(Originally Published on June 16, 2014)
There are hundreds of different career opportunities in the dairy industry. You can be a writer, graphic designer, nutritionist or an ice cream guru. However, none of these careers would be possible without the backbone of the dairy industry – the dairy farmer. It’s kind of like “what came first, the chicken or the egg?” Except we know which came first … the dairy farmer and then the thriving dairy industry.
For dairy month, I had the privilege of working with Rod Hissong, a dairy farmer residing in Franklin County, Pennsylvania. As you can see below in his interview, it’s no secret that his passion lies with his cows and entire farm, making him dedicated to dairy. Enjoy!
1. Introduce yourself!
My name is Rod Hissong. Along with my brother Rick and I we operate Mercer Vu Farms Inc. in Mercersburg, Pennsylvania. I am a graduate of Penn State University with a degree in Dairy and Animal Science. My wife Amy (who is the farm bookkeeper, hence making her all of our bosses!) have two children Carter who is 6 and Maggie who is
2. How are you dedicated to dairy?
I grew up on our dairy farm and have been involved with the dairy industry my whole life. I grew up milking cows, feeding calves and just about anything in between. During those early years I learned the value of hard work and many life lessons that have served me well later in life. It takes those kind of lessons and dedication to run a 24 hour a day, 7 day a week operation. When your success or failure depends on a cow and her welfare depends on you, there are no days off. They take a dedication and an investment in time like very few jobs.
3. Can you tell us a little bit about your business?
Mercer Vu Farms was originally started by my grandfather who bought our original home farm after returning home from service in WWII. He and my grandmother started with 7 cows and eventually grew the farm to 60 cows when my dad joined the operation in the 60’s. My dad built a milking parlor and barn in the 70’s bringing cow numbers to 120 total. My brother and I returned home from Penn State in the 90’s and started to develop a plan for what it would take for us to continue the operation for our generation and beyond. In 2002 we built a new milking parlor, freestall barns and waste handling facilities for 800 cows. Since then the business has continued to grow to the current size of 1735 total milk cows, 1700 head of young animals, 2800 acres of crop ground (growing corn and alfalfa for cow feed), 35 full time employees, a milk hauling business that hauls 50 million pounds of milk annually to Land O Lakes and one farm dog!
4. What do you like most about being involved with the farm?
It is hard to say that I like one thing the most. It is an accumulations of many things that I like about the farm… I enjoy the challenges and rewards of running a growing business that produces a valuable product to consumers. I enjoy working with good people and good animals and seeing their development and eventual success. I even enjoy learning from our failures to make our business and our team stronger. I enjoy the beauty and satisfaction of working the open land that provides our animals feed and us with some beautiful countryside. I enjoy working alongside family members for a common goal. With my family being young I have enjoyed that I can bring them to the farm with me and expose them to life lessons that happen daily on a dairy farm. I am one of the few people who get to be involved with an industry that doesn’t consider their job “work.”
5. What’s your number one goal for your business?
We have a mission statement at Mercer Vu that is a pretty good summary of all of our goals,
To produce high quality milk efficiently, safely, and profitably as to benefit management, employees, cows, the environment and the community in which we live.
We work hard to follow through with this mission and I feel we have been fairly successful and living up to it. In any business these days there is very little margin for error. For a business to be successful they need to stick to their core values and that is something we strive for every day.
6. If you could tell the public one thing about your involvement in the dairy industry, what would it be?
There is a lot of misinformation and misrepresentation out there about the dairy industry and especially larger farms. While there are always examples of bad behavior in all industries I think our entire industry has been tarnished by a few bad examples that has been provided by sources that have many ulterior motives. I know on our dairy and on other dairies that I have traveled to across the country, I could not be more proud of how we care for our animals, our environment and our communities. If you do not take care of your cows or the environment they will not take care of you. Sustainability, all natural and all the hot buzzwords of today are words that our dairy has lived by for generations and continue to live by every day no matter our size.