The Pennsylvania Dairymen’s Association, Center for Dairy Excellence and the Professional Dairy Managers of Pennsylvania joined together to recognize four individuals at the 2022 Pennsylvania Dairy Summit through an industry-wide awards program that showcases leadership, stewardship, and excellence in Pennsylvania’s dairy industry.
Pennsylvania Distinguished Dairy Producer Award: Donny and Shari Bartch of Merrimart Farms LLC in Perry County
Donny and Shari Bartch own and operate Merrimart Farms, which milks about 260 cows and farms 1,000 acres. Shari is the fourth generation of the Martin family farming in the area, and together, she and Donny have been able to continue the farm that was started three generations earlier. Shari and Donny have been partners in her family farm for 18 years and became sole owners in 2018. During their involvement on the farm, they have focused on high-quality feeds and intensive double cropping. This has allowed the farm to invest in additional feed storage and housing for additional animals.
Donny and Shari are also passionate about innovation and automated technology. They have diversified their operation with finished steers, custom farming, and crop sales, which has added additional income sources. With an eye on efficiency, they have added automated technology such as a robotic calf feeder and are in the process of building a robotic milking barn. After growing their business in size and scale, as well as quality and efficiency, Donny and Shari continue to seek out ways to improve their herd and overall business. Their desire to grow and improve is one of their greatest strengths. They are open to new approaches and are not afraid to try something new if it benefits their farm, their family, the animals, and the community. Professional development is important to them, and Donny actively participates in educational activities to advance his management abilities.
Educating consumers and advocating for the dairy industry gives Donny and Shari purpose. In a recent audit, Donny took extra time to educate the IRS auditor about farming and agriculture. Donny never appeared frustrated that the auditor was unfamiliar with farming or asked too many questions. Instead, he was happy to share the story of dairy farming with a potential consumer. Donny and Shari have also worked with American Dairy Association North East to share what happens on a dairy farm, frequently offer tours to local elementary schools, and host Holstein Association and Farm Bureau events. Donny served on the Perry County Farm Bureau and currently serves as director on the Perry County Planning Commission as a director. He is also part of a committee to help develop a Dairy Herd Manager Apprenticeship program in the coming year.
Donny and Shari’s goal is to keep things simple and efficient, and this commitment has pushed their operation’s production and profitability over the years. They are active in their community, from youth sports leagues and local boards to leadership roles within their church. Donny and Shari are outstanding Pennsylvania dairy producers with a commitment to their employees, family, community, and the dairy industry at large. “I am always willing to learn, and I listen to the advice of industry leaders and other farmers who have experience and knowledge that I lack. The saying is very true for me, ‘It’s not what you know but who you know.’ I’m thankful to know people who have the answers to my questions,” Donny shared.
Pennsylvania Dairy Innovator Award: Nelson Troutman of Oakenbound Dairy in Lancaster County
Nelson Troutman has devoted his entire life to the Pennsylvania dairy industry by helping others, mentoring young people, and promoting dairy in a positive, innovative and practical manner. He has served as a 4-H leader and regularly opened his farm, Oakenbound Dairy, to youth judging practices, dairy community picnics, and educational workshops. In recent years, he has partially retired from dairy farming but instead of selling his valuable cattle for the highest dollar, he found a young couple desiring to be dairy farmers and transitioned the herd to them. He was also instrumental in helping his son and daughter-in-law fulfill their dreams of becoming dairy farmers.
In December of 2019, Nelson skyrocketed to local fame by creating the first “baleboard” to help promote whole milk and drive the dairy industry in a new direction. After painting “Drink Local Whole Milk – 97% Fat Free” on one of his wrapped round bales and displaying it at the intersection of his farm, the simple idea quickly took off. It led to the creation of hundreds of more bales, a website, media attention, merchandise, a social media presence, corn mazes, car magnets, banners, and grocers reporting large increases in whole milk sales. The campaign has helped energize dairy farmers who continue to navigate volatile milk prices as well as educate consumers who are purchasing dairy products at their local grocery stores.
Nelson’s positive nature, can-do attitude, and strong work ethic have made him instrumental behind the scenes of this campaign. When other dairy producers, organizations, and local businesses wanted round bales, he helped paint and transport over 50 more and created new messages such as ‘Butter is Better,’ ‘Real Cheese Please,’ and ‘Ask for Whole Milk at Schools.’ His innovation and service have become an inspiration for others in the dairy industry and beyond.
Nelson provides exceptional innovation and service through his tireless efforts and advocacy on behalf of fellow dairy producers and the dairy industry as a whole. His open-mindedness, willingness to help others, and determination to try new approaches for promoting dairy makes him a tremendous asset to the entire industry. “I try to treat people with respect. When someone says it can’t be done that way, take a second look,” Nelson shared.
Pennsylvania Dairy Service Award: Wayne Brubaker
Wayne Brubaker has dedicated his career to serving the Pennsylvania dairy industry and helping dairy farmers grow their businesses and improve profitability. When PA Farm Bureau’s MSC Business Services determined the need to offer consulting services to dairy farm clients approximately 10 years ago, Wayne led the way in this endeavor, providing valuable consulting expertise in feasibility studies, profitability studies, business planning and estate planning. Wayne has enjoyed a long career helping PA dairy producers manage their farms, and he has been involved with more than 300 dairy farms in the 42 years he has worked in the dairy industry.
Wayne began his career as an Account Supervisor before advancing to a Senior Account Supervisor and Consulting Supervisor. Wayne is also an Enrolled Agent, which enables him to represent clients before the Internal Revenue Service. As a consultant, Wayne’s goal is to build caring, trustworthy relationships with his dairy clients and provide sound, unprejudiced advice. His clients are confident in the advice he provides and consider him an essential part of their management teams.
In addition to the services and consulting he provides his clients, Wayne trains his staff on how to provide services to their dairy clients. He is also a member of the Dairy Benchmark program sponsored by Farm Credit East and helps organize their annual meeting to discuss the reports he prepares for dairy farms. Wayne supervises the publication of the MSC Business Services’ Dairy Profitability Comparison, which is a two-page summary of data for dairy farms across Pennsylvania. The report compares each farm to the top 10 percent of dairy farms as well as the averages for their size farm. Wayne has received the Master Award two times, which is the highest award given annually to staff members of MSC Business Services.
Wayne is married to Karyn and cherishes time spent with his children and grandchildren. He is a volunteer in his church, a volunteer coach for youth sports, and always available to help his community whenever they need him. When Wayne is asked to take on extra work in the dairy industry or in his community, he is a true team player—always doing the work that needs to be done for the good of the client and dairy industry as a whole. For Wayne, helping a dairy operation grow is one of his greatest accomplishments. “For many dairy farmers, the success of their business ensures financial security for their children and grandchildren. To see an entrepreneur build a home, business, and legacy for future generations is my greatest joy,” he shared.