September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.

Dreaming of dairy?

MDA program links beginning with retiring farmers
Derek Schmitz, Richmond, Minn., works as a herdsman to gain experience at the Jerome and Jean Salzer Family Dairy near St. Joseph, Minn., and is interested in working into an existing dairy operation.<br /><!-- 1upcrlf -->PHOTO BY ANDREA BORGERDING
Derek Schmitz, Richmond, Minn., works as a herdsman to gain experience at the Jerome and Jean Salzer Family Dairy near St. Joseph, Minn., and is interested in working into an existing dairy operation.<br /><!-- 1upcrlf -->PHOTO BY ANDREA BORGERDING

By by Jean Annexstad- | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

ST. JOSEPH, Minn. - "Milking cows is all I've ever wanted to do," Derek Schmitz said.
He is one of the aspiring dairy farmers on a list that is compiled by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) as part of their Farm Transition Program. Schmitz is a 19-year-old who is currently a herdsman on a 100-cow family dairy operation near St. Joseph, Minn., who has a goal of first renting and then owning his own farm within six years.
"If the right opportunity came up, I'd be interested. I have to make sure I have the expertise first. I am interested in learning about a low-input, seasonal-calving, crossbred cattle grazing system," said Schmitz, who is open to gaining experience at different operations as work as a herdsman, while building equity by buying cattle and milking his own herd at the same time.
"I realize it will take a while," Schmitz said. "Working with a person close to retiring would be my ideal situation."
"I get a lot of interesting phone calls. Currently our list of people looking for opportunities to farm outweighs the list of people looking for someone to take over," said Jim Ostlie, MDA Livestock Development and Planning Specialist.
"The list of beginning and young farmers holds a variety of expertise and experience; from graduating college students with no hands-on experience in the livestock sector other than college, looking for opportunities for employment and mentorship; to young people who have the hands-on experience and education, looking for opportunities to take over."
"One of the factors that makes transition difficult is that people have specific requirements or wish lists such as location, size of farm, land availability, type of farm system, etc., so finding a match can be difficult, but we are doing our best to bring some people together to keep livestock agriculture growing in Minnesota," Ostlie said.
Ostlie encourages farmers without a transition plan for their farm and no opportunity for a family member to take over and who desire to have their livestock farm continue operation to contact MDA for more information on the program. Young or beginning farmers looking for livestock opportunities in Minnesota should also get on the list. Contact MDA's Livestock Development Team at 651-201-6456 with any questions.
"We would like folks to know that transitions take time and opportunities aren't always available, but you will be contacted if a match is found. I would also encourage folks to look at our web application: to see farms in Minnesota available for purchase. You may find a dream farm or a farm that with a little sweat equity will become your dream farm," Ostlie said.
"Our vision is to have an official program that links beginning, young farmers with retiring, exiting farmers within the livestock industry and then assists with the resources needed to facilitate the development of a farm transition," Ostlie said.
"Our focus is on transitions more with folks that are not related, by bringing two non-related parties together to keep farms in operations that do not have a next generation within the family. As of now, we are looking to start the process and offer the resources to hopefully make it grow," Ostlie said. "Long term we would like to see a program that will assist in the full facilitation of a transition from bringing the two parties together to eventually forming an agreement and then working with them beyond that agreement."
Griffin Moe is an aspiring dairy farmer with a MA in business administration from the University of Milwaukee, and he has researched getting started in the dairy business. He is on the MDA's list, but currently works in the iron-ore industry and lives in Grand Rapids, Minn.
"I am interested in the dairy industry because I think it's a noble profession , and I think there's an opportunity because dairy farm owners are an aging population," he said.
"I know that capital is available in the form of loans if a person has a good business plan. It would be a daunting task to get started because it is a very capital intensive business," he said. "I would have to find at least one partner with hands-on experience with cows and crops, and learn from that person. I would take a good hard look at an opportunity if one came along."
The MDA website's monthly list of farm properties for sale and the list of people seeking farms are not new. These programs are carried out with existing MDA employees along with other services, said Curt Zimmerman, MDA Livestock Development Supervisor.
"But the program's focus has shifted. There is more interest now in livestock farms, because land is priced so high to buy or rent for crop production," he said.
"Minnesota has a lot to offer in our ability to grown our own feedstuffs. Input costs are high for all livestock operations, but there is a real advantage for the Upper Midwest over dairy producers located in the South and West," he said.
"What's important is that we respond to the interest that's been out there," said Zimmerman, who was representing MDA at a career fair in Wilmar, Minn. when he was interviewed. "In just one hour this morning, I have a half-dozen names of young people who want to be on this list."
One way MDA is working to find farmers who wish to exit the business, but have no one to take over is to send out post cards about the program with annual feedlot re-registration forms that go to livestock owners, said Zimmerman.
Once a match is found, many farm organizations and lenders have programs for young farmers and for this transition process.
Sustainable Farming Association's Farm Transitions workshops planned for this winter and spring include extensive classes on estate and succession planning. Here's the link: Contact John Mesko at 763-260-0209 or [email protected].[[In-content Ad]]


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