By Kate Klimesh,
By Kate Klimesh
This couple won the 2023 Winneshiek County Dairy Promoter’s Distinguished Service award at the April Dairy Banquet, but they’ve done more than offer distinguished service, they’ve been award-winning dairy farmers and dairy promoters for over 50 years.
Mark and Diane Schmitt of rural Fort Atkinson have a wall full of honors and recognition for their years in the dairy industry and service to many groups and boards. They’ve been on boards for Swiss Valley Farms, NICC Dairy and Agricultural Foundation, Winneshiek County Dairy Promoters and many more.
They’ve been heavily involved in and big supporters of the local 4-H. Their daughters were dairy princesses, with one a state alternate Dairy Princess. Their boys were active in 4-H, and both are now co-owners of the family dairy operation. They went on to take over the family operation when Mark and Diane retired in 2013.
But, the pair are not ones to sit idle. Mark stated, “I still needed something to do, so I worked at a local coop delivering nitrogen for three years. Then I started helping out with the Moo-Mobile because they needed someone to be in charge of that.”
With two shake machines and a trailer, Mark and Diane quickly realized the shakes were very popular. “We had 75 engagements last year, with as many as three engagements in one day. We’d take it to banks, NICC Breakfast on the Farm, Lawler Days, we’d set up at the Sale Barn, at nursing homes and just everywhere. It’s a five-month season, and we put a lot of miles on,” Mark reported with a smile.
“It was fun, too, to see everyone stopping by,” Diane added.
Mark noted working with Chris Erickson of Anderson-Erickson Dairy of Des Moines was a good experience as well, “We had excellent service with Chris, and they always did a great job of getting us what we needed for the dairy shake mix just when we needed it.” The Moo-Mobile was the second largest shake mix customer in the region for Erickson.
Mark noted that he’s learned a lot about shake machines during his time with the Moo-Mobile, but always enjoyed working with the grandkids and the Dairy Royalty who signed up to help.
“We got pretty good at it, and the kids did really well. It helped build up some funds for the Winneshiek County Dairy Association and about the time we’d show up with the Moo-mobile you’d see 100 kids come out of nowhere,” Mark laughed. “It was something to do and helped promote our own product, too.”
Mark has turned over the reins of the Moo-Mobile to Eric Wemark and his daughter Addison, who was the 2022 Dairy Princess. He assured the Moo-mobile was in good hands.
As for Mark, he stays busy helping out on the farm as he can but reported that he sees the current dairy industry as divided between those that want to leave it the way it is and those that are looking for and experimenting with the next innovation.
Mark and Diane support innovation, having taken up the dairy industry in 1976, building a 100-cow barn and a 500-cow barn in 1994 when everyone told him it was too big to succeed. Schmitt Dairy has been at 600 cows for the past 20 years.
Even after being hospitalized for COVID and losing their sense of smell (Mark noted it’s nice when you can’t smell the manure you haul), Mark and Diane still keep busy watching the animals on their farm. “We saw six bald eagles at one time out there in the field, and we see deer, woodchucks, birds and all manner of animals are out here. It can be very entertaining.”
For now, Mark and Diane are looking into what might be their next project to keep them busy, but are enjoying life on the farm.