thanks to Ryan’s involvement and his role in planning the future of the farm.

“A big part of what I do is try to plan things ahead so that things go smooth,” Benthem said. “I really enjoy looking at how to maximize everything we have. Whether it’s the parlor, or the cow barns, or the equipment, I figure out what makes sense as far as tractors, other equipment and feed to make the most of what we have.”

Benthem Farm sign
The Benthems pride themselves on having a well-maintained farm. They believe that’s the first step in ensuring they leave a good impression on their neighbors and consumers passing by.

Benthem achieves this by working closely with his dad, uncle, brother and cousin. A team of people that Benthem recognizes has helped him achieve success.

“Working on the farm can be pretty stressful at times, so having a team of people beside me gives more people to share the burden,” Benthem said. “With my family involved, we can have weekends off to get away and relax, and everyone also brings different perspectives and different experiences to the table. Working with a bigger team also makes it more exciting to share wins with.”

While Ryan focuses on herd nutrition and future planning, his brother Kyle manages the crops and his cousin Jason manages the cow herd. Ryan’s dad and uncle help as needed, but have enjoyed stepping back from the day-to-day of the operation to let the next generation continue advancing the farm.

“We have a succession plan in place,” Benthem said. “We meet quarterly as a management team, but after doing this for our entire lives, we know what we need to do.”

In addition to family, Benthem credits the farm’s success to their many dedicated employees. Benthem and his family work hard to regularly communicate with employees on their team and empower them to do the best they can.

“We’ll sacrifice our time to teach people how to do things and give them the tools that they need to do it because we’ve learned that there are only so many hours in the day, and you can’t do everything yourself,” Benthem said. “To be sustainable in the future, we have to teach people how to do a job and trust them to get it done.”

Relying on each other is a requirement of the farm’s recent growth and also a part of the team mentality at Benthem Brothers Dairy.

“I like to compare what we do on our farm to a sporting event or a team,” Benthem said. “Everybody likes to be on a winning team, but it takes a lot more work, and you need to be motivated to win. That’s what motivates me at the farm. I know that I have to do the best every day in order to enjoy it the most.”

Benthem’s competitive attitude ensures that he’s always striving to do the best he can, a mentality that carries over into the farm’s everyday pursuit of improving efficiencies, meeting goals and maximizing resources.

Calf in pen
One of Benthem’s first projects after coming home from college was to oversee the construction of a new calf facility. From there, he found his passion for future planning and his responsibilities continued to grow.

“We’re always looking at ways to do more with less,” Benthem said. “We recently changed from spraying manure to drag lining it and as a result, we’re burning less fuel, putting less wear and tear on equipment, and reducing the disruption to our neighbors.”

The change in practice also gave Benthem an opportunity to use cover crops to limit erosion and to help hold onto nutrients in the field better until the next growing season. These efficiency gains along with others in the past are a result of Benthem’s experiences in the Institute of Agriculture Technology dairy certificate program at Michigan State University (MSU).

“A lot of the decisions we’ve made have been a result of looking at the cash flow like what I learned to do at MSU,” Benthem said. Despite it sounding simple, Benthem grew into the role he currently has on the operation, just as the farm grew alongside him.

“When I got back from college, I helped with the fresh cows and sick cows, and I fed calves,” Ryan said. “In 2007, I headed up building a new calf barn and then my role evolved more into the nutrition side and evaluating feed costs and has since grown from there.”

Now today, Benthem is the guy on the farm dedicated to planning future expansion and enjoys taking advantage of calculated risks to grow the business and help the farm succeed. He was recently named the Michigan Milk Producers Association 2023 Outstanding Young Dairy Cooperator (OYDC). As the winning OYDC, Benthem will represent the cooperative at state and national events in the coming year.

“If you’re never willing to push yourself and take chances, you won’t reach your full potential,” Ryan believes. “You can’t be scared to fail because most of the time the things that do fail will eventually work out, it just might take more time to sort it out and succeed.”

This article was originally published in the September/October 2023 issue of the Milk MessengerSubscribe »

In an effort to recognize Dr. Joe Domecq’s lifelong service to the dairy industry, industry partners came together to establish an endowment fund through the Michigan Dairy Memorial and Scholarship Foundation. Industry partners began their fundraising efforts in 2021, and the $50,000 fundraising goal was met this summer, establishing the Dr. Joe Domecq Dairy Judging and Teaching Endowment.

