By MELISSA HART
FRANKENMUTH, Mich. — More than 400 dairy enthusiasts came to “Little Bavaria” for the seventh annual Great Lakes Regional Dairy Conference last month in snow-covered Frankenmuth. They spent three days learning everything from transition cow nutrition to calf care, to accepting technology and feeding the world, all while recognizing the leaders in the dairy industry.
While a snowstorm loomed over mid-Michigan, the banquet highlighted dairy producers who have gone the extra mile in promotion. The evening began with Michigan State University extension educator Nancy Thelen recognizing the farms who hosted the popular “Breakfast on the Farm” over the last two years around Michigan.
Since the first Michigan Breakfast on the Farm education program was at Dutch Meadows Dairy in Clinton County in 2009, 20 additional farms have hosted this unique program. Just under 41,000 consumers and farm neighbors have experienced a firsthand look at modern food production practices and the farm families who produce for Michigan and the world.
Surveys have shown that more than 43 percent of those who attended have not been on a modern dairy farm in at least the last 20 years. The program is seen to be changing the public’s perception about farming in general.
The 2010 host farms were: Horning Farms, Washtenaw County; Steenblick Dairy, Clinton County; Bryant Farm, Isabella County; and Risky Endeavor Dairy, Alpena County.
The 2011 host farms were Jef-Len Dairy, Clinton County; Raymond and Stutzman Farm, Lenawee County; Circle K Farms, Ogemaw County; Pasch Dairy, Isabella County; Daybreak Dairy, Ottawa County; S&M Dairy, Huron County; Taylor Creek Farm, Chippewa County; and Benthem Brothers, Missaukee County.
The 2012 host farms were Myers Farm, Kalamazoo County; Choate’s Belly Acres, Jackson County; Goma Dairy Farm, Sanilac County; VanDrese Farms, Delta County; May Farms, Kent County; Judge Dairy Farm, Isabella County; Gingrich Meadows, Osceola County; and John Schaendorf Dairy, Allegan County.
Recognizing the promoters of dairy products, Julie Alexander of Hanover was the recipient of the United Dairy Industry of Michigan Excellence in Dairy Promotions Award. As the wife of a dairy farmer and mother of five children, she has promoted dairy in every facet of her life as a public school educator, to her position now as a Jackson County commissioner, all while keeping up with her daily duties on the farm.
The evening concluded with Lynn Liddle, executive vice president for Communications, Investor Relations and Legislative Affairs for Domino’s Pizza. She took the crowd down Memory Lane from the first days of Domino’s Pizza to 2013, where the company has partnered with the dairy industry and are creating pizzas with more cheese and increasing demand for dairy products.
Domino’s is also making changes to its stores to include a place where younger children can step up and watch a pizza maker toss the dough, and stores are offering white and chocolate milk in coolers at the counter.
The second day of the conference continued with educational seminars on producing high-quality milk, keeping one’s financial house in order, passing on the family farm and the standing room-only panel discussion about robotic milkers. In addition, a social media option was available for those who wanted to learn more about promoting agriculture through popular sites Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
The second evening banquet spotlighted the Michigan dairy industry. Dairy enthusiasts gathered to honor outstanding youth and accomplished producers throughout the state of Michigan.
Lauren Bush, a senior at Michigan State University and MSU Dairy Club president, thanked the industry for its support and gave an overview of the club’s activities. The club also handed out awards; the Outstanding First-Year Member was JW Hart, North Adams; Outstanding Dairy Tech student went to Melissa Fish, Moscow; Outstanding Returning Member went to Lauren Bush, Swartz Creek; and the Outstanding Industry Member went to dairy producer Scott Ferry from Litchfield.
Dr. Joe Domecq, MSU dairy judging program coordinator, introduced and listed the accomplishments of the Ag Tech Dairy Judging Team, consisting of Malissa Reed of St. Johns, Brittany Zondilak of Byron Center, Alison Oesch of Alto and Adam Guernsey of Ionia.
He also introduced the four-year MSU Collegiate Dairy Judging Team consisting of Sarah Michalek of Deckerville, Katelyn Horning of Manchester, JW Hart of North Adams and Cassie Parks of Clinton.
The 4-H Dairy Judging Team was Megan Filhart of Rosebush, Hayleigh Geurink of Allendale, Megan Bush of Swartz Creek and Savannah Katulski of Hadley. This team of girls won the 4-H Dairy Judging Contest at World Dairy Expo last October and have earned a trip abroad in June – they will travel throughout Europe exploring the dairy industry and judge a contest there.
The Michigan Dairy Ambassador Program is a scholarship for two young dairy enthusiasts who commit to spending a year promoting the dairy industry around the state. The contestants competed through a process of interviews and interaction with the judges.
The Junior Division winner, Kelly Ratterink of Zeeland, received a $1,000 scholarship, while Senior Division winner Katelyn Horning of Manchester took home $1,500.
Dr. Janice Swanson, chair of the Animal Science Department at MSU, then introduced the Michigan Dairy Farmers of the Year for 2012 – Bruce and Jennifer Lewis of Pleasant View Dairy in Jonesville. The Lewises and their children, Adam (with Kayla), Britney and Conner, graciously received the prestigious honor that has been awarded by MSU since 1958.
This family has been active in promoting agriculture from the local level to the national. They are active in Michigan Farm Bureau and have hosted several educational events at their farm. Bruce and Jennifer have earned several awards for their service to the dairy industry and for their expertise in dairy farming.
(Award winner JW Hart is the son of correspondent Melissa Hart. –Ed.)