I started my career as a mechanical engineer after I graduated from the University of Florida in 1980. I obtained a professional engineering license (PE) in Florida and then in Vermont. I worked on a second degree as an electrical engineer, studying at the University of South Florida. For the next 25 years, I worked as a mechanical and electrical engineer. In my early years, before engineering, I worked on some cattle ranches and got my love of cattle, which someday I hoped I would return to.
My return to the cattle business started in 2005 when we moved from Florida to Vermont to start a dairy farm and hay business. We bought an old dairy farm and started a raw milk dairy using a small herd of Jersey cows and continued this for 7 years. During this time I studied extensively on running a profitable dairy farm. I studied the raw milk laws and how the milk industry had changed over the years from raw milk farms to home delivery, to the monopoly pasteurized milk system controlled by the Federal Order and the PMO. During this time I found out how the rules of the Federal and State were made for the benefit of the dairy processors (milk handlers) and against any small production type milk dairy. I joined Rural Vermont to help make changes to Vermont raw milk laws but still the power of USDA and the milk handlers did prevail and we were not successful in getting real changes to allow raw milk dairies to prosper in Vermont.
Our herd size continued to grow and the raw milk diary could not keep up with the amount of milk we were producing. The raw milk sales reached a plateau so we decided to move on and start a full time organic dairy. Milk handlers were wanting more organic milk so we got a contract with Organic Valley. We converted the raw milk dairy to a Grade A dairy farm. The price of organic milk was good at the start and we did well and continued to grow our herd of Registered Jerseys. During this time we worked hard at improving the quality and the production of milk while maintaining an excellent home for all our cattle. We excelled in meeting all the requirements for organic dairying. Also worked on improving our forage for the herd and the hay sales. We learned how to run a full time dairy using excellent forage and minimal grain. Our Jersey herd was outstanding in production levels and butterfat. Our dairy was recognized for producing high quality milk, receiving awards for every year of operation.
During the time with the dairy, I continued studying the Federal, State and dairy policies and became quite aware of the of the economic plight of the dairy farmer. I started writing articles concerning dairy problems and potential solutions.
After 4 years of operating the organic dairy, the milk crisis hit the organic dairy market and lowered the milk prices over 25 %. The profit from the organic dairy stopped and we were at cost of production. We decided in 2018 to close the dairy and sell the cows however decided to continue with my hay business. Understanding the plight of both the conventional and organic dairies, I decided to join NDPO to help other farmers.
Deborah became a dairy farmer when she married her husband Kent in 1989. They started buying their own dairy cows that same year. Together, they farmed with Kent’s parents for 19 years, while building their dairy herd. In 2008 they purchased their own dairy farm north of Lake City, MN and expanded to 270 cows.
Their daughters, Abby, Libby & Maggie, are the fourth generation of dairy farmers in the Mills family. Deborah and Kent will be the first generation to pass the dairy and land to their children. In the Mills family each generation has started their own dairy operation. Currently, Abby is working on the dairy full time and her husband Jordan helps out daily after his breeding route. They are excited to be transitioning the next generation into the operation, focusing on producing high quality milk with excellent components, which has increased margin without increasing production.
As NDPO Board Member, Deborah is committed to addressing the dairy consolidation issues we are currently facing. “We have already witnessed the consolidation of beef, pork and poultry, we know the road we are being led down by the processors, but we do not have to go there.” Deborah states, “Dairy Producers can determine the fate of their future by implementing Supply Management, building consumer loyalty with the usage of NDPO’s 100% USA Trademark for U.S. made milk and dairy products, and restoring milk Co-op’s original purpose of buying and marketing members milk for the benefit of the Co-op Farmer Members.” The road of consolidation has led Pork and Poultry producers to become Contract Farmers for the Processors. As an NDPO Board member, Deborah is determined for Dairy Producers to remain Independent Producers with the Co-ops working for the producer.
Newly elected NDPO Board Member, Joe Arens, joins the board as a retired Corporate Accountant, a life-long farmer and is active in his son’s 400 cow dairy in Westphalia, Michigan.
“My concern is the dismal financial state of the Dairy Producers and the lack of support from USDA, NMPF (our Co-op Lobby), DMI (check-off funded by producers), and mostly Co-op Boards who control 85% of all milk produced.
I refer to this as the ‘cheap-milk’ gang–by default, they seem to ‘want’ cheap milk for their processing plant partnerships, to gain market-share, and exports. All within the milk chain make profits from cheap milk EXCEPT the producer. They have FAILED–thousands of farmers have run out of equity and are in despair.
The problem seems to evade exposure by the cheap milk gang: AN OCEAN OF DESTRUCTIVE SURPLUS MILK! The Solution: Manage inventories like other successful businesses, supply the amount of raw milk product for which the market will pay a fair profitable price!!!
The Dairy model is unique–we are victims of divide and conquer!!! Our customers and our ‘cheap milk’ advocates isolate each producer so we destroy each other, motivated by a need doe ‘cash flow’.
Of all my research, I find NATIONAL DIARY PRODUCERS ORG has the BEST solutions!!! Manage raw milk supply to raw milk demands by using an inventory monitoring system.
In raw numbers: 10 cows = $1,000, 9 cows = $1,200 !!!! Co-ops have full power, wherewithal, legal rights, and moral obligation to work for FAIR PRODUCER PRICES !!!! This model requires no USDA ‘leaking’ lifeline, no DMI $400 million check-off tax, no Sales force to get RID of surplus milk–every Co-op just needs a waiting room for milk buyers to BID a fair price for raw milk and sign a contract.”
NDPO WILL MAKE THIS HAPPEN AND I AM PROUD TO BE PART OF THIS MOVEMENT