Out of the Forest & into the Milk Barn - The Story of a Successful Ag Career Transition

8/3/2016

There are so many positive reasons to support agriculture in our country and so many great stories to share. Farm Credit encourages farm and ranch families to become “AgVocators” by finding ways to spread the word, get involved, and help keep agriculture going strong. In this article, Farm Credit proudly spotlights award-winning AgVocator, Douglas Walker.

Out-of-the-Forest-into-the-Milk-Barn-The-Story-of.pngIt’s been 25 years since Douglas Walker and his brother, Ronnie, made the decision to get out of the timber business and start a dairy farm. They’ve never looked back.

“Ronnie and I had been in the timber business for years,” says Walker, “but I was looking for a better way to ‘control my own destiny.’ It’s been a great move and a successful one for us.”

Not being one to do things in a traditional way, Walker has carved his own path on how he manages his cows.

A Different Approach

Speaking on behalf of his brother for this article, Walker admits, “We didn’t grow up on a dairy farm and I think that was to our advantage when we started the dairy. We came into it and didn’t do things the traditional way—we had a fresh take on things.”

“We’ve placed a huge emphasis on maximizing the quality of our milk,” says Walker. “Our cows are feeding mostly on corn silage and rye grass which are very nutritious and result in a good level of butter fat and protein in our milk.”

Walker says when he and his brother first opened the dairy, “people talked and thought we couldn’t do it.” He says it takes a good bit of land to do it his way, plus the right climate and the right soils, but it has worked—and people have not only taken notice, they actually presented Walker & Sons Farms with a prestigious award. A year ago, the brothers were proud to accept the Agricultural Innovators award from Farm Credit of Northwest Florida and University of Florida IFAS Extension; 12 distinguished awards were given across Northwest Florida.

Surrounded By Good People

Walker credits “a lot of great support” for the brothers’ success; from the guidance they receive from the nutritionists and Dairy Herd Improvement Association agents that stop by monthly to look over the cows, to their veterinarian to Jefferson County Extension agent, Jed Dillard.

Walker says he’s learned over the years that “if I surround myself with good employees and good people, good things will happen.”

Dillard, to Walker’s credit, says the relationship between the two is just the reverse: “Douglas is one of those folks that teaches me more than I teach him. He’s a continuous supporter of agriculture and Extension, and I can always count on his support and advice.”

Walker also points to Farm Credit of Northwest Florida as helping to not only make his transition seamless, but also for providing ongoing support and business advice. Walker says having lender, Bill Bassett, to turn to for advice and support has been especially helpful since Bassett is a former dairy owner himself, and recognizes the complexities and challenges of the business. “I’m proud to work with Bill and Farm Credit,” says Walker. “They’re into agriculture for the long haul and they understand it.”

Committed To Giving Back

There’s no question that Walker and his brother have achieved great success with his dairy operation, and for many producers, that would be enough. But Walker isn’t just any producer. So, in addition to all the time he spends tending his herd and his business, Walker is also in the business of “giving back.”

“Many producers do good work inside their fences. Fewer do really good work with marketing, and even fewer take the time to serve and lead their industry organizations, ” says Dillard. “ Douglas realizes how important a producer’s service is to one’s industry. He is extremely active in industry affairs, both dairy and beef, and shares that knowledge with his fellow producers. His service and leadership benefits not only his operation but also those of his fellow producers.

Walker’s calendar is a busy one. He’s involved with numerous organizations, including serving as a member of the trucking and audit committees for Southeast Milk Incorporated; and also serving as Board Director for Farm Credit of Northwest Florida.

Walker also actively supports the Jefferson County Cattlemen’s Association, and gives back to youth by participating in events like judging the State Land Judging Contest.

Guiding Others Toward Success

Walker’s fellow producers have described him a tireless advocate for the dairy industry as well as all of agriculture, and Walker is happy to shoulder that mantle.

His advice to others is pretty simple:

To producers just starting out: “Be thinking long term…the sun’s not gonna shine every day. You can do things economically but still maintain high quality. Concentrate on surrounding yourself with smart people and get all the facts. In other words, don't be headstrong with your decisions. Most important, when something goes wrong, remember that the first decision you make can cost you the most money, so stop and think first.”

To young people considering the business: “Slow down and think. Farming is not a business that you can hurry up and get through, or cut corners. Doing it slow is doing it right—that’s what results in quality work.”

Douglas Walker and his brother, Ronnie, are certainly great examples of how to do it right—from how they’ve successfully transitioned their business, to the strong relationships they’ve built, to the way that they give back to the dairy industry and to their community—they are, indeed, setting a wonderful example for all in agriculture.

Most important, says Walker, “we love cows.”