Bryan and Molly Benson

Hometown: Cadillac, Michigan
District: 3

Sustainability is the name of the game for Bryan and Molly Benson. These fifth-generation farmers have their family front of mind as Bryan’s father continues to work on the farm, and they have three children as the upcoming generation: Fenton, Hartley, Josette, and Alicia. At Benson Dairy LLC, their six Lely robots, LED light installation and thermostat run fans are all practices that are helping keep their farm efficient and sustainable for future generations.

Q&A:

Q: What’s your farms greatest achievement?
Being here for 152 years, we’re the 5th generation.

Q: What do you love about being a farmer?
Creating a sustainable business for generations to come!

Q: What’s the key to running a dairy farm?
Hard work, always willing to adjust the ways we think and work!

Q: What’s your favorite chore? Why?
Anything field work. I love putting up high quality feed for our cows. And just being good stewards of the land God has blessed us with!

Q: How can someone easily improve their milk quality?
Cleanliness and consistency

Q: Why do you milk cows?
To produce the highest quality milk for consumers!

Q: Describe your farm management style in three words.
Visionary. Participative. Goal-setting.

Q: What’s one practice you’d try on your farm if you knew it was impossible to fail?
Processing our own milk.

Q: What does your farm look like in 30 years?
Hopefully still here and the 6th generation chasing their dreams!

On their farm:

If you visit their farm in Cadillac, Michigan you may run into one of the many tour groups that Molly helps organize. Working with Congressmen and the Traverse City Home School Group, the dairy opens their doors to share dairy knowledge with the public. The couple is very active in their community as well, delivering bags of food to students in need through the Cadillac Area Backpack Association as well as being active members of the Living Light Church.

This article was originally published in the January/February 2024 issue of the Milk MessengerSubscribe »

Start your new year off right by making sure your employees are up to date on all things animal care.

Dairy Care Academy is a free MMPA animal care training program for farm owners and employees. Designed to help farms meet Farmers Assuring Responsible Management (FARM) program training requirements, it also educates employees and improves performance.

MMPA members have access to an on-demand, FARM program compliant online training platform. The resource covers Milking Practices, Calf Management and Dairy Stockmanship along with the latest FARM program required training areas of Euthanasia, Non-Ambulatory Animal Management and Fitness to Transport. Recently added, the Milking Practices course is also available in Spanish.

The six different topics are complete courses with videos and resources compiled by the MMPA Dairy Care Academy team from reputable sources, making it easy for members and farm employees to complete the course relevant to their role on the farm, take a quiz covering what they have learned and receive a printable certificate if they score 80 percent or better on the quiz.

This training resource is available year-round for unlimited use. To access the online platform, MMPA members can visit the member portal and select the Dairy Care Academy link on the homepage or ask your member representative for details.

Successful dairy operations rely on quality employee training because training keeps all animal caretakers on task and performing best practices. Therefore, Dairy Care Academy teaches farm employees how to provide excellent care to animals. Farms that benefit the most from training are those that commit to incorporating best procedures taught to employees on their farm. Setting expectations and evaluating adherence to procedures long-term are surefire ways to build a successful farm team.

MMPA farms interested in on-farm training, contact your member representative to schedule classroom-style or other training opportunities.

Online Dairy Care Academy Courses:

  • Milking Practices (available in English and Spanish) – learn best milking practices and key ways to improve milk quality and udder health.

 

  • Dairy Stockmanship – learn how to work with a cow’s pressure zone, how the environment has an impact on cattle movement and why good stockmanship increases milk production, improves herd health, and reduces animal and handler injuries.

 

  • Calf Care – understand why calf housing should be clean, dry, draft free and ventilated, why the quality of colostrum is impacted by equipment cleanliness and milk storage, and how to properly sanitize calf equipment.

 

  • Fitness to Transport – study the importance of animal comfort and safety when handling, moving and transporting dairy animals.

 

  • Non-Ambulatory Animal Management – learn proper care of down animals, acceptable methods of non-ambulatory cow movement and employee safety while moving non-ambulatory animals.

 

  • Euthanasia – understand acceptable methods of euthanasia, correct anatomical sites for euthanasia and indicators of unconsciousness in dairy cattle.

