We could not make it to World Dairy Expo this year due to the extended harvest season. We started chopping in mid September and finished combing corn in late November. The last corn stalk was gleaned on Sunday night. With above freezing temperatures for the remainder of the week, we hope to finish some fall fieldwork. It has been a long and memorable harvest season. The bright spot was when Expo came to us. A group of dairymen and women from the Netherlands, Latvia and Belgium stopped by on their way to Madison, Wisconsin, to talk cows and farming. They took the long, scenic route visiting farms in Minnesota and Wisconsin before they stepped foot on Expo grounds.
    The group of 15 people arrived as we finished chopping silage and before the combine pulled into the fields for high moisture corn. Fortunately, it rained the day before and prevented us from being in the fields. When we scheduled this visit six months earlier, we did not know how things were going to shake out. But, it was a perfect time to talk and learn from each other. Questions centered around the future of dairying, regardless of where we farmed. It was amazing to hear how many of the things we are facing here on our farm and industry they are going through, too, several thousand miles and language barriers away.
    The president of the Latvian Holstein Association is a mother with young children. She is trying to capture the attention of other young kids and cultivate an interest in dairying. She is rounding up young neighbors, cousins and friends to lease animals to show as a way to educate consumers about the dairy industry. She points out that if they do not capture their interest when they are young, they never will. It seems they cannot compete against the computers, social media and sports. We leaned up against their van and talked about how reaching young people is a passion we both share. I told her about our Andrew and how he was now a herdsman in southern Minnesota because we pulled him into our family and 4-H. The 4-H and breed leasing programs are great ways to get non-farm kids exposed to other opportunities and careers.
    Two farmers in the group wanted to know what our plans are for the next phase of life. I joked, “There’s a phase after dairying?” The two neighbors both milked cows, but the older one was ready to retire from milking but not cattle. Together they worked out a plan to benefit both farms. The younger one still milks and the older one raises his replacement heifers. The retired dairyman also converted some facility space for his wife’s and daughter’s passion of horses. A creative way to solve a universal problem. They also asked about government regulations and water quality. They struggle with bureaucrats, legislation and common sense in addressing these issues, too.
    A young dairyman, about Austin’s age, is the third generation to still be on his family farm because of decisions made during a tragic time. His dad was hurt in a farming accident about 10 years ago. Grandpa was too old to do the daily milking and he was too young. They took a huge step to stay in business by installing three robotic milkers. It was the best thing they did. He could not imagine milking any other way. There was a high learning curve, but the struggle to adjust to the new technology was worth it. Their leap into adapting saved the farm when the future looked bleak.
    The gentleman who organized this dairy trip is a breeding consultant for these dairymen and women. He works with farmers to select the right type of genetics to fit the farmers’ goals. Some farmers are jumping in the genomic pool with both feet, breeding based solely on numbers. Others are standing on the edge of the pool, dangling their big toe in the pool, using genomics and proven cow families.    
    We are on the edge of the pool, too. We dabble with some genomics and flush only a few special animals to keep close to the game, but our real passion is developing cow families. Maybe it is pride, but there is something special when three generations are standing in the barn together and to work with a cow family over enough years that you can see which strong family traits are passed on to the next generation. It may be a numbers game today, but it is still driven by families. Many in the group agreed. It is all about families in the barn and in the house that make this industry go.
    Their stories are like many we have read about in the Dairy Star over the years, yet we are farming thousands of miles apart. We are asking the same questions, facing similar circumstances with weather and governments. We are looking for creative solutions from other’s experiences. It is a small world, and we belong to a very special family.
    Natalie, Mark and his brother Al, farm together near Rice, Minn. They milk 100 registered Holsteins under the RALMA prefix. Their four children are grown up and all involved in agriculture with hopes of someone returning to the farm. For questions or comments, please e-mail Natalie at mnschmitt@jetup.net.