I’m here today at the Milk Source headquarters in Freedom, Wisconsin, with Jim Ostrom. Jim and his partners John Vosters and Todd Willer co-founded Milk Source in 1994, as the three men united their multi-generational farming heritages to grow what started out as a 30-cow dairy owned by John’s parents in 1965 to what is now multi-site, diversified farming operation.

Milk Source operates dairies in Wisconsin, Michigan and Missouri, producing milk that is used to make cheese, butter and other dairy products. In addition, Milk Source also has a Wisconsin calf farm and a heifer-raising facility and dairy goat farm. The operation has received recognition as a leader in improving the environment and the economy, and this year, the partners were named the 2020 Dairy Producers of the Year by World Dairy Expo, an honor that will be officially recognized at the 2021 World Dairy Expo.

Jim serves as president and CEO of Milk Source.

In our conversation today, we are going to cover the heavy issues of the past several months - from COVID-19 to risk management, to the federal order system.

Here is a breakdown of the episode:

  • (1:50) Entering 2020, there was widespread optimism this year was going to be the best financial year for dairy producers since 2014 ... and then the coronavirus pandemic struck. Could you share some personal insights on the impact COVID-19 had on your dairy(ies), in terms of day-to-day farm and people management?
  • (4:20) Early this year, we saw co-ops and other milk buyers place restrictions on base milk marketings in response to disruptions caused by COVID-19. From the outside, anyway, it seemed to provide an effective and almost immediate milk supply response. Were you impacted by milk marketing restrictions and, if so, how did you deal with it?
  • (6:00) Are dairy co-ops and milk buyers in the best position to manage supplies based on processing capacity and marketing capabilities, or is there a role for some form of national supply management?
  • (7:33) 2020 is shaping up to be a poster child for utilizing risk management tools. What do you do in terms of risk management?
  • (10:06) Do federal orders still serve a purpose? If so, and you were the FMMO czar, what would you like to see in terms of reforms?
  • (11:49-11:51) Among some reform proposals being discussed, the American Farm Bureau Federation has proposed elimination of “bloc voting” by dairy co-ops. What are your thoughts on bloc voting?
  • (12:25) Another proposal, from the National Farmers organization (formerly NFO) calls for a single, nationwide FMMO. Are there any merits to a single, nationwide federal order? Has milk marketing become too complicated?
  • (13:21) You’ve been on the forefront of “sustainability” and reducing dairy’s carbon footprint for years. It was recently announced Milk Source will collaborate with a company to produce pipeline-quality renewable natural gas (RNG). Could you give us an overview of your philosophy or vision regarding sustainability?
  • (13:26) You’ve also been a long-term proponent of outreach, telling the dairy story to consumers. Share what Milk Source does to reach consumers.
  • (19:02) Of all the challenges you and other dairy producers are facing right now, what do you think is the biggest distrupter threatening the dairy industry in the next five years?
  • (20:32) In many ways, this year has been like no other, and it’s not over yet. Has 2020 impacted any long-term plans you had regarding your dairy enterprise?
  • (21:14) When it comes to your dairy operation, what is it that is most likely to keep you awake at night?
  • (23:09) We’ve talked milk markets, policy reform and sustainability, but in these last few minutes as we wrap up, we are going to get to know you - not Milk Source - just Jim.
  • Several years ago, you founded a non-profit group called Dairy Cares. Tell us about Dairy Cares. What is it, why is this cause near and dear to your heart?
  • (28:45) And to close out our time with you, Jim, we have a round of rapid-fire questions. These are short, quick answers - the first thing that comes to your mind.
    • Last Netflix series you’ve watched.
    • Best piece of advice you ever received.
    • Most-listened to podcast series.
    • Favorite cheese.
    • Are you a dog person or a cat person?
    • Favorite football team?
    • If you could have a private dinner with one person - anyone past or present - that you follow or admire, who would it be?
    • Presidential election prediction?
    • Proudest moment as a dairyman.
  • (37:10) What are the one or two nuggets you want to leave with other dairy producers who listen to this podcast?

To keep up on Milk Source and their initiatives to improve their environment and their communities while producing a wholesome product for consumers, follow them on Facebook.


This podcast is sponsored by the milc group.

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The milc group doesn’t have their heads in the cloud, but all of their software lives there. The milc group develops technology that provides positive ROI for your dairy with low upfront cost. Shop them for feed management, employee training and pulsation monitoring. Go to the milc group website for more information.

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