Four individuals have been nominated and selected by their peers to receive the 2010 World Dairy Expo Recognition Awards.

“We are honoring individuals who exhibit the adaptability and consistent value of great leadership to the dairy industry,” says Mark Clarke, general manager of World Dairy Expo. “Like gold, they reflect those rare qualities that people seek and rejoice over when found.  It is a pleasure to recognize them.”

The four recipients will be honored at a special “Dinner with the Stars” event on Sept. 29, as part of World Dairy Expo activities in Madison, Wis.

This year’s winners are:

Dairyman of the Year: Don BenniNk

When you visit his farm, a couple of things become apparent: (1) there are a lot of creative people around, and many of them are from foreign countries and (2) the barns are designed for cow comfort.

The free-stall barns are interesting in that they are tunnel-ventilated. The barns, with added air flow and evaporative cooling, help keep the cows comfortable.

It’s an interesting place. Even the feed-storage barn, which measures 135 feet by 180 feet, shows creativity in the way the bays are situated.

Therefore, it’s not surprising to hear Don Bennink list some of the things that have contributed to his success over the years:

  • A desire to surround himself with quality people. “If we’ve had success, a lot of it has been that we have kept quality, enthusiastic people around us who are really interested in the industry,” he says.
  • A willingness to try new ideas. While he has been eager to innovate, he has not been a “plunger.”  He doesn’t want to jump into things hog wild. Rather, he likes to try new things “off in the corner” and then phase them in if they appear to be working. 

His was one of the first dairies in the country to try tunnel ventilation in the free-stall barns. He really got going on it about five or six years ago. Two of the conventional barns on his farm were converted to tunnel ventilation and three new barns were designed that way from the beginning. He kept refining the process, learning as he went. He also drew upon the expertise of trusted advisers.  

It’s interesting to see how many countries are represented in his workforce. Employees have come from such countries as China, Honduras, Kenya, Poland, Egypt and Australia. It goes back to a personal philosophy of Bennink’s to promote cultural understanding. To really do that, he says, you need to get to know the people personally by working with them, not just being a tourist in their countries. “It’s real important that we have an opportunity to understand each other’s ideas,” he says.

Whether it’s someone from Kenya or the United States, Bennink enjoys talking to others about the dairy industry. In fact, his most satisfying moments include getting together with close friends and communicating very directly about the industry and where it is headed.   

Dairying has always been his passion. Although he did not grow up on a dairy farm, he worked for others who did and began building a herd of his own while a youth. After obtaining his college degrees, including a law degree, he continued to milk cows until he accumulated enough capital to move the herd from New York to Florida in 1980. He now resides in Bell, Fla.

Dairywoman of the Year: Liz Doornink

The ability to communicate clearly and effectively has contributed to Liz Doornink’s success over the years.

“Communication is key, whether it’s with other (farm) owners, employees, vendors and neighbors,” she says.

Doornink continues to hone her communications skills by going out and telling the non-farming public about agriculture. She enjoys telling people about how her farm is managed and how they care for their animals.

Why is this so important? Farmers are a small minority of the population, and because fewer and fewer people now have a connection to farming, there is a “huge disconnect,” she points out. People are coming up with their own assumptions — and misconceptions — about farming.

It’s important to go out and tell one’s story. In fact, “to do (public relations for agriculture) is not a luxury any more, it’s a necessity,” she says.

Every farmer should consider doing it, she adds. “We can’t expect others to do it for us. We have to take some responsibility.”

It’s very satisfying to her when she gets her message across and can see that people understand what she is saying. Often, she makes a connection when people see that she is a mother and has many of the same concerns and interests as they do.  

One of the “golden opportunities” that Doornink has championed is the grass-roots organization AFACT or American Farmers for the Advancement and Conservation of Technology, which she co-chairs. She travels and speaks on the issue of modern agriculture and advocates for producers’ freedom to choose production technologies and practices.

Doornink also enjoys leading tours of her family’s farm in Baldwin, Wis.

She may have an advantage in relating to non-farm audiences because she did not grow up on a farm herself — at least not in the early years. She was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., and attended grade school in Long Island. She was basically an East Coast non-farm kid. But around the time she was in 6th or 7th grade, her father, who was a computer guy with IBM, moved the family to the Rochester, Minn., area. There, he started a hobby farm, and Liz soon took an affinity to the Shetland pony and other animals that were there. She really liked being around animals, and many of her friends were from farm families. So, by the time she went off to college at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, the whole agriculture thing had taken hold. She majored in agriculture, with an emphasis in speech communications.

Besides her communications skills, Doornink has achieved success by treating people the way she would want to be treated herself.

That helps explain why she has excelled in personnel management on her family’s farm. She is actively involved as personnel manager and oversees all financial records at the 1,550-cow facility. And, she has her own personnel management consulting business, Legacy of Excellence Consulting, LLC, in which she advises and educates producers and ag businesses on employee management, communication and environmental systems.

Industry Person of the Year: Horace Backus 

The 2010 World Dairy Expo Industry Person of the Year has used many skills to transform and enhance the U.S. dairy industry as a breeder, author and leader. Horace Backus of Mexico, N.Y., is being honored for that service.

While famous as a dairy cattle “pedigree man,” Backus started out as part of the successful Butterfly Farms. As a youth, he began a love affair with breeding the best animals for the dairy industry. The family business of Backus Pedigree Company made its name compiling sale catalogues. Over time, R. Austin Backus, Inc. was formed and excelled.

Backus has transformed his cattle expertise into a valuable historical asset. He has written eight books that allow cattle breeders and those interested in the legacy of the dairy industry to learn from accomplished breeders.

He serves as a director of the National Holstein Board. His colleagues consistently turn to him for trusted advice. 

International Person of the Year: Tadanaga Komori

Forty years of doing the right thing has led the International Person of Year to recognition for his global vision and innovation. 

For Tadanaga Komori, of Obihiro, Hokkaido, Japan, a trip to the U.S. for training and tours began a love affair with quality cattle genetics. He began by importing just five cows and proceeded to establish All Japan Breeders Service in 1976. Komori took on the Japanese government to overturn the state-controlled artificial insemination importation laws. Once the private sector was open to import frozen semen, Komori created a livestock products import company, Japan Livestock Trading Corp., in 1984. All of this helped to improve genetic merit for the dairy industry in Japan. Komori has since increased semen imports from 1,200 units in 1986 to over 260,000 units in the fiscal year of 2009 (April 2008-March 2009).