Dairy industry honors leaders

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Using visionary thinking and adapting new concepts quickly have helped each of the World Dairy Expo recognition honorees to be successful, says Mark Clarke, World Dairy Expo general manager.

“A common thread amongst the group this year is their ability to leverage their progressive mind-set by sharing and communicating those fresh ideas with others, both in the dairy industry or for the benefit of the dairy business through consumers. That selfless sharing marks the sign of a true leader,” Clarke adds.

The four recipients will be honored during World Dairy Expo at a special “Dinner with the Stars”, held on Wednesday,

Oct. 3, in the Exhibition Hall at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison, Wis.

Dairyman of the Year: John Fiscalini

For John Fiscalini, it’s been a good run — thanks to hard work, perseverance and love of the dairy industry.

He attributes much of his success to the values instilled in him as a child by family members.

“They always taught me business ethics — treat the cows well, treat the land well… it was just ingrained in me as a young kid,” he says.

By age 15, he was so involved in the dairy operation that he ran it himself for two and a half weeks while his family took a vacation. That, to him, was more fulfilling than going on the road, however enjoyable that might have been.

It’s been his goal along the way to make the dairy run as efficiently as possible with new technology.

An example is the methane digester project. In 2005, he read a newspaper article stating that central California dairy farms would be required to have a methane digester within five years. That got him to thinking, and then he found grant money was available. Before he knew it, he had become committed to the project.

In retrospect, he probably wishes he hadn’t.

It’s been a tough time getting state regulators to sign off on the methane digester project. Specifically, they have objected to nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions coming from a motor on the methane digester.

“It’s 90 times cleaner than the average automobile,” Fiscalini says. Yet, the regulators keep putting obstacles in his way. He has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to make improvements. Last year, he even thought of building an algae farm to utilize exhaust and heat from the engine.

It’s taken a lot of perservance, trying to do the right thing and then encountering obstacles.

On a happier note, there is the cheese company that he started in 2000. Fiscalini Cheese Co. has earned numerous awards, both nationally and internationally, for the quality of its products.

Fiscalini says he started the cheese company because:

• It’s a chance to gain a closer connection to the consumer. While growing up, his father used to take the family to a Safeway grocery store every Sunday morning on the way home from church. He’d stand in front of the milk aisle and point at the containers, saying “Our milk is in these cartons.”

• It’s a way to take the middle man out of the equation, “I expected to take some of the volatility out of the milk price and make some of the profit,” he says.

• It offered an opportunity to integrate his daughters into the business. And today, one of his daughters, Laura, is very much involved in the cheese company. He’s always had a strong commitment to family.

It doesn’t take long for him to get start talking about his grandchildren. (Among his grandchildren, there is a set of triplets.) His wife, Heather, is the sales and marketing director for the cheese company. And, his 95-year-old mother still lives with everyone on the farm. The farm, located near Modesto, Calif., currently has 1,500 cows in the milking herd.

Dairywoman of the Year: Mary Shank Creek

Mary Shank Creek is in love with the dairy industry.

“It has given me an incredible way of life that I wouldn’t trade for anything,” she says. She grew up in the dairy industry, and her participation in 4-H and FFA gave her life skills that she has been able to use in a number of areas. It gave her a focus while a student at Virginia Tech. And, subsequently, it has been a business opportunity and an outstanding way to raise a family.

“I get to go outside and see the results of decisions and hard work,” she says. “I work with animals and nature all the time.”

Palmyra Farm, which she owns with her brother, sits in a valley among gently rolling hills. The farm has 170 cows in the milking herd, including Ayrshires and Holsteins.

“We’ve had Ayrshires for four generations,” she says. “The Holsteins have come in the last 20 years.”

It’s her goal to have the farm be productive and viable for the next generation. “We want to be able to pass a profitable business on to our sons,” she adds.

As purebred breeders, she and her brother are passionate about improving the genetic quality of their animals. They also want to keep improving the quality of the dairy products they produce.

The latter has become even more of a focus since 2009, with the start up of a farm-related cheese company.

Palmyra Farm Cheese utilizes a portion of the milk produced on the farm. The vast majority of sales happen off the farm through a distributor. But the public is welcome to stop by the farm and buy cheese, as well.

Starting the cheese company provided a way for one of Mary’s sons, Michael, to be involved in the business. The farm itself was too small to accommodate him, but the cheese company was a chance to start a satellite enterprise where he could find his niche.

It would be difficult to expand the farm to any significant degree, Mary says. The farm is already locked in, land-wise, with housing developments on three sides. Hagerstown, Md., where the farm is located has become a bedroom community for Baltimore, Md., and Washington, D.C., both located about 75 miles away. In fact, the influx of new homes in the area causes Mary to quip, “The best thing we grow are houses.”

But one might say that the Hagerstown area has done a pretty good job of growing dairy leaders. Mary has been chosen Dairywoman of the Year and six years ago her cousin, Janet Shank Stiles, was picked for a similar honor.

Industry Person of the Year: Sheila McGuirk

Sheila McGuirk is widely known and respected, having made outstanding contributions to the University of Wisconsin in all areas of teaching, outreach, service and research in the discipline of veterinary medicine.

The dairy industry has been a primary beneficiary of her time and talents. Sheila is recognized within the veterinary profession as one of the elite internal medicine specialists focused on dairy cattle in the world today.

One of Sheila’s accomplishments has been the development of her special skills in the area of calf care and management. She is one of the most respected vets in neonatal calf health in North America.

Her love of cows and the people who care for them is evident in her daily actions, treating them with grace and respect.

International Person of the Year: Abelardo Martinez

Abelardo Martinez has been the publisher and editor of the magazine Hoard’s Dairyman en espanol since 1994. His contribution to breaking the language barrier through his translation of close to 3,500 articles written in Hoard’s Dairyman has been instrumental in assisting dairy farmers in Mexico and Latin America in adapting new management and herd health concepts.

He is a prolific writer featuring dairy topics, including two editions of the Calf Raising Handbook, a dozen peer-reviewed papers in The Veterinary Record, The British Veterinary Journal and Veterinary Medicine. He has written more than 300 articles for Hoard’s Dairyman en espanol, 500 in his Carta Ganadera magazine and around 1,000 more articles in other magazines.

Through his writings and shared knowledge at numerous meetings, Abelardo has undertaken an excellent and tireless extension job as dairy cattle specialist in countries that needed translated technical dairy information.





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