National Dairy Shrine is honoring four respected individuals with its Pioneer Award this year in recognition of their significant contributions to the dairy industry. Among the 2020 honorees is Randall A. “Randy” Geiger (1950-2019), the highly regarded dairyman and dairy cooperative leader from Reedsville, Wisconsin, who died last September. Geiger will join a distinguished group of industry leaders whose stories and portraits are featured in the National Dairy Hall of Fame at the National Dairy Shrine Museum in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin.
A lifelong dairyman, Randy Geiger’s love for farming began while growing up on his family’s Wisconsin dairy farm. Following his father’s untimely death in 1966, Randy began a 50-year career in dairy farming when he and his wife Rosalie established their own Ran-Rose Dairy Farms. Together they bred and developed an outstanding herd of Registered Holsteins recognized for its production and high quality of milk. In 1994, Ran-Rose Cream Spirit became Wisconsin’s lifetime milk production leader with a total of 342,000 pounds milk. From 1996 to 2015, the Ran-Rose herd earned the Manitowoc County DHIA Udder Health Award every year for its low somatic cell score. In 2002, the herd was recognized with the National Mastitis Council’s National Dairy Quality Award. Over the years, the Ran-Rose herd accrued Progressive Breeder of Registry awards, Progressive Genetics awards, and Gold Medal Dam and Dam of Merit recognitions from Holstein Association USA. They had three cows who amassed over 300,000 pounds milk lifetime and 21 cows with over 200,000 pounds.
Geiger was a dedicated and committed volunteer throughout his life. He served on dozens of community, state and national committees and boards. He became a visible and effective voice in lobbying elected officials at all levels of government on behalf of dairy farmers and rural residents. As a dairy leader, he was instrumental in positively shaping the dairy business environment. In 1989 when the Kasson Cheese plant at Brillion, Wisconsin, went into bankruptcy and dairy farmers were not paid for their milk, Geiger worked tirelessly to make changes in the Wisconsin Producer Security law to minimize the chances of farmers not getting paid in the future for their milk. He later was asked to give guidance to the Wisconsin Dairy 2020 Task Force following an appointment by the governor.
Geiger was president of the Manitowoc Milk Producers Cooperative for 16 years (1998 to 2013). From 2011-12, he became the “bridge builder” and driving force behind the formation of FarmFirst Dairy Cooperative which brought together three of Wisconsin’s leading dairy cooperatives – Manitowoc Milk, Family Dairies USA and Milwaukee Cooperative Milk Producers – into one powerful entity in 2013. As Jeff Lyon, current FarmFirst General Manager says, “Randy saw the duplication of programs and services by our three predecessor cooperatives, and he recognized that if the three cooperatives were to remain relevant and continue to meet the needs of dairy farmers, a merger was needed to improve efficiencies, programs and services.” Today FarmFirst represents 3,400 Upper Midwest dairy farmers producing nearly 10 billion pounds of milk. Geiger was also very instrumental in creating educational scholarships for farm youth when Manitowoc Milk Producers received a monetary bequest from radio personality Bill Walters. As a result of Geiger’s efforts, FarmFirst has awarded more than $145,000 in scholarships to 165 students.
Geiger was a highly effective participant in national public policy discussions affecting dairy producers through his service on the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) Board of Directors from 2008-13 where he also helped guide its Environmental and Milk Marketing Committees. In 2003, he was part of the group of dairy producers who oversaw the formation of the Cooperatives Working Together program, a self-help program aimed at improving dairy farm income. As Jim Mulhern, NMPF President and CEO, states, “In his many local, state and national roles, Randy was a passionate voice for farmers, and a great advocate for their needs.”
Geiger’s unwavering optimism for the dairy industry, and his belief in young people, was contagious. He mentored and helped numerous young people to get into dairy farming. Among the many honors Geiger received during his life were the University of Wisconsin-Madison College of Agricultural & Life Sciences’ Honorary Recognition Award in 2005, the “Master Agriculturalist” award from the Wisconsin Agriculturalist in 2009, and the Cooperative Network’s Cooperative Builder Award in 2017.
For more information about National Dairy Shrine, the banquet, or the students and dairy industry leaders being recognized this year, contact National Dairy Shrine’s office at [email protected] or visit their website.