Farm Horizons, Oct. 2018
Diers Corporation named Wright County Farm Family of the Year
By Starrla Cray
It takes perseverance and determination to run a successful dairy farm. Diers Corporation in Waverly is one of the farms that has stood the test of time, weathering 144 years of ups and downs.
“Our job is to try to get it to the next generation,” said Andy Thorson, whose wife, Colette, is the fifth generation on the farm.
The farm was homesteaded in 1874 by Colette’s great-great-grandfather. Her parents, Gary and Linda Diers, are still active in the day-to-day work, helping with crops, property maintenance, and more.
Colette loved growing up on the farm, and in high school, she already had plans to continue the operation. Gary encouraged her to go to college first, though, as a way to explore different career paths and broaden her perspective.
“I’m very thankful for that,” Colette said. “I never would have met my husband or understood the passion that I had for the dairy industry if I hadn’t.”
While studying at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, Colette considered other majors, and found that farming was, in fact, her true calling.
“I’ve always loved the cows, and I love the people that I work with,” she said. “It’s more about the people in the industry. It’s an industry-wide standard for dairy farmers; they just have that unique personality for compassion, understanding, and work ethic.”
By her senior year, Colette was working on a farm in Wisconsin, and she and Andy were engaged. The couple got married in 1998, one month after Colette’s graduation.
Like his wife, Andy (who grew up in Rudolph, WI) also felt drawn to the dairy industry.
“I knew very early on I wanted to farm, but I didn’t know what that would look like or how it would work out,” Andy said, explaining that his parents owned livestock, but both had other jobs off the farm.
Andy began working for Diers Corporation in 1995, shortly after he and Colette began dating. Now, Andy is president of the farm, overseeing crop production and machine maintenance. Colette is considered the farm’s secretary/treasurer, since she manages cow-related activities, employees, and most of the office accounting work.
Diers Corporation’s main employees include Colette’s older brother, Scott, who takes care of feed mixing; Stephanie Mutterer, who handles calf management; and Stacy Konerza, the farm’s herdsperson. The farm also has a few part-time and seasonal employees.
“Right now we have an amazing team of employees,” Colette commented. “They love the cows.”
Diers Corporation currently farms 900 acres (650 acres owned), and milks 250 cows. Milking is done twice a day, in a double-12 parlor. Having the larger parlor has been a big benefit, according to Colette. The farm used to have a double-four parlor, and milking took 16 hours per day, plus set-up and clean-up time. Now, milking is done in about six hours (three hours per time), in addition to about two hours of preparation/cleanup work.
Andy and Colette are always thinking about ways to increase efficiency and sustainability in their business. In 2017, for example, they completed a three-year wastewater and feedlot runoff control project, in collaboration with county, state, and national agencies.
“It allows us the opportunity, eventually, to grow in the future,” Andy said.
With the recent low milk prices, though, Andy said it can be a struggle for dairy farms just to survive.
“Right now, it virtually doesn’t matter how efficient you are or anything it still is not profitable,” he said. “... Ultimately, markets are out of your control to a large degree, and you hope you can survive until the profitable times come back.”
Andy said he visits with farmers in several counties, and he hears the same message.
“It’s not just us, it’s not just one size, it’s everybody,” he said. “... It is what it is. It’s a perishable product that has to leave the farm every day. You can’t build another bulk tank and hold it until December when maybe there’s a more profitable price .... It’s a tough business that way.”
Despite the difficulties, Andy and Colette are still optimistic about their chosen profession.
“At the end of the day, our population’s growing and there’s a demand for our product,” Andy said. “I think there is a good future for all aspects of agriculture dairy included.”
This year, Diers Corporation was recognized as the Wright County Farm Family of the Year. The family was chosen by the local University of Minnesota Extension committee based on demonstrated commitment to enhancing and supporting agriculture.
“It’s a very humbling thing for us,” Colette said.
“We’re not doing anything special,” Andy added. “Ultimately, a lot of other farms in Wright County are also very deserving of this award.”