Domecq works with young dairy leaders in his roles as Michigan State University (MSU) Institute of Agricultural Technology (IAT) dairy management program coordinator, animal science academic specialist, MSU dairy challenge team coach and 4-H, IAT, and MSU dairy judging coach. Dr Domecq serves as Coordinator and Advisor for Dairy Education programs at MSU. The scholarship endowment pays homage to Domecq’s involvement in MSU’s dairy program and will provide ongoing financial support to students participating in dairy judging and the dairy management programs at MSU.

In addition to being recognized with this endowment fund, Domecq has previously received Hoard’s Dairyman Youth Development Award in 2012, the dairy industry’s highest award recognizing a dairy youth educator. The future of Michigan’s dairy industry is strong because of Domecq’s unique ability to guide students toward meeting their short-term and long-term life and career goals.

Domecq’s endowment is established through the Michigan Dairy Memorial and Scholarship Foundation (MDMSF), one of the largest scholarship program in the MSU College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. MDMSF is made possible through contributions made in honor of individuals who have served the dairy industry. The Domecq endowment is now one of many named endowments managed by MDMSF that will help students further their dairy education.

Thanks to generous donors, MDMSF provides scholarships annually to worthy MSU students with plans to advance the future of the dairy industry. This year the foundation was able to award $126,000 in scholarships to MSU students pursuing dairy industry-related programs of study for the 2022-23 academic year.

Donations to MDMSF and the Dr. Joe Domecq Dairy Judging/Management Endowment are still being accepted:

  • via check: payable to Michigan State University, Designate Domecq, CANR (A105121), Mail to University Advancement, Spartan Way, 535 Chestnut Rd., Room 300, East Lansing, MI 48824
  • or via credit card: Call 517-884-1000 or visit

MMPA delegates recently selected Brian DeMann to serve a three-year term on the MMPA board of directors as a District 2 Director. DeMann joins the 12 other dairy farmers on the MMPA board of directors, helping guide the direction of the cooperative and setting strategic goals.

Clearview Dairy Farm has been in operation since 1958, with Brian having an active role since 2005. Today he operates 1,450 acres and milks 649 cows on the dairy. He is a member of the Kalamazoo Local in District 2. He’s been active in MMPA for a few years, currently serving as a district delegate. Along with being an Outstanding Young Dairy Cooperator (OYDC) in 2019, Brian has also received numerous dairy quality awards.

How has MMPA impacted your farm?

MMPA has been a partner with the farm, not only in marketing our milk but having a place to process it. The services that field staff offer play a big role in the success of our operation. By making sure that we are following the FARM program and are progressive with our sustainability practices before they’re made mandatory.

What do you value most about MMPA?

I value that MMPA is a member owned co-op. All of us producers are in this together. There’s no competition because we all have a sense of ownership.

Why did you want to join the board of directors?

Being involved on the board as a producer helps me feel like I’m doing my part for the better of everyone. There is a lot of experience on the board and thinking ahead I do not want my generation to all be new on the board all at once. I want to serve our cooperative while I can take the time and learn from the people that are serving now, and it is not something that can happen overnight, it will take many years of experience.

What are your goals and vision while serving on the board of directors?

To continue to provide a very fair and competitive market for producer’s milk. I want to help be progressive in setting up producers to be their best through MMPA’s field staff services, and I want to contribute to MMPA’s efforts to be an elite co-op that is ahead in manufacturing products, beyond just commodities.

What would you tell members looking to become more active within the cooperative?

Do whatever you can. With the new governance structure there’s going to be an opportunity for people to have more say within the co-op. The only way people are going to get to know you is by knowing what you believe in and then building a trust in you that you would be able to make decisions within MMPA.

This article was originally published in the July/August 2023 issue of the Milk MessengerSubscribe »

MMPA Dairy Communicators hearing about MMPA products.

The MMPA Dairy Communicator program is an on-going effort of approximately 60 members in the Great Lakes region. Elected members of a local work diligently to speak out and communicate on behalf of dairy farmers in their local area. Dairy Communicators are involved in a wide variety of local promotion activities ranging from hosting farm tours, going to schools to present to classrooms and engaging with consumers of various social media platforms. The Dairy Communicators recently met for a on June 19 to swap promotion ideas and recognize service award winners.

