DALTON, Ohio — Successful dairy farms need a mission statement that is clear and matches their own situation.
That was part of the message Jan. 28, the second and final day of the 10th annual North Central Ohio Dairy Grazing Conference, held at the Buckeye Event Center in Dalton.
“We really need to write down our mission statement,” said Cliff Hawbaker, a grazier from Chambersburg, Pa.
He said a mission is something that can change, and is different for each farmer. It’s a business plan, but also more.
“When we’re talking about a business plan, it involves more than just business, it becomes emotional. It even affects our spiritual lives,” he said, challenging farmers “to actually write something down of who you are, what you are preparing to do. That is what needs to be done.”
Farmers also need mentors, he explained, and should try to choose mentors outside their immediate family.
Your mentor “should be someone who shares your passion,” he said, adding mentors can help farmers accomplish their mission.
In a separate panel, the four founders of the grazing conference shared some of their own passion, which fueled the conference into a feature event, now drawing nearly 700 people who have at least some interest in grazing.
When the four first planned the conference in 2002, they hoped enough people would come just to break even. It turned out attendance was so strong, the only food left was a piece of chicken.
“Looking back, it’s really been neat,” said New London dairy grazier Eric Grim. “It was a good thing to get started. It has helped a lot of young guys in this area.”
Bringing new and younger dairy farmers to grazing has been a recurring trend the past few conferences, as more producers see it as a viable option. The trend has united experienced farmers with young farmers, and advanced many of the latest technologies.
“The motivation of interacting with other farmers has been tremendous,” said Lloyd Miller, one of the founders from Berlin.
The mostly grazier-led conference has become a network of fellow dairy graziers teaching each other.
“”People learn from their peers,” said founding member Ernest Martin. “I always learn more from a peer than I will a university.”
Martin acknowledged universities do have important roles in producing information, but when it comes to what works and how to do it, the farmer usually knows best.
Because grazing is turning up new opportunities, it also is seen as a sustainable way of keeping the family farm in production, from one generation to the next.
“I think we’re all (pushing) for the same thing — produce quality milk from grass and keep the family farm a family farm,” said Wooster grazier and founder, Mike Gessel.
During a question period, Cleveland chef Parker Bosley, a champion of Ohio’s local foods movement, commended the founders for building “one of the most positive organizations” of its kind.
“The community — that is, the consumers — are more and more interested in anything that has the word ‘grass’ attached to it,” he said.
The founders and their audience also recognized Leah Miller, director of the Small Farm Institute, for her organizational work in directing the conference. Miller and the Small Farm Institute also help organize Family Farm Field Day — a family learning experience held in the summer, drawing several thousand attendees to Ohio’s Holmes County.