Today, U.S. farmers produce 158 percent more food than 50 years ago, according to the National Academies' National Research Council. This increase in production is possible because of many innovations supporting sustainable agriculture while protecting the environment and improving farming's economic viability.
While the look of farming has changed over the years, the same values of caring for the land and animals still exist. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) 98 percent of U.S. dairy farms are family owned and operated, sometimes by multiple generations of the family - like Jim Winkel's family dairy farm near Marion, Mich.
An official Michigan Centennial Farm since 1999, Winkel Dairy has been in the Winkel family for more than 100 years. Today, three generations of Winkels continue the tradition of producing high-quality milk for families to enjoy. Thirteen Winkel family members currently work together every day to care for their animals and the land. Each family member has an area of expertise: Jim manages the cows; Jack grows and harvests the crops the cows eat; Kim handles the computerized recordkeeping for each animal; Jeff and Bryce care for the calves; others fix machinery, feed the animals and do the accounting.
"The milk we produce is very high quality," said Jim. "That's one of the things we strive for as a family. We want the product that's going out to the public to be the best it can be, and we work at that every day. It's a great product and we take pride in raising it."
The Winkels' commitment to taking pride in the milk they produce starts with taking great care of their animals and the land, a sentiment echoed by dairy farmers nationwide. Innovations in animal care and housing have helped dairy farmers improve the comfort of their animals, resulting in increased milk production. Beach sand bedding, fans, and misters are a few of the housing improvements many Michigan dairy cows enjoy today. Much like the improvements in our own healthcare, regular veterinary care for dairy cows has benefited from innovation, including checkups, vaccinations, and prompt treatment of illness, making preventative care an every day practice on dairy farms.
In addition to improvements in cow care and comfort, dairy farmers have also changed the way they care for their land. The Winkel Dairy has been verified by the Michigan Agricultural Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP). The MAEAP verification is a voluntary program for farmers that assists in determining best management practices to protect and conserve the land, air and water. "We try to do the best we can with the land," said Jim. "In the past 10 years we've looked more at how we're bringing nutrients to the land. We'd like to leave the land in an even better condition for the next generation. That's important to us."
While farming is a strong tradition in the Winkel family, they are part of a shrinking segment of our population: farmers. Today, only 1.8 percent of the U.S. population provides food for the other 98 percent, plus millions worldwide. Michigan dairy farm families work hard every day to provide all of us with a safe, wholesome and nutritious product we can count on.
To learn more about the Winkel family, and to meet other Michigan dairy farm families visit the Michigan Dairy News Bureau.