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Dairy Happenings Summer 2019

Updated: Nov 13, 2019

dairy farm
Freeland Dairy is the newest addition to Benton Group.

An obvious topic for the “New on the Farm” section of our newsletter…you guessed it! It’s our newly built and operating Freeland Dairy site. We just celebrated with an Open House on July 17, with Danone, our partners, city and state officials, and our collaborating farmers. Guests went on a tour of the barns, feed mixing area, and parlor. They also enjoyed a virtual look at our cow and calf comfort, milking practices, and regenerative cropping initiative. County and State agricultural officials spoke, along with Danone representatives, and one of our founders and partners, Jim Ridgeway. Thank you to every one who attended!

The idea to develop Freeland Dairy began in August 2016. Our goal was to create a dairy that would meet Dannon’s growing need for sustainably produced Non-GMO Project Verified milk. We broke ground in May 2018 and within 10 months we were up and running sending milk to Minster, Ohio, to be made into yogurt!

Not only are we happy to be milking cows, but we are glad that we were able to source our building and equipment materials and services locally. The total investment in this project amounted to $30 million. Much of the costs were spent locally on vendors including FBI Builders, Deno Home Center, D&K Electric, and Von Excavating. Even closer to home, the Stockland Cafe, one of our locally owned restaurants supplied lunches for workers during the construction.

Along with this, Freeland Dairy now works with local farmers to grow and harvest 4,500 acres of crops to feed our cows. Since all our crops and feed are Non-GMO, we pay our collaborating farmers an incentive for the extra work, resources, and care to take of our crops, soil, and natural resources. This has added value for farmers and crops in a tough market.

On a grander scale, we expect Freeland Dairy to contribute $68.5 million of added economic activity yearly to West Central Indiana’s economy. Furthermore, the dairy adds an additional 50 jobs to the area, which accounts for $2.4 million in payroll each year.

We are thankful and proud of everyone who contributed to this grand project! Freeland Dairy is now home to 5,300 cows and sits on 125 acres of land.

Dave, manager of Freeland Dairy
Dave Nance is the newest member of Benton Group's management team.

A special thank you and welcome is extended to our newly hired Freeland Dairy Manager, Dave Nance. Dave previously worked on a 21,000-head dairy and feedyard in Colorado. He is a former Marine and since leaving the service has been involved and working in the dairy industry. Dave has been with us for ten months and lives in Fowler, Indiana, with his wife Carina and five teenage sons.

David Andris is a crop farmer who Benton Group collaborates with to grow corn and alfalfa. He manages and farms approximately 1,850 acres with his father, Marvin Andris. His wife, Amy, and two children, Ellie, who is eight, and Clay, who is four, help on the farm, too. They have been working with Benton Group since 2015, producing non-GMO alfalfa and non-GMO corn. David shares that the alfalfa has worked extremely well with their rotation for organic certification. Their family’s belief in healthier farms, food, and people has driven them to pursue organic certification across all their acres.

What is something new you have experienced since working with Benton Group?

“Working with a dairy farm and growing crops specifically for dairy cows is a new experience in itself for me. I grew up with hogs, so we never had a need for forages like alfalfa and corn silage.”

What are the sustainable farming practices you use?

“All the acres we farm are transitioning to USDA-Certified Organic and with this we are improving soil structure through preserving its bio-diversity, chemical characteristics, and biological aspects. Along with this, I am doing some work with the USDA to produce no-till organic crops by using cover crops and mulches. The organic farming industry, historically, has been tillage intensive to reduce weeds. Incorporating less tillage and plowing of the soil helps reduce erosion and improves the health of topsoil.”

Why do you believe sustainable farming is important?

“There are a lot of reasons, but personally, I feel that as farmers it is our job to use sustainable practices. We shouldn’t use a resource to deplete it, instead we should use it to improve and make it better for the farmers that come after us. Encompassed in sustainable farming are a lot of environmental impacts that don’t only affect the soil we farm but have lasting effects on watersheds and communities around us and the world.”

What is some knowledge about farming you would like to share?

“I love a quote from Sir Albert Howard, who is often referred too as the father of modern organic agriculture. He said, ‘The health of soil, plant, animal and man is one and indivisible.’ I use this as a motto for a lot of my farming practices and work.” I use this as a motto for a lot of my farming practices and work.”

What is your favorite dairy product?

“Butter! I don’t know if that sounds like a strange one, but definitely butter.”

Say “Regenerative Cropping Initiative” three times fast…

Go ahead, we’ll wait… While it is a mouthful, the actual initiative used by our farmers is simple, and has created tangible results for our soil health, harvest, and the farms’ surrounding environments.

What is it?

It is four goals we have set specifically for how we maintain the land on which we grow the crops and feed for our dairy cattle.

One… Plant cover crops after we harvest in the fall, which sequesters carbon from the atmosphere and reduces our carbon footprint. Cover crops also protect the soil from winter erosion and the ground water and nearby streams from nitrogen run-off from rain.

Two… Reduce tillage or plowing of the land. Tilling breaks up the ground and leaves the top soil (the topmost two to seven inches of dirt, the good stuff, that contains microorganisms and nutrients) prone to erosion or running off with rain water.

Three… Use natural nutrients from organic matter (cow poop) to fertilize the soil instead of using synthetic chemicals. Also making sure our application of fertilizer is consistent and replenishes the soil’s nutrients that are removed from the crops and plants.

Four… Rotate the crops we plant each year. Cows eat a lot of corn…but they also eat a lot of soybeans and alfalfa too. This works great for us and the soil because we can grow corn one year then plant alfalfa on the same field the next year. We do this because corn is a nitrogen-needing plant and takes a large amount of “N” out of the soil. On the other hand, alfalfa is a nitrogen-depositing plant. It takes nitrogen out of the air and puts it back in the ground. Rotating our crops also adds biodiversity, which helps keep unwanted plants from growing with our crops and combats pests (insects, bugs, and terminates) that can infect the crop with diseases.

Benton Group’s Regenerative Cropping Initiative results… 3,000 new acres added to the initiative in 2018, 71,500 pounds of nitrogen kept out of streams and other bodies of water, and 238 dump truck loads, (10.5 million pounds) of soil saved from erosion and retained in Indiana fields.

Regenerative Farming
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