From the Farmer's Tractor
November 25, 2007
Liz Doornink and family
Liz Doornink, 41, is a dairy farmer in Baldwin, Wisconsin, about 35 miles east of St. Paul. Doornink owns Jon-De Farm, Inc., together with her husband Todd, Todd’s parents Dean and June Doornink, and neighbors Barry and Heather Serier. The family-run business ships their product to ConAgra, who in turn processes the milk into various dairy products.
How did you get into dairy farming?
My husband’s family has been dairy farming since 1914. Todd’s a fourth generation dairy farmer, and I married into the business. I was technically a city girl prior to that, but I’ve been involved in agriculture for over 22 years now.
How have your farming practices changed over the last 10 years?
We’ve been able to utilize new technologies and tools that have allowed us to stay a viable business, helping us to do things like produce more with less. We’ve been doing three-times-a-day milking since 1984. We use tools that allow us to be innovators in the field.
How will dairy farming evolve in the next five years?
We want to continue to get better at what we do, not just with the cows, but also with our employees, the environment, and our community.
What is your greatest challenge as a dairy farmer?
One challenge is labor. This is an ongoing issue for all of us right now. The other is educating consumers about farming so that we can continue to have a choice when it comes to utilizing technology to provide a better food product for our country.
How does a farmer know what a retailer will want a year from now?
Probably at this point, the farmer doesn’t know as much as they could. We need to do more with the consumers to better educate them about our product and how we farm. We need to find out what types of information they want, and we need to ask them directly.
What steps are you taking toward conservation on the farm?
We’ve always considered ourselves to be stewards of the land. Without the land, we couldn’t farm. We take a proactive approach to using techniques that allow us to be more efficient and take better care of the environment.
We joined Wisconsin’s Green Tier program, which is a voluntary environmental program open to all Wisconsin businesses. As part of this program, we analyzed everything from how we use our fossil fuels and grid electricity to what we do with our waste and nutrients to how we train our employees. We then selected items that we thought we could improve on, like using a GPS to monitor where the tractors are to help them make fewer trips, and using soil consultants to test our field for appropriate nutrient content to help reduce pesticide and herbicide use. We’re always looking for ways to improve.
What kinds of reactions do you get from consumers when they meet you in person?
Most of the time, consumers are very inquisitive. We do a lot of tours and education within our community, and everyone wants to know more. They want information and they want it to come from a producer, so we work hard to get people to our farm, share our story and educate our neighbors about what we do.