Christine Sukalski, co-owner of Reiland Farms in Spring Valley and LeRoy, speaks to the Mabel Lions about the importance of the dairy industry and how science and environmental practices have made the industry more efficient.  DAVID STOEGER/NEWS-RECORD
Christine Sukalski, co-owner of Reiland Farms in Spring Valley and LeRoy, speaks to the Mabel Lions about the importance of the dairy industry and how science and environmental practices have made the industry more efficient. DAVID STOEGER/NEWS-RECORD
Mabel Lions braved stormy weather to hear farmer Christine (Reiland) Sukalski of LeRoy speak about how science and technology have improved the quality of food while also improving animal care and protecting the environment.

Sukalski spoke during the Mabel Lions' regular meeting, held at the Mabel Legion due to inclement weather, last Monday night.

Sukalski said she was literally born into farming. "I was announced as the bumper crop of the season, an early riser, with natural drainage," she said to the laughter of those in attendance.

She said one thing that amazes her is how cows can take food that is filled with fiber and turn that into milk. "...Like fresh chopped alfalfa hay - cows can turn that into protein, milk and meat," she said.

Sukalski and her brother, Scott Reiland, own Reiland Farms with locations in Spring Valley and LeRoy. They have about 350 calves and heifers, milk about 400 cows and grow about 1,500 acres of crops.

"I like to explain to people that when I was growing up, my parents' farm supported our family of four," she said. "Today we are supporting almost 50 people if I count our employees and their families. In that time, the milking herd has grown from 40 to 400 cows."

While many in the Mabel area are farmers, retired farmers or appreciative of agriculture, Sukalski said it is important that all Minnesotans understand where their food comes from and the large impact to the state's economy. "There are about 4,000 dairy farms in Minnesota and they contribute 11.6 billion dollars to the state economy."

She continued, "I like to say 'live as if you'll die tomorrow, farm as if you'll live forever' when I am talking about our view of the environment. We want to make sure everything we are doing is right for the future of that land and that farm for future generations...."

The goal of Reiland Farms is to "farm profitably with a reputation for integrity."

Sukalski said, in 2013, their herd ranked seventh in Minnesota for milk production per cow. The farm's brochure states this is because of "a team of compassionate 'cow-lovers' makes this production possible through top quality feed, outstanding care and comfortable barns."

Other facts Sukalski presented included the fact that the carbon footprint of the dairy industry has decreased 63 percent since 1944. "We've got a whole lot more people and a whole lot fewer cows (than in 1944), but per cow production has quadrupled," she explained. "This increased efficiency has reduced the carbon footprint of a gallon of milk."

These efficiencies include artificial insemination, more precise feeding and cropping, improved cow housing and management and production testing of individual cows - which have helped farmers make huge strides toward further efficiency.

Bob Peterson, president of the Mabel Lions, thanked Sukalski for the presentation and said, "If you complain about farmers, don't talk with your mouth full."