Every segment of agriculture can benefit from new technology. Dairyman Karl Wedemeyer, a Marion County Farm Bureau member, is quick to note that his favorite advancement fits neatly in his shirt pocket. It’s his smartphone.
“I can see what the dairy market is doing, read emails, get the news, watch the weather and keep a checklist of what I have to do,” he said. “This is how I can be in two or more places at the same time,” a valuable skill in the world of farming.
At 27, Wedemeyer is considered young in the agricultural community but he’s known for his lifetime that production agriculture was his future. He’s always had a hand in dairy farming, whether on the family’s White Diamond Farm or at summer jobs on others.
“I’ve known since third grade what I was going to be,” he said. His parents, Lee and Colleen, were his strongest influences and put him and his slightly younger brother, Derek on the payroll as soon as they were big enough to earn. “They showed us that work was important and that there were financial benefits to it,” he said.
A graduate of Ohio State University Agricultural Technical Institute in Wooster, Wedemeyer knew that an office job was never for him.
“I like big challenges,” he said. “What else is out there that presents the kind of challenges farming does? You’re fighting with things that are ultimately beyond your control, like weather and nature.”
While he’s called a farmer, Wedemeyer knows that he’s also an electrician, a plumber, the doctor when the animals need care, and a businessman.
“At the end of the day, you still have to treat this as a business,” he said. “It needs to be profitable and sustainable to keep it going.”
That’s what gets Wedemeyer out of bed at four in the morning — that and a herd of 120 Jersey beauties that need milking twice a day. A typical day for Wedemeyer, his father and brother involves milking, feeding, tending to animal health needs, breeding and any number of the basic day-to-day chores. Milking itself lasts up to 12 hours a day with 25 cows milked each hour and monitored by milk meters.
“If she’s off her feed or not feeling well, we can quickly identify the problem and take the appropriate action for her health,” he said. The milk is collected in a bulk tank, cooled to 38 degrees and picked up every other day by a hauler who transports it to a processor.
That’s the short story of what happens daily on White Diamond Farm. There’s also 85 acres to tend, one flat continuous stretch that at any time could be growing corn silage or cover crops of rye.
“We try hard to keep the nutrients in the ground and out of the waterways,” said Wedemeyer who works closely with EQIP (Environmental Quality Incentives Program), a federal voluntary program that helps plan and implement conservation practices to improve soil, water, plant, animal, air and related resources on farmland.
By industry standards, the Wedemeyer dairy operation is small (the national average is 197 cows in a dairy operation).
“We might be small in this environment, but I love that every day is full of new opportunities,” he said. “We have plans for growth like adding to the herd, acquiring more land and creating a better infrastructure. Our goal is to support the entire family and provide a good standard of living for all.”
Wedemeyer admits that there are days when he wants to pull his hair out and others when he’s on cloud nine. “Some people might not think dairy farming is fast-paced but I would match it against other industries,” he said.
There are big concerns, too. Consolidation of dairy operations across the county continues to be one.
“There will be less and less farms,” predicts Wedemeyer, “but milk quality gets better all the time. Our customers’ standards are high. That keeps us on our toes. And the demand for dairy products is strong around the world. We’re confident there will be a place for us in this industry.”
White Diamond Farm is a family farm. “The previous generation, my dad, has let me take on a management role in running most of the routines on the farm,” he said. “My dad is still involved and my younger brother is easing into the business and we continually transition. We have our disagreements and some days it would be easier to go and do something else for a living, but I value every workday with my family.”
THE JOYS OF JERSEYS
One of the most popular breeds, Jerseys are pretty, doe-eyed dairy cattle that have a genial disposition, are small (about 800 pounds), easy to handle and tolerate summer heat well. “Even though they give less milk (Wedemeyers’ Jersey cows average 7 gallons or about 55 pounds a day), they deliver high component milk, rich in butterfat and protein,” said Wedemeyer. “That’s what processors want these days because they can make a variety of products like ice cream, cheese and butter.” And who doesn’t love all three?
See a video of Karl Wedemeyer on his farm.
Marilou Suszko is a food writer from Vermilion. She is the author of “Farms and Foods of Ohio: From Garden Gate to Dinner Plate” and “The Locavore’s Kitchen.”