This article was originally published in the January/February 2024 issue of the Milk MessengerSubscribe »

By Doug Chapin, MMPA Board Chairman

MMPA member involvement is key to our success and sets us apart from other cooperatives. Our members’ involvement strengthens our association, and it has helped us succeed through volatile dairy markets. While it’s critical that members participate in elections and cooperative business, it’s equally important that our cooperative remains successful in the future. To do that, we must attract the right leadership talent which only comes from having informed and involved member owners.

During our Annual Meeting last March, the membership recognized how our association has changed through the years and unanimously approved a member-driven proposal to update our governance structure. We’ve seen our industry change and farms consolidate, and it’s no surprise that what may have worked a century ago was no longer working in today’s environment. The proposed changes led us to change from a delegate system to giving every farm one vote, and we redistricted to better align ourselves with the number of members we have today.

As a result of the changes, we held virtual membership briefings over the summer to provide an update to membership on our cooperative business. The management team at MMPA shared industry happenings and gave insight into MMPA’s market strategy.

In December, we held District Meetings for the first time where all members were invited to attend and conduct cooperative business. The meetings were a good chance for members to interact and learn about the cooperative, while meeting with staff. The attendance was encouraging, and I appreciated the questions that members asked. Overall, the district meetings allowed every member to participate in the governance of the cooperative, a critical component of a successful cooperative.

The changes to our governance structure also allowed us to evaluate our member committees and how we share information with our membership. It’s led to the development of a legislative group for members interested in legislative affairs. It’s also created CORE, an opportunity for members to get involved and learn more about MMPA. While CORE is just getting off the ground, we’re excited to officially share dates with our members and invite them to participate.

The first CORE program will be MMPA 101, which will be a good chance for members to understand their milk check and the tools MMPA has from the lab work to field staff involvement. MMPA 101 will also include a tour of our laboratory in Novi and will fill in a lot of blanks for those who haven’t been as involved before. Following MMPA 101, members will have the opportunity to participate in a Sustainability Summit to recognize what we’re already doing on the sustainability front and what areas we are working to improve in the future. We’re also excited to bring members to our Canton, Ohio plant as part of the CORE program in April. As a key part of our association’s initiatives, the acquisition of that plant was a significant investment and I encourage all members to learn how your money is being spent.

These opportunities are great to learn the key parts of our association’s initiatives and understand how members’ investments in the cooperative is working for them. As owners of the cooperative, our members have a significant investment in our business, and I encourage everyone to participate in the co-op and learn what that investment is doing for their operation.

This article was originally published in the January/February 2024 issue of the Milk MessengerSubscribe »

As members of the dairy community, we know that milk has a lot of goodness. With 13 essential nutrients, it is ultra-hydrating, has high-quality protein and is an excellent source of calcium and vitamin D to support bone health.

It took a creative mom looking for a better sports drink solution for her son during his sports games to realize how the goodness of milk could create a healthy, natural hydrator that works better than the leading sports drinks for her kid and other athletes in the world. Milk’s goodness inspired GoodSport’s Founder to create a clear, refreshing sports drink by extracting the electrolytes and carbohydrates from milk, simultaneously creating a new format to consume dairy and disrupting the sports drink aisle as we know it today.

A born and raised Michigander with college experience at both Michigan State University and the University of Michigan, Michelle McBride, proud mom and founder and CEO of GoodSport Nutrition is the first to admit, “I have no background in dairy. I’m an attorney. I was a nonprofit executive. And I came up with this idea of GoodSport because I didn’t want my kids drinking sport drinks filled with artificial ingredients.”

“My husband and I had read about athletes who drink chocolate milk to recover after working out, so we started to bring our son that as a healthier alternative for after sports,” McBride said. The problem remained though that milk wasn’t his beverage of choice before and during a sport activity.

“We tried all the natural sports drink options, and my son didn’t like the taste, and then I came to learn that they don’t provide any level of hydration beyond plain water anyway,” McBride explained. “There was something inside of me that said, ‘I wonder if you could make a natural sports drink from milk that would work better.’”

That’s how the idea of GoodSport was born. “You have the traditional sports drinks that are made with artificial ingredients and too much sugar. And you’ve got the natural sports drinks, but they don’t hydrate any better than water,” McBride said. “GoodSport fills the void in the space of by being a sport drink made with only natural ingredients that’s backed by peer-reviewed published studies to hydrate not only better than water, but better than traditional sport drinks as well.”

After spending a year mulling over the ground-breaking idea of a dairy-based sports drink, McBride finally pursued it. She did the research and turned to experts to make the idea into a reality.

