Dispatches from Our Own Wisconsin: Mitch Breunig of Mystic Valley Dairy
Mitch Breunig, owner of Mystic Valley Dairy, LLC, in rural Roxbury, near Sauk City, manages eight employees, oversees the breeding and healthcare of the herd, and analyzes the finances and marketing of Mystic Valley’s milk, cattle, and crops. The farm milks about 450 cows, raises crops on 1050 acres, and focuses on breeding for heritable production traits, longevity, and also for good physical build and conformation. Mystic Valley’s prefix is Jenny-Lou and is recognized worldwide for breeding a sire named Toystory, who went on to set the international record for producing 2 million units of semen purchased on the market. The current rolling average for the herd is 32,000 lbs of milk, with components of 3.8% milkfat and 3% protein per cow. Put another way, the average cow at Mystic Valley Dairy produces over 3,720 gallons of milk per year!
The Mystic Valley Dairy team focuses on taking care of cows, people, and the land to provide a sustainable farm that can be passed on to the next generation. Breunig has nurtured a tremendous partnership with the UW-Madison’s Dairy Science to seek out new ideas and research to improve Wisconsin’s dairy Industry. Mystic Valley Dairy hosted the Wisconsin Idea Seminar in 2018, where participants learned about their extensive agricultural operations and partnerships with the UW.
Breunig, a third-generation dairy farmer, graduated from UW-Madison in 1992 with a degree in dairy science; his wife Jacquie graduated a year later with a degree in Ag Business Management. Before returning home to the family farm Breunig spent one year working for Land’O Lakes in their feeding division. Mitch is a member of the Dairy Business Association and a Past President of the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin. Breunig and his wife have two daughters, Allison, who is graduating from UW-Madison in 2020 with a degree in Life Sciences Communication, and Lauren, a high school student. They also have a son Brayen who is 10. Away from the farm Breunig enjoys watching the Badgers and Packers and coaching his son’s soccer team.
We caught up with Mitch to ask a few questions about how both the dairy industry and the local community are shifting to address changing demands.
Have you had to adapt your daily operations in response to COVID-19? If so, how? We haven’t really changed our day to day operations. We kind of always practice social distancing. We ordered extra inventory to make sure we didn’t run out of critical items for our farm. We also have limited the non-essential traffic on our farm.
With schools closed and many restaurants shuttered, the market for milk has changed dramatically in recent weeks, yet there is still a demand from households and food banks across the state. From your perspective, what changes could be made to help the milk supply system be more nimble and resilient during times like these? This is amazing to all of us. In 2019 was the first time in history more food was consumed outside of the home than in it. Our supply chain was built for just-in-time delivery and processing. My processor was almost 100% reliant on food service and as their orders were canceled they had no choice but to have their producers cut back production by 20% or dump the extra milk. I think my processor realizes they need to have a more diverse product line and the ability to pivot to different products. Wasting food and having people that need it at the same time is heartbreaking to me.
Have you seen your community come together in response to COVID-19? If so, how? Our community has come together to support each other. A local insurance agent started a milk drive and has partnered with local FFA chapters to help distribute milk to people in need. It has been very successful moving a lot of gallons of milk. Sure beats throwing it away. There has also been a lot of support for local businesses, and of course, the amazing health care workers on the frontline of the pandemic. We are all grateful for their efforts.
Are there ways that you are collaborating with UW-Madison during this time of uncertainty? I am a member of UW’s Wisconsin Dairy Innovation Hub Advisory Board and was recently elected to be its Chairman. We continue to work on getting this amazing collaboration up and running. Now more than ever we need bold new research to develop products from milk.
Do you have any advice for others on keeping spirits up during times like these? Call your friends and colleagues and check in on them. Let them know you are available if they need something. My mother is in an elderly care facility with limited visitors so I check in with her a lot. I also have been listening to many podcasts. The Live Inspired Podcast with John O’Leary and PDPW Podcast on Mondays are two of my favorites.
Assistant Professor Jennifer Van Os from Dairy Science helped with this Dispatch.
Dispatches from Our Own Wisconsin is a profile series that showcases fresh stories, observations, and insight from our Wisconsin Idea Seminar partners who are facing, engaging, and addressing critical issues in their communities.