COMFREY, Minn. – When it came time for Mike and Joyce Moldan to transition the farm to their son, Jay, the family relied on the insight of the Minnesota Dairy Initiative to create a smooth transfer of ownership. 

More than a decade after those initial meetings with MDI, Jay Moldan returned to the organization for guidance in 2019. 

“At the time, the farm’s financials were in bad shape. We were getting into the crash of the milk markets and the COVID-19 crisis,” Moldan said. “Things seemed to be doomed and gloomed, and I was searching for someone to help out and find a solution.”

Moldan works with a team developed through MDI to make decisions on his 90-cow dairy in Brown County near Comfrey. 

The dairyman’s MDI team includes his veterinarian, nutritionist, banker and farm business management instructor as well as Heidi Sellner as the MDI coordinator. They meet about four times a year to work toward reaching both short- and long-term farm goals. 

“I’m so involved in the day-to-day hustle and bustle of the farm that I might not see things we need to do,” Moldan said. “It really helps that I have an outside perspective looking at the place. Oftentimes, I’m not seeing a simple idea that might fix a problem.”

Moldan is the sole operator of the dairy. His parents are present on the farm but not active in the daily operations. 

The farm was first enrolled in the organization in 2008, shortly before undergoing a large expansion and modernization project that resulted in a freestall barn in 2009 and a milking parlor in 2017. 

“We were starting to figure out how to transition the farm to me,” said Moldan who had been working on the dairy since 1998. “By then, Dad figured he wanted to phase out and hand things over, but we weren’t sure how to go about it. (MDI) helped guide us to the right path to set things up and to know what other people were doing in the process.”

In forming a team, the Moldans were also given insight as to what facility designs worked well on other farm sites and what facility designs were flawed. They determined what would be the best feed for the animals, stalls and management choices to provide quality cow comfort to the herd. 

“As farmers, we couldn’t get too far away. All those people we had available to us saw hundreds of setups,” Moldan said. “They were able to come together with ideas, and the result is a setup that I believe really works for us.”

Moldan also used the team’s expertise in enrolling in the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program. 

By late 2017, Moldan began milking in his new parlor facility, and the business transition from one generation to the next was complete. Without any major objectives on the horizon, Moldan decided to end his partnership with MDI and his team. 

Yet, a short time later, Moldan realized the valuable farm asset he let go. 

“I had MDI and then backed away, and that’s when things started rolling downhill,” Moldan said. “I was about to hit rock bottom, and I learned that maybe I don’t know as much as I thought I did. There were no other options for me but to get back on MDI and talk with (Sellner) to help me get back on track.”

The team, now comprised similarly to the Moldans’ first group, evaluated many of the farm’s management practices, including breeding protocols. 

In working with his team, Moldan has uncovered ways to capture profits from his herd. 

“We’ve discussed anything and everything that goes on and have found ways to be profitable,” Moldan said. “It really seems to help keep a guy on track, especially with where I was heading and where things were going on the farm.”

Since Moldan reconnected with his team, his rolling herd average has improved to more than 26,000 pounds. He anticipates production to reach a 27,000-pound rolling herd average by the end of the year. 

The resources Moldan has been provided through his team have turned the farm business around.

“All these other people can see on the outside and on paper that there are a lot of facets that can help you be more profitable,” Moldan said. “We definitely have things back on track, and we’re rolling in the right direction.”

In the coming months, the dairy farmer wants to discuss forage availability with his team. If the drought-like conditions continue, Moldan will run into a hay shortage and will need to come up with an alternative solution to feed his herd. 

Whether planning a farm transition or re-evaluating ways to turn a profit, Moldan is grateful for the work of his MDI team. 

“They are not just someone who can see something going sideways before you do,” Moldan said. “They also see the steps to take in the coming months to fix that or correct it. To me and my farm, they’re invaluable.”