“After some research, I learned that milk is not only packed with electrolytes, but it is significantly more hydrating than water and traditional sports drinks as well,” McBride said. “I figured there has to be a way to extract milk’s hydrating components to create a better sports drink, but I knew I needed some experts to help me with it.”

McBride turned to Dr. Bob Murray, the current GoodSport Chief Science Officer and the previous founder and director of the Gatorade Sports Science Institute. “Dr. Bob is an internationally renowned expert on sports hydration. He has worked with the biggest athletes and teams in the world and is an extraordinarily well-published scientist.”

Initially, a milky formula was created. After testing it with consumers, McBride and Murray found that while the idea was appealing, athletes wanted something that had the mouthfeel and tasted more like a traditional sports drink. This revelation led them to working with the Center for Dairy Research at the University of Wisconsin.

“Working with the Center for Dairy Research, I was taught that you could use ultrafiltration to remove the protein and fat from milk (the milky part) and extract its electrolytes, carbohydrates, and B vitamins in a clear liquid to make a sports drink,” McBride said. “I also learned that we didn’t necessarily have to go out and buy tankers full of milk and ultrafilter it myself and waste the protein that I didn’t need for my sports drink because dairy processors, like Michigan Milk Producers Association (MMPA), ultrafilter milk to make products like protein powders, and have no use for the nutritious part of the milk that we would need to make the sports drink.”

As one of their early suppliers of GoodSport’s milk permeate, the main ingredient in the product, MMPA was an obvious partner when it came to moving the needle for GoodSport. The partnership that began as supplying their permeate has now turned to MMPA taking brand equity stake in the company.

“MMPA’s partnership means the world to us because it is a vote of confidence from the dairy industry and from the farmers themselves. Together, we’re really going to help make every drop of milk count,” McBride said. “It’s such a fantastic strategic alliance because MMPA has its own objectives and priorities in terms of innovation and product diversification to help keep dairy relevant for consumers going forward, and those same initiatives are relevant to GoodSport.”

GoodSport’s four flagship sports drink flavors are Lemon Lime, Fruit Punch, Wild Berry and Citrus, with Fruit Punch and Wild Berry as their two most popular flavors. In January, GoodSport launched an additional two flavors: Strawberry Lemonade and Blue Raspberry.

The Center for Dairy Research and MMPA weren’t the only relationships that McBride made in the dairy industry. Since there wasn’t a database of information on the nutrient content of permeate, McBride relied on Dairy Management Inc. (DMI), part of the national dairy checkoff program, to conduct research and strengthen the case for GoodSport being a solution to the problems she faced as a mom.

“DMI really helped support us with insights, information and research.,” McBride said. “We knew we had the components of a really well formulated sports drink, but we hadn’t had any type of study done that proved GoodSport hydrates better than the traditional sports drinks, so that’s where we started.”

Their research found that the goodness of dairy did make GoodSport better. The sports drink is a natural hydration option with 3X the electrolytes and 33% less sugar than traditional sports drink. The research also found that GoodSport hydrates better than water and traditional sports drinks and improves exercise performance.

“There are sports drinks that come and go from retail shelves all the time with little difference except for the names. When you look at consumer research and what consumers are looking for when they’re making purchases in the beverage aisle, the top three purchase indicators are whether the product is natural, whether it has proven efficacy, and whether it is sustainable,” McBride said.

And how does GoodSport stack up? “We have an all-natural product that’s proven to hydrate significantly better than water and traditional sports drinks and is upcycled certified because we’re upcycling a component of milk that otherwise would not get used,” Michelle said. Then she humbly added, “It’s a pretty good product-market fit.”

Really, it’s a nearly perfect product-market fit, and exactly what McBride was looking for when she set out to make a sports drink that was “good for you, good for sport and good for the planet.”

As for what’s next, GoodSport’s partnership with MMPA includes utilizing a recently awarded grant from the Dairy Business Innovation Alliance to work on a new format of GoodSport. The partnership and funds are guaranteed to continue innovating the future of dairy because McBride recognizes that “honest to goodness, there’s a lot of good here.”

This article was originally published in the January/February 2024 issue of the Milk MessengerSubscribe »

From former employees to owners of the dairy, BJ and Autumn Benkovsky, the 2023 MMPA Outstanding Young Dairy Cooperator Runners-Up, have embraced the challenge of taking over Lyon Farms in 2021 after the unexpected passing of their beloved mentor Mike Lyon.

