From Skeptic to Advocate: One Farmer’s Unlikely Journey to Partnering with Neutral
Sep 12, 2023 (Westby, WI)
Travis Klinkner’s roots in the dairy industry run deep. As a 6th generation farmer, Travis is intimately familiar with the industry’s intricacies. “I always call my cows’ athletes,” says Travis, “Just like you prepare and train for the Olympics, we set them up for optimal performance: from nutrition and mineral balances to the newest technologies and equipment.” Travis and his wife took the leap to purchase their own farm nearly a decade ago – a centennial farm owned for over four generations by his wife’s parents.
This family-run operation now serves as a haven for approximately 60 milking cows and 70 young stock nestled in the rolling hills of Wisconsin.
As an organic dairy producer, Travis’s commitment to and affection for farming are evident in his emphasis on preventative care and maintenance. His voice gains fervor when discussing the resurrection of soil health on his land—a journey that involved expanding pastures, instituting rotational grazing and crop rotations, and planting riparian buffers and pollinator-friendly plants commonly known as prairie strips. However, like many farmers across the United States, Travis grapples with the sense of unease stemming from consumer distrust. “We have already implemented a lot of changes to the way we farm. The changes don’t happen overnight, but we are farming a lot differently than we used to,” he articulates. He also speaks to the disconnect between producers and consumers, and how that fosters an unsettling lack of transparency and, by extension, trust. “We are farmers; we know what’s going on in the land, in the soil, with our animals… don’t they (consumers) trust us?”
So, when Neutral knocked on doors in his community, Travis met the approach head-on. He was driven by a protective instinct for his neighbors and only agreed to speak with Neutral to make sure his neighbors weren’t signing up for something that would get them in trouble. “I was a skeptic. I was leery,” Travis admits, “and I was scared for my neighbors.” However, as the
conversation with Neutral continued, Travis’s apprehensions gradually gave way. The turning point arrived when he realized that Neutral’s intent was not to dictate change but to offer a helping hand, asking how they could help support the initiatives he was already implementing to enhance his farm’s sustainability, reduce GHG emissions, and bolster soil and water health. “It’s a neat symbiotic relationship,” Travis says,” [Neutral] doesn’t force a mandate on us, but tries to find things that fit with my management style and farm.”
The result? A proactive partnership and investment from Neutral. While Travis had already integrated many of the recommended sustainability practices through his local watershed conservation work, Neutral intervened to alleviate the costs associated with Agolin, an essential oil with benefits that extend beyond improving animal health—it also slashes GHG emissions by 6-10% when fed to lactating cows. Travis’s sights are now set on a new project: installing solar power to heat water, thereby reducing reliance on propane or electricity. “I think we need to recognize as a whole that while the dairy industry isn’t at the root of the problem, we have opportunities to change and we can work with people who recognize our value,” he asserts.
For Travis, this kind of transformation lies at the heart of the farmer’s spirit. “We’re always paying attention to see what the others are doing. Looking over the fence to see if our neighbor’s corn is doing better. While we farmers are stubborn, because it takes a stubborn person to wake up early every morning to tend to the animals, we are not afraid to change if it’s going to be better for us,” Travis affirms. To his fellow farmers, Travis extends an encouraging invitation: “There are benefits to this partnership and more people should jump onboard”. And to consumers, Travis’s farm beckons with open arms: “Come on down to the farm. We’d be happy to educate all of you.”
Reprinted with permission from Neutral.