Beginning a career in dairy is still possible

There’s no doubt that getting started in the dairy business is not always the easiest task, but two individuals have shared how it can be done. During the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin annual conference, Matthew Berge and Mark Mayer explained how they were able to begin their careers using perseverance, hard work and some creative business planning.

Berge returned to his 5th generation dairy farm after graduating from college in 2000. With help from legal professionals, he was able to enter into a partnership with his father by creating a separate entity called Badger Pride Dairy, LLC. The plan is for Matt to slowly earn up to 51-percent of the farm’s total ownership over a ten year period through the process of gifting. At that time, he will be able to afford to purchase the other half of the business.

“There were many factors that made this transition successful, but the most important one was communication,” Matt said. “Other important keys were sharing a common vision with my dad, defining each others’ roles, and doing proper estate planning.”

He said the arrangement worked out better for his father, too, as he will be paid more for his equity when he fully retires, while not putting Matt into additional debt. The once 60-cow dairy now milks over 800 cows.

Meanwhile, Mayer talked about how he began his enterprise from scratch without growing up on a farm. He was able to start M.M. Dairy by renting his grandparents’ dairy farm, while purchasing a small herd of dairy cows under a personal payment agreement. Once he paid off his debt and built up some equity, he was able to rent a larger farm for several years before purchasing a 50-acre farm and built a free-stall operation in 2006.

“I took many little steps and kept my debt low and affordable,” Mark said. “After accomplishing a series of short-term goals, I was able expand the herd as I could afford to and have plans to bring my brother into the operation.”

Both producers say it took patience to achieve what they have and said it was never intended to be an overnight process. They also said consulting with professional advisors in finance, nutrition and animal health were essential to their success.