It is not every day that one has the opportunity to take over and carry on the success of a dairy farm. Although unfortunate circumstances have lead BJ and Autumn Benkovsky to take ownership, the couple accepted the challenge without hesitation, doing all that they can to carry on the dairy’s legacy in Mike Lyon’s honor.

“I was working at the elevator at the time, and I had planned on coming back to the farm in July. Then Mike went downhill fast and passed away June 3rd. There was a whole month that I wasn’t here full time because I was still at the elevator,” BJ said.

Obstacles continued to arise for the couple in 2021 as Mike’s father, who was a sounding board for any and all questions concerning the operation, passed in September. Later that winter, a virus travelled through the herd, meaning long nights testing and treating cows. But there was lots of joy to be found in October 2021 with the birth of their first child Olivia.

“The transition was great because it was a huge blessing, but it was difficult”, Autumn admitted. “We’re just now catching up two years later. This past summer, I finally feel content at where we are on breeding and everything else,” BJ added.

OYDC Runner-Ups, BJ and Autumn have fully immersed their lives into making sure this dairy succeeds. “I’m CEO, Chief Everything Officer, breeding, feeding, accounting, the buck stops with me,” said BJ. “I am in charge of the calves. I work a full-time job outside of the farm, and then I feed calves at night, and then mornings and nights on the weekends. I also help BJ milk in the mornings and on the weekends,” said Autumn.

Looking Back

Although Autumn was raised on a dairy farm in Mason, Mich., dairying was not BJ’s initial career goal when he began his studies at Michigan State University (MSU).

“I started working here, in Eaton Rapids, Mich., at Lyon’s dairy while I was going to MSU. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I wanted to do something in ag and I was actually leaning towards the beef side of things,” BJ said. “Ultimately what I came to love about this is that you see the cycle from calf to cow. I was hooked, and for some reason Mike thought I was crazy enough or smart enough, to give us this opportunity.”

Autumn also became close to Mike through her work with the calves. “I was fortunate to be around when Mike was feeding calves because he taught me a lot. I grew up on a farm and I fed those calves, but every farmer has different perspectives and I was fortunate to be able to learn his ways,” said Autumn.

Autumn and BJ speak very highly of not only the ways in which Mike lead by example while operating the dairy, but his innate cow-sense.

“He was so good with cows. BJ said several times he could tell when a cow was going to be sick before it even got sick, his cow sense was unbelievable.” said Autumn.

Looking Ahead

“I don’t think a whole lot has changed since I have taken over. On the employee management side nothing has changed,” said BJ. “The core value of the farm is to have an impact. There are more ways to do that than having the fancy shiny tractor out front. There are people’s lives that I can have an impact on. There’s more to this job than making money and making milk, it’s having an effect on kids’ lives.”

BJ and Autumn take great pride in not only ensuring that the cows are taken care of, but that their employees are too. It is Mike’s morals and leadership values that have influenced BJ to continue making an impact on the lives of his employees.

“BJ’s doing a lot of things that Mike has done too,” Autumn said. “At Mike’s funeral there were a lot of young people. He was such a good mentor, the people that he hired really needed people there for them, and you could tell that Mike was there for them.”

When asked what motivates the couple every day, both answer that it is their daughter Olivia. “We try to do better than we have before, to always strive to become better,” said BJ.

At his core BJ loves being a dairy farmer. His journey to becoming one may not have been conventional, but he truly enjoys working with his cows.

“It’s not the employees. Not the paperwork. I really do love the cows,” BJ stated. “If the day ever comes that the cows aren’t here, then I would much rather rent my farmland out. The cows are why I’m a dairy farmer.”

Now that BJ and Autumn have settled more into their new position as dairy farmers, they have plans to build a new barn with a much more advanced parlor. “It’s a flat barn right now, we’re milking in the 1970’s here. Everything is in the works to go to a double 10 parallel and slowly grow the 88-cow herd from within over time,” said BJ.

Over a year ago they’ve started using bolus health monitoring technology to help manage their cows on a more individual basis. BJ explains, “They get installed into the animal, and it shows you which cows to dry off, who to breed, what health checks to make, and who’s about to calve.”

The couple also works alongside their nutritionist, consultants, and MMPA field representatives to help them along the way.

“When I first got this position, I was aware that there would be those who will try to pull one over my eyes, but the amount of people that are actually willing to share some of their knowledge and experience has been overwhelming,” BJ said. “We have a community of dairy industry people with plenty of great resources that are willing to help.” It is evident that together the Benkovsky family can persevere. With the right people by their side there is no challenge they cannot face together.