Thank you, MMPA Dairy Communicators, for your years of service to the dairy industry and your local communities.

2023 Dairy Communicator Service Awards

15 Years
Kristie Lamb
Cami Marz-Evans

10 Years
Kathleen Clinton
Katie Schumacher

5 Years
Amy Bodnick
Pat Bolday
Renee McCauley

Cami Marz-Evans

FARM: Evans Livestock
HOMETOWN: Litchfield, Michigan

What do you enjoy most about being part of the dairy community?
I enjoy how everyone in the dairy community really helps each other out, especially when the chips are down. The entire community is very sincere and hardworking. We go out there every day to do what we do 365 days, seven days a week. We all hold the same values.

How has the MMPA Dairy Communicator program helped you promote dairy?
Throughout the years, we’ve done numerous dairy promotions, everything ranging from passing out cheese at community events to hosting Breakfast on the Farm. We’re active in Project RED and have thrown a centennial dairy farm celebration. I take what I learn at MMPA Dairy Communicator meetings and explain our impact and dairy footprint to our consumers. One of the first question people ask when I say I’m a dairy farmer is, “Where does your milk go?” I’m able to share the brands and companies that has MMPA milk in it thanks to the MMPA Dairy Communicator program.

Share your favorite dairy promotion memory.
My favorite dairy promotion memory is helping with Breakfast on the Farm at Pleasant View Farms! I was integrally involved in that. There was a lot of dairy memorabilia there at the event, so it was just a great day with lots of generations of dairy farmers. It attracted a lot of people who don’t have exposure to the farm, so we had some cool interactions and met cool people through that.

What advice would you share with someone just starting their dairy promotion journey?

Tell your story! There are lots of resources out there to help you get started. The United Dairy industry of Michigan has been integral in providing assistance to many of the events I’ve helped with. I also recommend attending every meeting you possibly can to soak up the information, talk to people and get yourself out there.

Sometimes it’s easier for people who aren’t as comfortable sharing their story to get their kids involved in it and use the activities you already attending with your kids as an education forum. The environment when you’re sitting on the bench or bleachers is a whole lot easier and is just as great of an avenue to share what we do in our everyday life in dairy farming. For people who don’t want to stand up in front or don’t have the time to plan an event, take advantage of the time that you have with others and away from the farm because it’s precious little, so use those experiences to weave in the way that we live.

MMPA Dairy Communicators Meet in St. Johns

In June, MMPA Dairy Communicators met at AgroLiquid in St. Johns, Michigan to enjoy a full day of fellowship and sharing dairy promotion ideas. They had the opportunity to hear from MMPA leadership, learn about Michigan Ag Council’s promotion efforts and receive an update from the United Dairy Industry of Michigan. Dairy Communicators reaching a service milestone were also recognized.

This article was originally published in the July/August 2023 issue of the Milk MessengerSubscribe »

MMPA is committed to cooperative social responsibility and sustainable business practices throughout our entire supply chain. At the farm level, MMPA members are also on a sustainability journey. We’re checking in with a handful of member farmers leading the charge with this sustainability spotlight series. 

Preserving our environment is what drives Reid Dairy Farm to be sustainable. “Our job is to protect and prepare the environment for the next generation, so we want to make sure we leave the land as good or better than the way we found it,” Jim Reid owner of Reid Dairy Farm in Jeddo, Michigan.

Jim intends to pass this multi-generational farm to his son, Jeff Reid. Their openness to adopting innovative sustainability practices has been key to ensuring profitability on the dairy.

When approached by DTE Energy in 2010, they took advantage of capturing solar rays for energy conversion and installed 96 panels on the roof of their milking barn. “They pay me for every kWh that I generate when I’m not milking. When the sun is out and the parlor isn’t in use, it’s generating electricity that’s going back on the grid.” The panels provide the dairy with 20% of their energy needs throughout the year.

In addition to utilizing solar panels for a renewable energy source, the Reid’s have focused on improving their energy efficiency by installing a variable speed vacuum pump, investing in a larger plate cooler and using all LED lights in the barns. Next on the agenda is installing thermostats on the fans to make an even bigger reduction in their farm’s energy usage.

