As a global cooperative, GENEX and its members, delegates, council members and employees have a unique opportunity to live out the cooperative principles outside the gates of their farm or ranch. In 2019, GENEX delegate Raymond Diederich, a dairy producer from De Pere, Wisconsin, traveled to Bulgaria. The trip, taken alongside GENEX Global Dairy Product Manager Abby Tauchen, was part of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Emerging Markets Program (EMP). As an agricultural cooperative, GENEX qualifies for EMP funds to help expand the export of U.S. products through technical assistance programs.
Raymond and Abby represented the U.S. bovine genetics industry. The itinerary included visits to farms as well as a one-day seminar for 33 participants from across Bulgaria. During the seminar, Raymond presented a virtual tour of his farm and shared some of the challenges facing U.S. producers. Abby talked about improving herds through genetics.
After his return, Raymond shared his thoughts on the experience. He explained how Bulgaria’s dairy industry is behind the U.S. in terms of technology, but in the same breath he noted, “It doesn’t matter where you are in the world, we all have the same challenges.”
He chuckled as he told of one young farmer who wanted to expand his operation, but his dad wouldn’t give him the money. This story hit close to home for Raymond, reminding him of past conversations with his own son.
Raymond was surprised to see dairies located on the edge of Bulgarian cities rather than spread throughout the countryside as in the USA. He then realized the reason: power lines only reached to the edge of the cities. Another difference was all farms had a gate and guardhouse with a guard at the end of the driveway. For him, this provided a whole new meaning to farm security!
Most of the farms visited milked Holsteins. Producers were paid on hundredweight alone so the more milk the better, with limited emphasis on fat and protein. The exception was a water buffalo herd; that milk was
primarily sold for cheese since it had twice as much fat as cows’ milk.
Raymond was also impressed by the cleanliness of the dairies. He joked, saying, “They knew we were coming to visit so you’d expect the farms to be clean, but there’s a difference between cleaned up for the day and everyday clean. This was everyday clean!”
Much of the work done on the farms was not automated. Said another way, there was a lot of hand labor. He was intrigued by their version of a manure spreader, or rather, manure wagon. Once the wagon was filled and in the field, the side dropped down and manure was pitched out with forks.
As the saying goes, it’s a big world yet a small world at the same time. While visiting one of the dairies, Raymond had a first-hand small-world experience. During the conversation, Raymond learned the herd owner and Raymond’s son Daniel were friends on Facebook. Raymond exclaimed, “He almost knew as much about our farm as I do!”
On the day of the seminar, Raymond was truly impressed by the attendees’ level of engagement. “They asked a ton of questions and were very eager to learn,” said Raymond. “I’m not sure if we sold one unit of semen, but that was not our goal. A program like this is a long-term investment. We want them to remember GENEX and to think positively about our cooperative.”