'Our motto is helping to feed the world, and we like to tell our employees'
By ERICK PETERSON
For the Capital Press
Dan DeGroot, co-owner of Skyridge Farms with his wife, Carolyn, said that he was surprised when he won the national Outstanding Dairy Farm Sustainability Award for practices that deliver outstanding economic, environmental and social benefit.
When he attended the Second Annual U.S. Dairy Sustainability Awards in Washington D.C., he spoke with many top dairy people. Many of them, he said, had a major project, "a water-heating system, an aerobic-digesting system, those types of things."
He was not sure that he was in the same class.
"At Skyridge, we have a whole series of small projects," he said, "efforts to make cows more comfortable, conserve water and conserve energy. And we really focus on those things, as well as employee safety."
He thinks that he impressed judges because of several little things, rather than one big thing. And all of the special qualities of his dairy are rooted in firmly held beliefs about what a dairy should be and what a dairy does.
"Our motto is helping to feed the world, and we like to tell our employees about that," he said. "It's not just milking a cow, or filling the pens, or scooping manure into trucks. We're trying to make food for the world, and that's a critical thing for them to understand, so that they can give the attention to the work that it deserves."
DeGroot did not grow up on a dairy, so he had to learn his ethics through experience, at a later age than some other farmers.
He grew up in the Los Angeles area as the son of an insurance broker. Many of his father's clients were dairymen, though, and so were DeGroot's classmates. When he became a teenager, he took a dairy-related job, selling milk.
Later, he worked on farms in the summertime, and, when he completed college, he worked for a company that sold dairy supplies. This put him in touch with dairies, fueling his interest in the field.
"I've always had an interest in dairy, lifelong," he said. "But I kind of fell into it."
His wife teases him, calling him a city boy. She, in contrast, grew up on a family dairy, located in Mount Vernon, Wash. She does acknowledge, however, that he worked hard to educate himself in the field.
They moved to Sunnyside, Wash., after a visit to the area. After entering into a partnership with her mother, they built Skyridge. In 1997, they purchased it from her.
Today, Skyridge produces 240,000 pounds of milk a day, with 2,800 milking cows. The dairy has 3,300 total cows.
DeGroot said that he has done much to conserve energy and water use, doing things such as reusing water several times before putting it onto a lagoon or field.
And he puts manure into composted products, which are then sold.
After meeting other dairy farmers, he wants to integrate some of their practices. He was particularly impressed when he saw that other farmers are operating their dairies from their iPads.
Location: Sunnyside, Wash.
Owners: Dan and Carolyn DeGroot
Years farming: 32 years
Co-op membership: Northwest Dairy Association (primary cooperative), others
Total cows: 3,300 (2,800 milkers)
Quote: "It's not just milking a cow, or filling the pens, or scooping manure into trucks."