Working the land

Øystein Ramberg of Sabra Tours, based in Oslo, Norway, was driving along a back road through rural, west-central Minnesota in 2009 when he passed a large family farm road sign displaying a name so uniquely familiar, it caused him to stop, return to the farm and knock on the farm house door.

Two years later, he returned with a full bus bringing Norwegian farmers, teachers and individuals knowledgeable in Norwegian land use. They came to meet with Obert Gjerde, the owner of the Gjerde Dairy farm sign seen two years prior. The purpose of the visit was to compare and discuss the two countries’ agriculture practices in general, but dairy farm development and operation in particular.

On June 29, 54 participants arrived at the Sunburg, Minn., Community Center Building. A short, introductory meeting between the Norwegian bønder (farmers) and their American counterparts took place together with local residents who would serve as translators for those Norwegian visitors who did not speak English. A quick dinner was served and all participants departed for a circuitous trip around the area. The first stop took place to examine a large hog farm operation belonging to John Hauge of Sunburg, Minn. This was followed by a visit to an early Norwegian immigrant West Norway Lake church. Afterwards came the Norway Lake Log Church, and finally the Gjerde Dairy operations. At Hauge’s farm, Norwegians were quickly drawn to massive, green John Deere tractors and farm machinery, drawn as if pulled by powerful magnets. They were asked if John Deere was a known name in Norway. Two Norwegians quickly removed their baseball caps to display the embroidered logo of their local Norwegian John Deere dealer. “I own two John Deere tractors,” asserted Olaf Greibrokk. “I own one, too!” responded Jørund Upsal, both from Setesdal, Norway, near the southern city of Kristiansand, “…and some farmers own three!”

Gerd Strand, Halden, Norway, was a schoolteacher for students aged six to seven years. She pursued questions about the residences of students in relation to their school’s location. How long, how far, and by what mode of transportation were rural students transported to school, she asked. At the site of the log church, Wenche Haaland of Kristiansand, Norway, and Norolf Husveg of Hå, Norway, observed the nature of local area agricultural land usage. Land use practices were the source of dialogue: differences and similarities of crops were taken note of for comparison. Norwegian farmers queried their local counterparts about growing seasons, crop yields and the typical size of farm acreages. Dialogue, too, turned to contemporary world market prices, government controls on production and financial price supports. The bus tour eventually settled at Obert Gjerde’s dairy farm south of Sunburg. Obert, having lived and farmed since birth on this farm established by his father in 1938, guided guests around all facilities. The farm is now being farmed by his two sons. Obert stated his dairy milked 270 head of cows twice each day. The operations were state of the art. Stainless steel and ceramic tile gleamed around all of the milking stations. Cows entered the large milking house, single file, along two sides of the building. They backed up to their stations in behavior learned long ago through hundreds, if not thousands, of previous milking events. Their udders were sanitized, milk apparatuses automatically attached themselves to the cows, and within four minutes, a cow was completely milked and subsequently mechanically released to allow them to return single file to another area. Norwegian dairy farmers engaged the Gjerdes in comparative discussions ranging from operating pressures used in the milking processes, to consideration of new, state-of-the-art equipment used by the milking farming industries on both sides of the Atlantic.

As the day of intense dialogue came to an end, Obert Gjerde was asked for his reaction to the day’s exchange of farming ideas and practices. He stated he was surprised by the degree of development in Norwegian dairies, and specifically by the equipment they’re using today. “Robotic milkers are being developed here; three of this group have them already in Norway,” said Gjerde, smiling in appreciation of his counterparts’ dairy farming advancement.

Source: Gary Erickson, Sunburg, Minn.

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