Along with energy conservation, the Reid’s have experimented with their feed ration to incorporate a new feed additive product, Agolin, that is both reducing their enteric emissions and positively impacting their component values. Like other feed additives focused on reducing cows’ carbon impact, Agolin was created with the intention to optimize feed intake and gut health for livestock.

“We’ve been using the Agolin feed additive for two years now, and ever since my components have held at that 4% butterfat level and the protein at 3.35%,” Jim said. “Even in the heat of the summer, when we have a heat stress period, the cows seem to recover quicker.”

The Reid’s focus on finding efficiencies in their herd’s diet also includes providing a sustainable food source through incorporating carbon sequestration practices in their cropping strategy every year.

“We try to balance agronomy and environmental practices. The last few years we’ve done very little fall tillage,” Jim said. “For the soybean crop, we don’t till at all so that we’re not stirring up the soil and releasing the carbon into the atmosphere.”

As someone who has farmed their whole life, Jim has plenty of experience under his belt. “I was with my dad all the time and I was up on the tractor when I was probably three years old.”

The practices have changed over the years and now he’s focused on bringing on the next generation.

“I’ve learned through the years that when a problem occurs, which it seems like happens daily, I don’t get too upset about it, I just sit back and think of a solution.” Often, for the Reid’s, that solution is grounded in finding a better way to steward the land so they can continue farming for many more generations.


Renewable Energy: Energy derived from wind, solar, renewable biomass, ocean, geothermal or hydroelectric source, or hydrogen derived from renewable biomass or water. Solar panels, or solar collectors, are devices that absorb and accumulate solar radiation for use as a source of renewable energy.

Carbon Sequestration: Carbon sequestration is the process of capturing, securing and storing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The idea is to stabilize carbon in solid and dissolved forms so that it doesn’t cause the atmosphere to warm. On farms, carbon is sequestered in soil by plants through photosynthesis and can be stored as soil organic carbon.

Sources: United States Department of Agriculture; University of California, Davis


Reid Dairy Farm, LLC
Jeddo, Michigan


225 milking


 800 acres of corn, alfalfa and soybeans


MMPA Sustainability Survey, Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan, FARM* Animal Care, MAEAP Cropping, Livestock and Farmstead

This article was originally published in the July/August 2023 issue of the Milk MessengerSubscribe »

By Greg Soehnlen, MMPA Chief Operating and Business Development Officer

Innovation is central to MMPA’s vision and the future of the dairy industry. The acquisition of Superior Dairy in 2021, included Creative Edge, a think tank with experience in creative packaging solutions, that helps deliver on MMPA’s mission to market members’ milk to the greatest advantage possible.

This summer, MMPA is launching the next innovation from Creative Edge: a 96-ounce bottle made from Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET). Like all innovations, it may be new to the market, but it isn’t new to us. Our team has been working on the idea of the 96-ounce bottle made from PET since 2016, as a new iteration of the current caseless technology we developed in the early 2000s.

Similar to the foundation of the caseless technology that doesn’t require the return of the pallet/case after dropping the product off at the retailer, this new innovation came through partnership with several large retailers that led to conducting research interviews. Through the interviews, we discovered that the future of dairy packaging isn’t necessarily about enhancing dairy, but developing a business model that targets consumer products.

When we set out to begin our next innovation, we didn’t intend to create a bottle made from PET, but to reconfigure a bottle made from High Density Polyethylene (HDPE), the standard packaging material for a gallon of milk. As we continued to design, we found ourselves migrating to PET because it is about three times stronger than HPDE with a very clear appearance when it is in its final form.

PET has very good moisture and vapor barriers and is used for a broad spectrum of consumer products, making it even more appealing given that it aligns with consumer trends outside of our industry. PET bottle manufacturing utilizes preforms which are pre-molded resin blocks that are fed into a stretch blow machine that forms the bottle. This manufacturing process is flexible, allowing us to create different sized packages using similar equipment, another benefit of PET.

A downfall of the PET technology is that it doesn’t allow for the traditional handle found on milk gallons, so instead requires grip features on the sides of the bottle. Creative Edge addressed this challenge by studying other engineered PET products in the market and spent two years developing different grip features and testing them with consumers. The team utilized 3D printing and consumer focus groups to gain feedback and understanding of what’s important when you reach into a dairy case and grab a gallon of milk.

