Stephen D. Maddox Sr., is a third-generation California dairy farmer with a pedigree ranking him and his dairy operation as one of the best of the best. An unselfish leader, Maddox, of Riverdale, Calif., has dedicated many years of his life to serving the dairy industry he loves, while building a strong family business.
“Some were going back to cardboard, gabled cartons,” he said. “As my son likes to say, ‘we want to progress, not regress.’ The reason they gave was they thought they could pick up market share from the competitor. Well, the NDB doesn’t want to cannibalize other sales. We want to grow sales. Obviously, we didn’t partner up with the people who were going in that direction.
“The deeper you get into the fluid milk issue, the worse it seems to get,” Maddox said. “The dairymen are willing to do what it takes, and we’ve put a lot of money into advertising milk. There’s more fluid milk advertising in California than anywhere in the United States, and the per-capita consumption on fluid milk sales were dropping faster here than anywhere else.”
“We have more competition here than anywhere else,” Maddox said. “Tom Gallagher (DMI president and CEO) recognized it, and others recognized it coast-to-coast. A lot of folks thought we just needed to advertise. We had this model here that didn’t work, even though a lot of those advertisements were award-winning efforts. They sold milk, but not enough to offset this competitive trend.”
Another trend detrimental to fluid milk sales is people are not eating breakfast at home.
“Thank goodness for the school breakfast program,” he said. “But, only 20% of schools nationwide provide breakfast. That’s why the breakfast initiatives are so important. It also helps the kids do better in school.”
The next generation
The challenges of fluid milk are an issue the next generation must address – just like the challenges of dairy farming.
Like most family dairy operations handed down from one generation to the next, Maddox learned the business from his father, the late Doug Maddox, who learned it from his father, Rufus Maddox. Steve is now doing the same with his son, Stephen D. Maddox, Jr.
While he jokes that he is still trying to teach his son patience, he has seen him take on more responsibilities.
“We talk through our business plans for different areas of the operation,” Maddox said. “Where do we go from here? What are some of our annual goals, and what long-term goals should be priorities?
“We still have family estate things we’re dealing with, but after the last five or six years, we want to make sure we stay bankable going forward,” he continued. “Despite the good times right now, the sun won’t always shine, so we are paying down debt and doing capital improvements, particularly the ones that will have a quick payback.”
Those improvements included updating animal cooling systems and replacing worn-out stanchions. They’re looking at updating their milk barn with a rotary or carousel, and may be considering some robotics in the process.
A tradition of innovation
Maddox Dairy was recently honored with a U.S. Dairy Sustainability Award from the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy. The operation has been at the forefront of innovative cow management practices, and Maddox was one of the first to feed cottonseed and total mixed rations. RuAnn Dairy has hosted multiple university calf studies, and was one of original dairies to implement pre-dipping practices.
As award recipients, innovative practices cited:
• a 5-acre, 1-megawatt solar project completed in 2012, which handles about 80% of the Maddox Dairy’s power needs. It represents a 95.6% reduction in carbon-intensive grid power from a renewable source.
• the recent addition of a dual-fuel retrofit system, using 50% propane and 50% diesel fuel, reducing
fuel costs by 25% and diesel consumption by 50%. The system is estimated to save them $25,000 annually, not including labor or equipment operation and maintenance, which will result in even greater savings.
• the addition of high-efficiency, variable-speed pumps and mixing boxes to blend irrigation water with manure water, using gravity instead of mechanical blending. This innovation allowed for greater efficiency irrigation, both in time and uniform distribution, and with fewer pumps.
Through early adoption of technologies, the Maddox family has “moved the needle” in terms of improved animal care, dairy sustainability and overall environmental health – all while also ensuring financial stability for future generations.
Stephen D. Maddox, Jr., is good with that direction, and knows he has a storied tradition of innovation to live up to.
About the author: Ron Goble is a longtime ag writer and owner of Ron Goble & Associates/Goble Communications in Visalia, Calif.