After 10 years dairying in America, dairy PR specialist Julie Scanlon reflects on her time in the States and her return to the UK.
“In 2003, our UK Holstein herd was in the top 10 genetic herds in the UK and also top 10 Milk Production according to NMR.
“We had started out in 1995 with youngstock on an arable farm in Lincolnshire, moved to a Powys County Council farm in 1997 and expanded to a Cheshire County Council Farm in 2000.
Julie Scanlon with husband James on their Cheshire farm shortly before moving to South Dakota and fresh challenges.
“As new entrants, our enthusiasm to build our business was often challenged by the many financial limitations. At that time, milk quota was probably our biggest frustration; an indiscriminate cost to all dairy farmers that made no benefit to the business, other than to give you the license to produce milk.
“With that in mind we looked abroad, and after seriously considering both France and the USA, opted to take an opportunity in the USA, that not only expanded our business significantly, but got us into an ownership position, as a joint venture.
“At the same time, I was running Butterscotch PR, and some Guild members may remember a campaign I managed for the state of South Dakota, recruiting dairy farmers from the UK. I worked closely with officials from the state and after several trips out there on PR business, decided to consider it as our new home.
“Roll on to November 2004, and we were milking 500 Jersey cows in Flandreau, South Dakota, having purchased 40 acres of land and built a brand new facility. All feed was grown by surrounding crop farmers.
“Rural America is a completely different culture to the UK, and mainly because agriculture is by far the biggest industry. Most people we knew, farmed or worked in a related business, and laws and business regulations were very farm friendly.
“Decisions were often made at a local level, and frequently on the day; for example, when we looked at building a house on the land, all we needed to do was pay a $5 fee for a permit – the office didn’t even ask what it would look like.
“During the construction process, we had the opportunity to visit many dairies across the USA. We knew we had a lot to learn about management in a continental climate, allowing for swings of temperatures of -30 C to 35 C, with snow storms bringing several feet of snow in one night, to tornados in summer.
“We also knew we would be relying on Hispanic labour, so learning Spanish was a necessity. We needed to become familiar with health programmes, legal requirements, tax rules, animal movement recording, feed options, banking method; the list goes on and on. It was a steep learning curve, but a fantastic experience and overall an enjoyable one.
The dairy one of three rotary parlours on the Minnesota farm.
“Once the business was established, James was approached to expand a 2500-cow herd in Minnesota to 10,000 cows on behalf of a cheese company that operated its own herds on three sites. This was an amazing opportunity, and so with a buyer for our share of the South Dakota business, we moved to Minnesota.
“Having achieved this, we have now made the decision to move back to the UK, to set upon a new challenge. Despite its up and downs, we are still incredibly passionate about dairying, and are looking out for any new farming opportunities that are available.
“I am also looking at any communications positions that are out there, with renewed enthusiasm for British agriculture and all it has to offer.”
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