This article was originally published in the November/December 2023 issue of the Milk MessengerSubscribe »

MMPA delegates recently elected Kurt Steiner to serve a three-year term on the MMPA board of directors as a director-at-large. Steiner joins the 12 other dairy farmers on the MMPA board of directors, helping guide the direction of the cooperative and setting strategic goals.

Steinhurst Farms has been in operation since 1959, with Kurt having an active role since 1994. Today he operates 1,200 acres and milks 615 cows on the dairy in Creston, Ohio. He became an active member in MMPA when Superior Dairy was acquired in 2021. Kurt is excited to dedicate his time and energy to represent the Ohio dairy industry within the co-op.

How has MMPA impacted your farm?

MMPA dairy producers are more advanced than what I am accustomed to. Becoming part of MMPA has allowed our farm to be with a community of people who are doing what I like to do.

What do you value most about MMPA?

As a cooperative, MMPA takes an end user approach. We work to market milk products for consumers through associations with customers, or through projects such as the Dairy Distillery Project in Constantine.

Why did you want to join the board of directors?

It is important that the Ohio market has a say on what goes on in MMPA. There are some regional issues that affect Ohio farmers that do not affect Michigan farmers to the same extent, and it’s important to have a voice on the board from our state to provide input.

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

I strive to be a good board member and offer input where I’m asked. Being a board member is a big responsibility, but I value representing my peers and supporting the cooperative’s leadership.

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

There is always room for new ideas on the board. Opportunity arises each year for members to become involved through elected positions or volunteering to learn more about the cooperative.

This article was originally published in the November/December 2023 issue of the Milk MessengerSubscribe »

By Joe Diglio, MMPA President & CEO

Our industry is continuously evolving, and MMPA is evolving with it. Our customers’ concerns today are different than what they were ten years ago, with a growing focus on our cooperative’s sustainability efforts. At MMPA, sustainability isn’t an end goal to reach, it’s the continuation of efforts that benefit the communities we work and live in. Our goals will continue to progress as we achieve results and make a positive impact on the people we influence, the planet we live on and the value we provide.

Our cooperative’s sustainability efforts focus on finding improvements to historical practices and seeking innovations to create new opportunities that offset our carbon footprint while supporting our members, employees and customers. We’re dedicated to investing in sustainable technologies that can be a positive solution we can use redundantly throughout the supply chain.

A recent example of that is our investment in Dairy Distillery, an ethanol plant that will use a byproduct of the ultra-filtered milk process to create a sustainable ethanol used for powering vehicles. This technology has attracted attention from players in the industry and is evidence that the industry is evolving. The international market is well established in sustainability efforts and because we compete in a global market, if we’re going to continue exporting our products, we need to adapt to what consumers today desire.

In order to achieve results in the future, we have to recognize that our industry competes for labor with other industries in a labor market that’s already short. We in the dairy industry need to collaborate by informing and educating the new workforce about the benefits in working in our industry. In addition, when we talk about labor challenges, it’s not just about lack of labor, but the training of new employees in the workforce as well.

A solution to the challenge is to implement technology to reduce the reliance on legacy processes that require excess human labor and to create efficiencies in workflows that save employees’ time. We need to continue investing in technology to adapt to workforce needs and prepare for the next generation of employees. We need to evaluate our employee policies in order to maintain our competitiveness in the marketplace. Today’s new generation of workers are different than in the past and it’s critical that we continue to adapt to the evolution of the workplace while meeting the demand for the products we produce.

With a product that is so dynamic, milk has the ability to be a solution to so many different challenges we’re facing as a country and as a global population today. There will always be a need for dairy in the future and that’s exciting. What other industry has the ability to provide nourishment and welfare for so many while achieving a sustainable environment that everyone can benefit from?

This article was originally published in the November/December 2023 issue of the Milk MessengerSubscribe »

Located in the heart of Metro Detroit is one of the last standing dairy facilities in the area – C.F. Burger Creamery. Known for their cream and eggnog at regional retail outlets, they’ve grown their business to service one of the largest restaurant chains in the world, while remaining true to their roots as a family-owned business.

Dean Angott, Chairman and President, C.F. Burger Creamery

“We are a true creamery in that everything we make has elevated butterfat levels,” Dean Angott said about his family’s business, C.F. Burger Creamery. “We specialize in extended shelf life products. We were one of the early adopters of that technology after beginning to produce cream with a shelf life of 100 days in the 1960s.”