After successful testing and preparation to launch, the innovation was delayed with the onset of COVID-19. Today, the entire team is excited to launch this innovation in a production setting after years of development. The production team at Canton has been able to successfully integrate the 96-ounce package through its current filling system and after our initial launch, Creative Edge will continue to adapt to consumers reaction to the package, merchandising and shipping.

Now, the team at Creative Edge is looking for the next challenge. The innovations will not stop here, as we work to continue enhancing our members’ milk and finding value in future innovations.

This article was originally published in the July/August 2023 issue of the Milk MessengerSubscribe »

Dairy is a nutritional powerhouse. With 13 essential nutrients, more hydrating than water and packed with protein, milk plays a critical role in youth nutrition. Dairy checkoffs are hard at work to ensure the science is being shared with decision makers in school systems. Their work ensures that dairy is in schools making a positive impact on students’ lives – both during the school year and over summer months.

“We know dairy foods deliver a unique package of 13 essential nutrients that help not only with building strong bones and muscle, but also support a healthy immune system and provide energy to grow and learn,” Hanna Kelley, RD, LD, Director of Health and Wellness at American Dairy Association Indiana Inc. (ADAI) said. “Milk, cheese, and yogurt contain high quality protein to keep students fuller longer, and is particularly helpful when students have to wait longer for their next meal due to after school jobs, events and activities.”

While milk is federally required to be offered during school meals because of the critical role it plays in youth nutrition, dairy checkoffs recognize the value of finding creative ways to make students’ experience with dairy products even more enjoyable.

student grabbing a smoothie“In our schools, 80% of school meals include a milk. Schools must offer milk with every meal, but students are not required to take one,” Scott Higgins, President & CEO of American Dairy Association (ADA) Mideast said. “We work with schools to include multiple dairy products on their daily menu. This helps ensure that the child who doesn’t choose milk can choose yogurt or a yogurt-based smoothie. It’s about increasing student access for additional dairy products.”

The focus on expanding dairy offerings in schools is consistent for all checkoffs in the Great Lakes region. Each program, although slightly different, involves checkoff staff partnering with school administrators and lunch coordinators to provide equipment, recipes and resources to diversify the types of dairy products offered.

“We have a program called Moolah for Schools where schools can apply for a grant that provides equipment and resources for programming around smoothies, hot chocolate, milk and lattes,” Cortney Freeland, MPH, CHES, Vice President of Strategic Partnerships at United Dairy Industry of Michigan (UDIM) said. “As part of all of those different categories, we’re working to support schools in ensuring that kids have the best experience with mealtime and specifically dairy.”

Providing unique dairy offerings allows students to receive the benefits of dairy in a fun, exciting format. The most popular Moolah for Schools grant program right now is for lattes at the high school level.

“Students are going to Starbucks or a local convenience store and bringing lattes into school, so why not translate that into additional revenue for the school and additional nutrition for the students?” Cortney said. “Our latte program brings high schoolers into the cafeteria to get what they were already going to go get, only this time we can ensure that it has a full serving of dairy.”

Similarly, in Ohio, ADA Mideast has had success with their smoothie program.

“We did a post analysis of the 94 schools we brought smoothie equipment into this year and found that we sold five tons of yogurt,” Higgins said. “That’s five tons of additional yogurt each month that otherwise would never have been made available in schools and it was only because we went in and said, ‘Hey, have you ever thought about yogurt in smoothies?’”

The creativity in dairy offerings mutually benefits dairy farmers and students by growing dairy sales now and creating future dairy buyers, while also ensuring students receive the benefits of dairy and school administrators seeing the positive effects.

“After enrolling in one of our dairy programs, school administrators see test scores improve, attendance go up and the number of illnesses go down,” Higgin said. “Once we’ve proven the difference dairy can make and shown it to a school district, it’s amazing how many schools want to be like that school district and do it the same way.”

These benefits go on to further encourage neighboring school districts to get involved with the dairy checkoff, expanding the checkoff’s influence in schools. With students’ attention captive in classrooms and lunchrooms for nine months out of the year, checkoffs recognize how important that opportunity to market dairy is.

