Last month was the 20th anniversary issue of Progressive Dairyman. Publisher Leon Leavitt recently wrote the following commentary about how the magazine began and its growth during the last 20 years.

Publisher’s dairy background: I was raised on a dairy farm in western Idaho and graduated in Dairy Science from Utah State University. I worked as a field man for Pet Milk Company in Utah; head field man for Carnation de Mexico, S.A.; dairy herdsman for Cannon Dairy in Shelley, Idaho; DeLaval equipment dealer in Rupert, Idaho; sales rep for Carnation Genetics, Idaho. Then I became involved in a family cabinet enterprise for 10 years, followed by a two-year stint for a national direct mail service, where I learned the advertising industry.

Then one day in early March of 1987, I stopped in to see my friend and neighbor Dr. Bruce Bradley at North West Labs Inc. in Jerome, Idaho. Our boys were in the same Boy Scout troop, and we had participated together in various Scout activities and projects. Bruce and I had previously discussed the possibility of me working as a field man for his company to expand the business’ exposure in the Idaho dairy community.

When I opened the door to his office, Bruce had in his hand the first copy of The Progressive Dairyman, an eight-page flyer to be circulated to North West Labs’ clientele. He had just received his copies from the printer and felt it needed improvement. This struck a responsive cord with me, and I exclaimed, “I believe I can help you with this project.” I was contracted to ramrod the project along with Bruce’s wife, JoAnn, who was the editor of the original publication. Bruce’s partner was Bob Whitchurch, a well-known dairy nutritionist. Bruce’s wife, Sharon, kept the books for the company and was responsible for circulation. Together with these two gals, we met our printing deadlines monthly.

I started contacting potential advertisers (several of which are still with us) and our next two issues were 16 pagers in length. By July I felt there was a better way to publish a magazine than a typewriter and bottles of Wite-Out. I sold some calves and bought our first computer, an Apple Macintosh SE with a 9-inch screen and 4 megabytes of RAM. With some paste-up boards, a waxer and roller, pica rulers, scissors and a homemade light table – we were ready to roll!


Being experienced with the printing industry, I suggested to expand the magazine to tabloid size, trimmed and stapled. The July issue utilized this larger format and was up to 24 pages, printed by Burley Reminder Printing. We changed the front cover masthead and developed better layout uniformity throughout. All this while learning the intricacies and limitations of the design layout program called Scoop!, later known as Publish it!Easy. As expected, we had all the challenges of keeping the business afloat and growing at the same time.

Progressive Dairyman’s standard procedure is to have all ads approved by the advertiser and all copy cleared by the authors. In those days this was done in person, or by phone, or by fax machine, and in some cases by overnight express mail. After the articles and ads were printed from our 300-dpi laser printer, we would cut them out to size and run them through the waxer then press them with a roller onto the paste-up sheets to take to the printer. There they would be photographed to make the negatives, which in turn would be used to make the plates for printing on a web press. Today this is all done by e-mail and in electronic (PDF) format.

The business continued to grow. We added 10 Western states and had a Pacific version as well as a Northwest version. In 1990, I expressed interest in buying my partners’s stock in the business, and we negotiated final buy-out terms which required a second mortgage on my home. The last issue JoAnn and Sharon were involved with was the April 1991 issue. I moved the equipment to my home, and the May 1991 issue was the first issue I produced on my own.

The magazine at this time was at a consistent 32-page size, except for June Dairy month and the Christmas editions, which were usually 48 to 56 pages. For the next four years, I was assisted by my wife Jane, who was the editor; daughters Laura and Carolyn, who were copy editors and circulation controllers; and son Bryan, who was a fledgling graphic artist. I recently found the time cards for my wife and children’s work hours. Their beyond-the-call dedication ensured continuation of Progressive Dairyman during this time.

In July of 1995, my second-oldest son Alan, an English major who graduated from Utah State University, came on board full time. His first full-scale article about Reitsma Dairy in August 1995 proved to me that he was the man for the job. Along with his writing skills, he launched into advertising sales and quickly became adept in dealing with the many variables of a “fledgling enterprise.”

A colleague in the printing industry counseled me to always get the best equipment you can to do the job because in the end, it will make you money, not cost you. Our first digital camera cost us $995 in 1991. It only had black and white capability with a pixel density of 1.5 megapixels, but it certainly was an improvement over the conventional film cameras. We didn’t need color then because it wasn’t required.

In 1995, we invested $20,000 in an image-setter to produce our own negatives. Not only did it save us money, but we had in-house control, could create our own four-color separations and could reduce the turnaround time at the printer. It certainly paid for itself.

About every two years, we still upgrade the magazine’s older computers to newer, faster models. I’ve never looked back since purchasing my first Apple computer. Apple computers are user-friendly, don’t give me any sass and are a dream to work on. I don’t have time to read manuals, call tech support to be put on hold and then to be patronized by someone who knows less than I do. Granted there is occasional exception to this statement, but those instances are few and far between.

In 2000, we bought Hay Quarterly (formerly Western Hay Magazine) and gradually expanded its circulation and editorial coverage, renaming it Progressive Hay Grower.

So over the years, the business has continued to grow – steadily.

A big jump occurred in 2002 when my son, Glen, came on board. His unbridled enthusiasm helped us see the bigger picture, and we went national with our circulation for Progressive Dairyman and Progressive Hay Grower. In December 2003, the magazine’s masthead changed after 18 years.

Since then we’ve hired more editors, designers, office assistants and salesmen. And I expect the trend to continue. In 2005 we started Ag Nutrient Management and moved into a new office facility in Jerome. In 2006, we introduced El Lechero, a Spanish-English publication. The growth has been phenomenal and exciting.

In retrospect, the last 20 years have been a challenging and exciting journey. I’ve enjoyed the variety the publishing industry offers, especially in the dairy industry. It would be difficult for me to do the exact same thing every day – day in and day out. The magazine publishing business has been satisfying to our family.

Dairy farmers are a unique breed of people. They’re driven not only by the financial aspect of this challenging business, but also by their love for cows and the dairy lifestyle. It’s important to enjoy the journey. PD