Photo courtesy of Agri-View
“Dairy grazing provides the lifestyle we want for our family and allows me to continue to serve the nation by producing high quality food.”
Matthew Keesling went straight from high school to 24 years in the Army, including service in Iraq and Afghanistan. After separating he decided he wanted to be an entrepreneur and “answer to no one except myself and my wife type of life”, as he put it.
Agriculture allowed him to be out in the country which was an attractive lifestyle. He landed in dairy.
The Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship (DGA) – a 2-year program that started in Wisconsin and now is national – afforded Matt the chance to work on a farm in North Central Wisconsin. His mentor on the farm, a fellow Packers fan, was a 20-year reserve Army veteran as well. Talking Army lingo and how that translates into farming was Matt’s magic ticket into the community.
We caught up with Matt to learn more about the impact the DGA program had on his journey into the dairy world that ultimately led to ownership of Woodland View Dairy in Deerbrook, Wisconsin.
How did you get involved with DGA?
Matt: As I transitioned from the Army it was the only program that offered hands on experience verses classroom course work. In order to own a farm I needed to immerse myself into dairy and this was a perfect fit.
Describe the DGA program in 3 words.
Matt: Pathway to Farm Ownership
What makes dairy farming – and specifically the Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship – so unique?
Matt: It is a seven day a week job all year long. DGA is the only program that covers every aspect – from writing checks for feed, to taking care of calves, to understanding how you interact with the market and government programs. It’s a holistic approach. A veteran can go from no farming background, and no tie to agriculture, into farm ownership. DGA is for someone right out of high school or someone with a PhD in their 50s. The flexibility of this program allows everyone to get what they need to be a successful grazing dairy person.
What skills translate from military to ag in your experience?
Matt: Problem solving, flexibility, mechanical aptitude, drive to succeed, leadership, mission accomplishment, physical ability and attention to details.
What advice would you give to veterans looking to get into the dairy industry?
Matt: There are plenty of opportunities to own/manage your own farm and this program has a network of farmers that will help you succeed. Anyone that applies themselves will find success in the industry.
What’s the most valuable lesson learned from the program?
Matt: The more comfortable you are with adapting to outside influences, the better off you will be in farming. Weather, the consumer, the marketplace, policy changes to name a few.
Biggest challenge dairy industry is facing?
Matt: As an industry – oversupply with diminished consumption.
What does dairy mean to your state?
Matt: We are the dairy state and we want to maintain that status however, the definitions may be shifting some with societal changes. It is a huge industry here in Wisconsin and means a great deal to the older generations.