Optimistic and happy-go-lucky, Alex Peterson has held many roles—college student, intern, dairy farmer, and his most recent, National Dairy Board chairman. His passion for everything dairy could fill a barn.
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Alex Peterson represents the third generation on his family dairy, Peterson Dairy, Inc., located in Grundy County, Missouri. (Alex Peterson)

The youngest of three boys, Peterson decided he would head to the University of Missouri to study agricultural business after graduating high school.

“Truthfully, I was burned out on the farm a bit, as often happens,” he says. “I went to college with no intentions of coming back.”

As he inched closer to graduating college, Peterson began reconsidering his plan.

“I thought none of these jobs seem quite as fun or as fulfilling or check as many boxes as going back to the home farm,” he shares.

Although Peterson admits that he had cold feet about coming back to the farm full-time at first and decided to take on a summer internship with a U.S. Senator out of D.C. for the fall.

“That experience kind of solidified coming back to the farm, working inside on beautiful days was just too rough” he shares.

Peterson Dairy
Peterson represents the third generation on his family dairy, Peterson Dairy, Inc., located in Grundy County, Missouri. He farms there with his parents, Brian and Barb, and his oldest brother, Opie, milking 150 cows and farming 1,000 acres.

The family built a milking parlor in 1967 and was considered a traditional operation up until the early 90s. At that point, the family made changes on how they cared for the cows.

“In 93, we switched management styles in conjunction with the changing of the ownership from two families to just my parents,” Peterson says. “They wanted to try a different way of dairy farming.”

The Petersons don’t raise any row crops, instead, they use their 1,000 acres for some hay and 800 acres are allocated to grazing pastures that they use for their intensive grazing operation.

“Our dairy is a low input dairy and we’re really focused on income over feed costs, and then skew towards the lower input side,” he shares.

Peterson shares that his operation acts as its own risk management formula.

“In situations where income over feed is inverted we don’t lose very much money,” he says. “A lot of producers work on risk mitigation. We’ve kind of tried to design our operations to function to kind of come to that same horizon but through a little less intensive means.”

With nearly $8 corn and $25 milk, Peterson is capitalizing on his income over feed costs model.

About 14 years ago, the Petersons decided to do pro-cross breeding, where they conduct a three-way crossbreeding program. He shares that the Holstein x Montbeliarde x Swedish Red crossbred cows have reaped the advantages of hybrid vigor that comes with having crossbred and improved components, too.

Peterson enjoys working with his family and says that everyone has a role in the family dairy. Alex leads the dairy’s herd health, breeding and calf-rearing programs, along with other tasks.

“We’re all in this together,” he says. “Dairy farming is unique in that the cows absolutely have to be milked every day, twice a day in our case. That common bond necessitates working together.”

Checkoff Involvement

From his house to the milking barn, Peterson has a short walk with 275 steps. Although he racks up many more steps with his new role as the chairman of the National Dairy Research and Promotion Board. Peterson’s involvement in checkoff began like many fellow board members, through his cooperative as a young cooperator and progressed from there.

“I was in the wrong place at the wrong time or the right place at the right time,” Peterson jokes about how he got promoted to the National Dairy Board.

The young dairyman jokes that he is kind of the unicorn for being on the board at the age of 34 and says that most people his age are not able to get away.

“It’s a big commitment,” he says.

While Peterson enjoys learning other board members’ opinions about the checkoff’s direction and initiatives, he equally enjoys learning what they are doing on their farms, too.

“I’ve always enjoyed the farm hacks page in a farm magazine,” he says. “That was time-saving for me to fix a bunch of stuff with duct tape or baling twine. The same thing goes when a farmer tells you how they fixed a problem. These are farm and/or life hacks.”

He shares that his energy as the young producer on the board brings a new level of energy that he likes to think others benefit from.

“Almost everybody has had the experience of when the next generation comes home on the farm,” Peterson says. “That energy they bring is indescribable and they remind you of why you’re doing what we’re doing.”

Texas dairy producer, Neil Hoff, who serves as the chair of the United Dairy Industry Association board, says that the energy that Peterson brings to the national dairy board is electric.

“Alex Peterson is a next generation leader that the dairy industry will benefit from,” Hoff says. “He respects his elders, understands past decisions and brings a set of fresh eyes to move the industry forward.”

Chatty by nature, Peterson always loves to pull up a seat and talk, especially if it has anything to do with dairy.

“Alex is smart and understands the co-op and policy side of the business, and really has a strong love for the promotion side,” Hoff shares.

“There is turmoil here and there,” he says. “But when we talk about food shortages, I love that dairy is an easy solution. It not only is an excellent protein source, it tastes good, too.”

Peterson is excited about the checkoff’s future and credits the new CEO, Barb O’Brien for spending time listening not only to board members, but also to producers to help drive checkoff well into the future.

“She has been fantastic,” he says. “I give a big applause to Krysta Harden, USDEC CEO.”

Humble about lending a helping hand, Peterson has served many other roles in addition to working on his dairy. He has served as a high school coach, sports referee, youth pastor, school board representative and in various leadership roles for agricultural advocacy groups.

“You have to be a jack-of-all-trades in a small town,” he says.

While Peterson wears many different hats and has had many different roles, he is glad he came back to his family’s Trenton, Missouri dairy farm to play a role in helping feed the world.

“I’m proud of what I’m doing, knowing that the product I’m providing to the world is one of the most wholesome products out there.”

Farmer organisations have called the proposed changes to the code of welfare for dairy cattle as big, complex and overly prescriptive.

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