Tove Nilsson, Sweden

My Texas experience

IFAJ-Alltech Young Leaders in Agricultural Journalism Award recipient 

The average dairy farm in Sweden has 52 cows. In Texas it is about five times bigger. Alan Vander Horst, the owner of Sierra Dairy, has 3000 cows on the farm in central Texas. 450 cows per hour are milked in a 60 booth rotary. These are impressive figures to me. And I had never seen a rotary milking parlour in reality before I went on the tour arranged by the IFAJ Congress 2009.

I found that Alan Vander Horst is, if not a pioneer, at least a bit controversial. Unlike most dairy farmers in Texas, he strongly believes that crossbreeds in the production will improve the economy of the farm.

”I am a firm believer, that in this area and the climate we are in, crossbreeds are very conducive to the heat and also good for the general health rate.” Alan Vander Horst said.

The primary breeds in the crossbreeding program is Holstein, Jersey and Swedish red. It was very interesting to see it. Sweden exports millions of doses of semen to the United States, but for the first time I got the chance to see the results in reality.

In comparison to Sierra Dairy, our next visit was a farm run by quite the opposite ideas. The owner, Stuart Veldhuizen, has had enough of the low milk price. He wants to control his own business and not rely on the dairy cooperation.

”I don’t want to milk a thousand cows. I don’t want to go to the bank and borrow money and I don’t want to sell milk to milk coops. Because I felt we didn’t get paid a fair price”, he said.

Now he and his family are producing farmstead gourmet cheese with his, in a Texan perspective, small herd of 200 Holstein-Jersey cows. He sells the cheese to restaurants and in the store on the farm.

Through contacts I made on the congress I got in touch with the cotton farmer Darrell Whiteley. His farm is located in Odem, in the middle of an area in southern Texas, where 95 percent of the crops were lost due to the drought this summer. Darrell Whiteley normally grows 4900 acres of cotton. This year he lost it all. He now relies on how much he will get from the insurance program he is in. Even though it is not first time he suffers a great loss due to the drought, he has never considered to move somewhere else or to quit. And complaining is just not his way.

“If you can’t stand the heat, you’d better get out of the kitchen”, he said.

These stories of farming in Texas was just a small part of what I learned and had the opportunity to see thanks to the Alltech Young Leaders Award that I received. As a young leader a will try to maintain and contribute to a high level of knowledge and professionalism within the field of agricultural journalism. 

Tove Nilsson, Sweden