“If school is the moment that we have an opportunity to give students our best product, we should be doing everything we can to offer them opportunities to enjoy milk, cheese, yogurt, smoothies and hot chocolate,” Higgins said.

Schools are also the perfect setting to make a difference in student lives because of the dairy industry and school administrator’s aligned goals.

“Everyone is working so hard to feed our kids and our food service directors really understand the value of dairy as part of school meals,” Freeland said. “The pandemic solidified the need for our support and work that we do in schools, and that our efforts are truly a partnership with the schools. We’re all working towards the same thing, which is feeding our kids and ensuring they have the nutrition that they need.”

The goal of meeting students’ nutritional needs doesn’t end during the school year. Checkoffs’ partnerships with schools and state level organizations extend over the summer months, ensuring that dairy continues to fill what is often a critical gap in student nutrition.

“Many schools provide both breakfast and lunch opportunities for students to help meet their nutritional needs during the school year,” Kelley said. “Without them, kids living in food-insecure homes, may have little to nothing on the table. Summer meals programs fill in the gaps, making sure that every child is getting the nutrition they need to grow up as healthy, happy, productive people.”

By providing nutrition education and resources in school settings, dairy checkoffs are not only improving dairy sales, but making a positive difference in the lives of students both now and in the future.

This article was originally published in the July/August 2023 issue of the Milk MessengerSubscribe »

By Omid McDonald, Dairy Distillery Founder/CEO

Dairy Distillery was started with the idea of turning milk permeate into vodka (Vodkow). When building our distillery in Almonte, Ontario, I discovered that excess permeate is a problem for dairy processors in Canada and around the world. Permeate is produced when the proteins in whey (whey permeate) or skim milk (milk permeate) are concentrated. There are some high value uses for permeate, such as making laxatives and replacing sugar or salt in foods. However, with over 500,000 tonnes of permeate produced a year in the U.S., most is used for low value animal feed.

During my research, I found that several large plants were built during the oil crises of the 1970s to ferment whey permeate into ethanol (technical term for pure alcohol) to fuel cars. These plants were decommissioned after the oil crises ended since they couldn’t compete with high volume corn ethanol. With the focus on carbon reduction, I thought it was worth revisiting permeate fuel ethanol. Biofuels reduce carbon emissions by displacing sequestered carbon (oil) in transportation fuel. The net amount of carbon ethanol displaces depends on the carbon emitted to produce it (its carbon intensity). For example, corn ethanol must account for the carbon emitted to grow, fertilize and harvest the corn. The lower an ethanol’s carbon intensity, the greater its carbon reduction when blended with fuel. Ethanol made from milk permeate would have an ultra-low carbon intensity and the financial incentives would make it commercially viable.

I was introduced to MMPA following their research into ways that permeate could be utilized in a different, more value-added manner. Our conversations evolved into making low carbon ethanol using Constantine’s permeate. As part of the greater dairy industry, MMPA is committed to lowering its carbon footprint and Dairy Distillery’s low carbon ethanol would allow it to make a significant reduction.

To begin the process, we partnered with MMPA to design the technical and business model for a permeate fuel ethanol that would see Constantine’s 14,000 tonnes of milk permeate piped to a co-located distillery and transformed into 2.2 million gallons of low carbon ethanol. The distillery waste would be combined with Constantine’s existing dairy effluent and fed to a wastewater system. The wastewater system would produce methane to power the stills and make the remaining water safe for river discharge. The ethanol would be trucked to local fuel blenders and displace 14,500 tonnes of sequestered carbon a year. Working with MMPA’s customers, we found a way of classifying our carbon offset as a Scope 3 carbon inset to directly reduce the carbon footprint of Constantine’s dairy products. In addition to creating carbon offsets and managing Constantine’s waste, the ethanol plant would provide a good financial return to MMPA and Dairy Distillery.

With the due diligence and planning complete, we were thrilled when the MMPA board of directors approved moving forward with the project. We’ve been fortunate to get significant financial support from the state of Michigan and through the Inflation Reduction Act. We’re aiming to break ground later this year and have the plant operational for early 2025.

My hope is that Constantine will be the first of many permeate ethanol plans creating value for dairy farmers and significant carbon reduction. An amazing story that started with a shot of milk vodka.

This article was originally published in the May/June 2023 issue of the Milk MessengerSubscribe »