For Andy Fisher, farming isn’t just a way to make a living. It’s a way of life. “I feel it’s one of the most honest and honorable ways to live on this earth,” he says.
A fourth-generation farmer, Fisher grew up on a dairy in Valders, Wisconsin. In January 2004, he co-founded Riverside Dairy LLC in nearby Reedsville. There, along with his business partners and their eight employees, Fisher manages almost 800 cattle (with around 400 milking cows) and farms about 750 acres of herd-feeding crops.
Riverside uses research-proven methods to keep its cows comfortable and happy. As a result, the herd produces an impressive 10 million pounds of milk per year while maintaining high fertility rates and low white blood cell counts, a sign of healthy immune systems and good milk quality.
Fisher also makes caring for his community a high priority. He takes significant measures to reduce the environmental impact of his farm and volunteers for multiple organizations. His on- and off-farm achievements earned him the Wisconsin Outstanding Young Farmer award in 2018. Fisher says he tries to be a role model for his two sons, who help with the dairy, and would be proud to pass on his family tradition if they choose to carry farming into a fifth generation.
What factors do you think contribute to the success of your dairy farm?
Retaining employees who are goal-driven and treat my farm like it is their own. Listening to their ideas and asking for their input. Giving them credit when credit is due. Educating both myself and my employees through reading and attending extension meetings. Maintaining solid relationships with my nutritionist, breeder, veterinarian, feed mill, and custom operators. These are all key to achieving success.
How did your time in FISC play a role in your success?
While attending FISC, I worked at the UW Dairy Cattle Center, mainly doing chores. But I also helped with some of the trials. I learned to appreciate research and analyzing data and saw that, although it can be tedious, it pays off in the end. We’ve done on-farm trials with synchronization programs, pre- and post-fresh cow care, cow comfort, herbicide programs, and inoculants to ascertain whether what we are doing is paying off. I need more than just the sales pitch as proof that the product I’m investing in is working.
How do you incorporate sustainability and conservation on your farm?
Recently, I participated in a program named SUSTAIN with Land O’Lakes, my milk cooperative. It assesses conservation and sustainability in dairy farming practices. A checklist asks a series of questions about milk production, manure management, energy and water usage, feed rations, and crop production. The information is reviewed again the following year to assess improvement. Land O’Lakes also uses the information to educate consumers about how the program’s producers are working to reduce enteric greenhouse gas emissions by not using feed ingredients that have been identified as the greatest contributors.
I also work with a certified agronomist and follow a nutrient management plan for crop rotation and manure application spreading rates. On highly erodible soils, winter rye is planted as a cover crop, followed by no-till corn in spring. All of this helps keep the soil healthy and productive, and it reduces the runoff of fertilizer into nearby waterways.