September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.
What was initially built as an 800-cow dairy with a double-24 parallel parlor in 1995 has now become home to 10,000 Jersey cows milked in an 80-stall rotary parlor and a double-30 parallel parlor. There are 70 employees at Riverview Dairy. The 120-acre site is just south of Morris, Minn., which was also the site of Riverview's sixth annual open house on June 25.
Ask Riverview operators, and they'll say continuous expansion was not the initial 20-year plan. Building large dairies has never been a driving force.
"There never has been a master plan," said Kevin Wulf, who works in human resources for the dairy. "Riverview's focus has been to provide a culture of opportunity for passionate people. We are going to keep growing as long as we have the passion here. It's not a goal we can measure, but it's what we try to do every day."
When Riverview Dairy was built, the Fehr family decided to move away from the family farm business structure. They created a partnership and invited 25 outside investors including family, friends and neighbors. The business model worked well for them. Today, Riverview has over 300 investors and 70 percent of the company is employee-owned. The company now includes 10 dairies and 60,000 cows in Minnesota, South Dakota and New Mexico.
Riverview's large group of investors has not only allowed the farm the financial support to grow but also acts as a motivator for the farm's operators.
"It holds us accountable," Wulf said. "We have to be competitive with other opportunities our investors have. So we have to watch our cost of production and make good management choices."
The company also gains from the expertise that comes with having an outside perspective. Riverview's board of directors, which represents the investor unit, includes three people who work within the company and four that are outside the company. All are owners but the directors who work offsite, can bring a different, fresh perspective to the company.
Technology has also played an important role in the management and growth of Riverview.
When the original facility was built 20 years ago, the dairy was outfitted with the latest technology available for managing dairies. Equipment was measuring every detail about every cow. The result was an overload of data, which needed to be sifted through.
"Much of the data could be eliminated simply by being connected with the cows and observing them," Wulf said. "So we took all the technology out and implement it only where it makes sense."
Riverview Dairy shies away from technology so to not become dependent on it; however, RFID tags are used for automatic, real-time data entry.
The past 20 years for Riverview Dairy have not been without its bumps in the road. The dairy does not participate in milk contracts, choosing to ride the highs and lows of milk and commodity markets.
"Nobody is too big to fail," Wulf said. "It's all about keeping a strong balance sheet and how you manage your business rather than the size of your business.
Riverview Dairy does projections 12 months in advance. Their focus is maintaining a good equity position to be prepared to ride out low points in the milk market. The dairy purchases 80 percent of the crops fed to their cows.
Riding the markets is not the only challenge the dairy faces. Finding the right people to work for their company is difficult. Riverview Dairy seeks employees who are passionate about agriculture. But being located in a remote area of Minnesota, Riverview Dairy has been faced with the challenge of convincing families to move.
"We want people who believe in agriculture and in living the values our company has," Wulf said. "Our culture is very important to us so we screen very heavily to be sure we find the right people."
The right people have made a difference for Riverview Dairy. Wulf said their greatest accomplishment is seen in their growth from one 800-cow dairy 20 years ago to today's 10 dairies with 60,000 cows.
"Not one person will take credit for that growth," Wulf said. "Riverview is about providing opportunity and if we get passionate people here who all love and believe in this system, you can do amazing things. Just building, maintaining and improving that culture is a huge accomplishment."
Riverview Dairy's most recent projects include the purchase of two functioning dairy facilities in Arizona and New Mexico. They are also transitioning into raising calves at the Southwest locations, taking advantage of the warmer climate for raising Jersey calves.
Riverview Dairy is also midway through constructing an 8,000-cow dairy near Willmar, Minn. This dairy, Meadow Star Dairy, will milk Jerseys in a 106-stall rotary parlor.
If the next 20 years is anything like the past 20 years for Riverview Dairy, Wulf said he can't wait to see what happens.
"We truly feel God has blessed us and has helped all the way. It's all blessings from Him, so we can't take any credit for what we've accomplished here," Wulf said.