With 58 employees at their sole processing facility in Detroit, C.F. Burger Creamery is the last standing Grade A dairy manufacturer in the city of Detroit.

“A long time ago, when I started in this business, there were over 20 dairies in the city itself,” Angott, who serves as the company’s Chairman and President, said. “When my family first started in the business in 1926, there were nearly 500 small dairies in Detroit and neighboring cities”.

The change in the industry has required them to adapt to consumer preferences and grow their business to remain relevant in the face of industry consolidation. Today, their products can be found in 22 surrounding states under the C.F. Burger Creamery brand, and in McDonald’s milkshakes and lattes and Dairy Queen ice cream mixes. Despite their growth they’ve remained true to their roots as a family-owned business.

“Here we sit in 2023, and despite how different our industry is today, we’re still a family-owned company,” Angott said. “We run the business like a family business should be run and employees appreciate that. The average tenure of an employee here at C.F. Burger is 22 years and we have generational employees in the plant where their dad worked here, or their grandfather worked here.”

The company’s dedicated employees are one of the many reasons Angott credits for the company’s success, along with their supply of high-quality milk.

Premium Cream

“We’ve had a continuous supply contract agreement with Michigan Milk Producers Association (MMPA) for more years than I can even remember,” Angott said. “We’re in the business of making exceptional dairy products. I can’t make an exceptional product unless I start with exceptional ingredients and that process begins on MMPA producers’ farms.”

As a long-term partner with MMPA, C.F. Burger Creamery has grown alongside the dairy cooperative through the years, and they’ve worked together to achieve key milestones in each other’s histories.

“This very building that we’re in, we bought from MMPA,” Angott said. “At the time, we had no idea how we could possibly fill this huge building, and now I sit here in 2023 figuring out how I am going to add on to the building. Those are good problems to have.”

The partnership between MMPA and C.F. Burger Creamy is rooted in the companies’ shared mission and values and has resulted in appreciation for each other’s role in the industry.

“MMPA is on a mission to be the best co-op providing the best quality milk. That’s great because we’re on a mission to be the best dairy specialties company offering the very best products,” Angott said. “The high level of quality and the fact that MMPA producers are invested in making sure that they’re hearing what’s going on in the world and ensuring that they’re making a positive impact on the environment and participating in improving animal welfare on their farms is why over the many years, we’ve formed a true partnership with MMPA.”

The partnership has only strengthened over time as C.F. Burger Creamery has continued to grow. The growth is due in part to the success of the company’s line of eggnog products, a well-known staple in their community around the holiday time and beyond.

Premium Products

C.F. Burger’s range of premium dairy products available on retail shelves includes four different varieties of eggnog: Deluxe Old Fashioned Eggnog, Colonial Style Custard Nog, Holiday Nog and Dulce de Leche Caramel Nog.

“40 years ago, when we first got into eggnog, most of the eggnogs on retail shelves were not high quality because supermarket chains just liked to stock them for four weeks during the holidays and sell it at a price point to get out of it and be done with it,” Angott said. “We saw there was an opportunity for a really premium product, so that’s what we set out to build.”

From there, their eggnog recipe took off and after launching four different varieties ranging from caramel flavored to fat-free, the Angott family sought to do even more.

“We thought that if people like eggnog during the holidays, why wouldn’t they like it year-round?” Angott said. “We kept the flagship flavor, the Deluxe Old Fashioned and went to a few supermarket chains and asked if they would consider selling it on a year-round basis. They were willing to give it a try, and it ends up that people who like eggnog during the holidays like it in July too.”

The company’s growth and dedicated consumer base allows C.F. Burger Creamery to maintain a constant production of eggnog year-round. In any given year, they sell over a million quarts of eggnog to consumers in the metro-Detroit area and beyond.

“Traditions are important,” Angott said. “At times it’s tough to be a producer and it’s tough to be a processor, but it’s in our veins and it’s what we do. I’m very proud of it and with high-quality cream and condensed milk provided by MMPA, our customers can taste the difference.”

This article was originally published in the November/December 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. 

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.

KEYWORD

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.

FARM

Bleich Family Farms
Hudson, Michigan

HERD

1,000 Holstein milking cows

LAND

 2,500 acres of corn and alfalfa

VERIFICATIONS

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 »