Continuing the tradition

Being organic helps keep Blatz farm in the family

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MOUNT CALVARY, Wis. – Organic farming is all Greg Blatz has ever known. Growing up around organic farming practices, Blatz adopted the lifestyle easily and developed a love for doing things the natural way.
“From the land to the cows, all of it is connected, and I feel like organic farming is better for everything involved,” Blatz said. “We don’t put synthetic fertilizers or chemicals on our fields or antibiotics into our cows. I feel organic is better for the environment as well as our animals.”
Blatz milks 50 cows and farms 220 acres near Mount Calvary. He took over the farm from his parents, Ken and Joanne, in 2019, but Blatz’s dad continues to work alongside him.
“Being organic is really the only reason we’ve been able to stay at this size,” Blatz said. “Also, if it wasn’t for the organic market, my dad would’ve had a hard time trying to pass the farm on to me.”
Organic since 1994, the cost savings and milk price stability of farming organically helped ensure the farm remained profitable without growing larger.  
“My dad was one of the first farmers on this side of the state to ship with Organic Valley,” Blatz said. “He never really liked spraying the fields all that much and tried cutting back when he could. When the organic market came around, he thought it was something he could do, so he went for it. We have a good, stable market with Organic Valley. They’ve been really good to us over the years.”
In 2014, Blatz and his father entered into a five-year 50-50 partnership. During that time, Blatz’s dad handed over one aspect of the farm at a time to his son. First it was the crops, then came the bookwork, next was cow management and so on. When the five years was up, Blatz signed the papers, and ownership changed over to him.
“My dad wanted to see the farm carry on, so he figured out a price that worked for both of us,” Blatz said.
Blatz is the fourth generation on the farm that has been in his family for more than 100 years. He and his wife, Nikki, have a 17-month-old daughter, Sally, and they find it to be the perfect place to raise a family.
“Sally loves to check on the cows every day,” Blatz said.
When deciding to go organic, Blatz’s dad was more nervous about the cows than the crops.
“Cows were the bigger hurdle,” Blatz said. “My dad knew he could raise crops organically, but he wasn’t as sure about keeping cows healthy that way. It took a lot of trial and error over the years and finding different ways to do things. We’re not pushing for big production, so we find that cows stay healthier in general and breed back easier.”
About 15 years ago, the Blatzes switched from Holstein to a three-way cross of Holstein, Swedish Red and Montbéliarde. The crossbred herd is milked in a tiestall barn and averages 55 pounds of milk per cow per day.
“I’m really happy with this cross, especially for pasture,” Blatz said. “Their feet and legs seem to hold up better, and they are good grazers. Holsteins would gather in a big group, but these cows stay spread out. The Montbéliarde especially is hardier and stronger and fits our stall size better than Holstein. The Montbéliardes and Swedish Reds calve easy also.”
Cows eat a diet of an alfalfa-grass mix and sorghum sudan grass along with some oat and pea for forage. In the winter, Blatz also feeds 12-15 pounds of ground corn per cow. The cows do a lot of grazing, especially in the summer when 90% of the herd’s feed comes from pasture. Thirty-five of Blatz’s acres are permanent pasture.
“I send the cows in hay fields too,” he said. “We have water lines buried across the whole farm, so they can get water wherever we want to send them.”
The Blatzes have not fed corn silage in 25 years. When his dad started farming organically, Blatz said corn was the hardest crop to grow and keeping weeds out was a battle. They grew a lot of barley instead for grain and also grew some corn for grain. But this fall, Blatz is going to try making corn silage once again.
“We’re finding it easier to grow corn now,” he said. “We plant a cover crop in front of it containing oats, tillage radishes and red clover. We work the red clover down and then work corn into it. Then in August, we haul manure after the oats are up good.”
All manure on the farm is composted. Blatz beds with a combination of straw and sawdust, and said he uses a lot of bedding to keep the manure dry enough for composting.
“There is limited fertilizer we can buy, so manure is pretty important to us,” he said. “We’ve seen more valuable nutrients in the manure and good results with composting. It keeps organic matter in the soil.”
Blatz also does a lot of cover cropping. In a field coming off hay, he plants a cover crop to get as much natural nitrogen in the ground as possible. He then does only two cuts that year instead of three.
Two years ago, Blatz bought 20 acres from a neighbor which he will be able to use next year after waiting three years for organic certification.
“That acreage gives me leeway to try different things like soybeans,” he said. “I tried soybeans once, and my dad tried it twice, but we couldn’t keep them weed free. However, we’re going to try again next year. I’ve been reading about direct planting into rye and then rolling down the rye.”
Blatz said if he feeds more corn silage, more protein will be needed, which is why he wants to look at growing soybeans. As he progresses into the future, Blatz continues to explore different possibilities for raising crops and caring for cows organically.
“Over the years, more resources, tools and products have become available for us to use,” he said. “We’re always picking up small things to try.”
The Blatzes like to be self-sufficient and integrated solar energy into the farm in 2010. Through grants from the United States Department of Agriculture and Focus on Energy, they were able to install 20-kilowatt panels on a machinery shed that supplies about half of the farm’s power.
Believing in the benefits of organic farming, Blatz plans to continue down the path his father blazed nearly 30 years ago. Organic practices placed the farm on a track of sustainability and longevity, making it possible for a new generation to carry on the farm at its current size while experiencing economic success.

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