Letter to the editor -- Dean Strauss

I’ve wrestled with many things in my life — among them, the decision to leave a satisfying industry job to dairy full-time, and more recently to tussle with Olympic wrestler Rulon ardner.   

Neither of these incidents, nor any of the various wrestling matches I faced throughout my high-school sports career, measure up to the intensity of the bouts I’ve witnessed between fellow dairy producers and their non-farm neighbors.

All too often, our non-farm neighbors arrive full of preconceived notions and inaccurate perceptions about what we do, and these conflicts become drag-down, uncontrolled brawls where the rules change constantly.

Such problems were particularly troubling early this spring as Wisconsin’s dairy industry concluded a series of hearings on livestock-siting legislation and nutrient-management standards. Even though dairy producers showed up in good numbers to tell our story, there was enough erroneous testimony from others to make the strongest among us feel beat up and defeated.

I knew better.

Good stewards of the land
Contrary to some of the testimony we heard, dairy producers are serious stewards of our state’s natural resources. In fact, modern animal operations help protect and preserve the environment by employing farming practices that keep our animals healthier, safer and more comfortable. 

We test our soils and work with professional soil specialists who guide us in applying the proper amount of recycled organic matter back to our lands. After we harvest our crops, we return to it an abundance of nutrients that maintain the natural balance of the environment. While applying cow manure to the land may not seem glamorous to some, for a dairy producer who relies on healthy soils and clean water to sustain our families for generations, it is a natural and necessary task. Feeding these nutrients back to the land is just one way we ensure our land remains healthy and productive for many generations to come.

Become proactive
We must proactively reach out to our local media, town and county administrators and establish our credibility as knowledgeable, trusted and respected members of the community — and as good neighbors.

Earlier this year, as the sun set on an unseasonably warm spring day and the 35th anniversary of Earth Day loomed, I recalled the words of my most formidable wrestling partner, Rulon Gardner. He addressed members of the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin this spring and his message was: “Never give up; never stop trying. Turn your negatives into positives. Aim high when you are feeling low. Enlist others, take care of business, and don’t rest on your laurels.”

I grabbed my keyboard and set down my feelings — and those of many in our industry — in a letter to the editor of my local newspaper, the Sheboygan Press. It started like this: “Sir: Earth Day is every day for dairy producers . . .”

It was after 1 a.m. by the time I’d finished the letter and mailed it off to the publication. Later that week, following a telephone conversation with the editor, my letter was published. The responses have been nothing but positive and, even more important, I’ve now established a relationship with my local newspaper editor. In the months and years ahead, as issues arise, I’ll be available to him as a source of factual information on the business of dairy production.

I urge all of you to do something similar in the days, weeks and months ahead. Together, we can continue to lead the success of the dairy industry.

Dean Strauss is a dairy producer near Sheboygan Falls, Wis., and member of the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin.