Keith Ripp is a man of many talents, both on and off the farm. This 2018 Master Agriculturist stays busy at Ripp Farms LLC near Lodi, Wis., in state government, in local and state organizations, and in his community.
Keith was born and raised on the family farm in northern Dane County. His mother’s home farm, it has been in the family for more than 90 years. Keith was involved in 4-H and FFA as a youth. He graduated from University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Farm and Industry Short Course in 1981 and returned to the farm.
At that time, a partnership was formed between Keith and his parents, Eugene and Jean Ripp, when he bought half of the 91-cow Holstein herd. In 1984, Keith and Lori were married. Together they continued to steadily grow Ripp Farms LLC and make improvements using many of the latest technologies. A big change occurred in 1992, when the dairy herd was sold and the Ripp family began feeding out steers and raising replacement heifers.
“Farming has changed a lot since I started,” Keith says. “Technology and the role it plays in everyday decision-making has probably been the biggest change. Using my phone, marketing applications, mapping technology, GPS, autosteer and the genetics of crops and cattle have all changed the game.”
Crops are raised on 485 owned and 25 rented acres for use as feedstuffs and cash grain. Crops include corn, soybeans, alfalfa, winter rye and wheat. Saving topsoil and stewarding the land is a top priority for Keith as he makes cropping decisions.
“Every piece of ground is different and requires different management techniques,” he explains. “We started using no-till practices on some of our land in 1988. Split-nitrogen application, zone tillage, strip till and vertical tillage are some of the other management practices we’ve used.”
Keith subscribes to the best management practices being used in the nearby Yahara Watershed by the Yahara Pride Farms Conservation Board. He sees a tremendous value in planting cover crops to save topsoil, hold nutrients and use as a feedstuff for dairy heifers.
Expansion and growth
As the renewable fuels industry grew in Wisconsin, Keith saw the need to invest in facilities that would add value to grain grown on the farm. Drying and storage facilities were constructed in 2007 and provide 60,000 bushels of storage for corn that is sold primarily to ethanol plants.
R Enterprises LLC is a trucking business started more than 20 years ago as Keith saw the opportunity to diversify and efficiently use resources the farm needs all year. A commercially licensed semitruck hauls corn to local ethanol plants, and backhauls byproducts and feed to farms and agribusinesses. Two more semis are used during the busy harvest season.
In 2010, the Ripp family discussed the future of the family farm. Shortly after, they expanded the farm’s capacity to custom-raise dairy heifers. In 2013, a new freestall barn and manure pit were constructed to house dairy replacement heifers. The expansion provided the farm with an opportunity to diversify and invest for the next generation. Today, 600 dairy replacement heifers are custom-raised at Ripp Farms LLC for relatives at Ripp’s Dairy Valley.
“At one time we had cattle in five locations, which was a real process to feed, clean and bed,” Keith says. “We knew that couldn’t continue sustainably. It’s much more efficient to have the animals in one location. It was an interesting process from design to completion. We went back and forth between building a monoslope building with bedding pack or a freestall. The drought of 2012 showed us that we would have years with limited bedding available, which helped us make our decision to go with a freestall barn. We’ve had lots of interest in the facility from others since building it.”
The freestall barn has capacity for 400 heifers housed in four pens. It features drive-through feeding, headlocks, spacious stalls, built-in footbaths and other amenities that make the heifers comfortable, as well as the people working with the cattle. A manure pit with more than eight months’ of storage was constructed alongside the freestall barn.
Ag and community leader
Keith has served as a town of Dane supervisor, co-founder and past president of the Lodi FFA Alumni, Lodi youth football coach, 4-H project leader, Dane County Fair swine superintendent, and Wisconsin State Fair and Lodi Agricultural Fair volunteer. He is active in his church and has held key leadership positions on the Wisconsin Corn Growers Association and Wisconsin Soybean Marketing Board.
In 2008, Keith was elected to the state Assembly representing the 47th (now the 42nd) District. He served in that role until recently, when he was appointed as the assistant deputy secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.
Keith chose to run for public office because he felt he could be a voice and advocate for Wisconsinites. He has been called “the legislator who listens.” The state Capitol building where he served in the Assembly is about 20 miles from his farm, and the dome can be seen from his farmyard. Before traveling to his office in Madison each morning, Keith makes the rounds on the farm and does chores.
The Ripp family thrives in ag even off the farm. Lori is the office manager for both farm businesses and secretary for the Lodi Agricultural Fair. Daughter Rochelle, a former Alice in Dairyland, is a communication specialist for Compeer Financial, and her husband, Evan Schnadt, is a genetic specialist for ABS Global. Son Ryan is a district sales manager for Dairyland Seeds, and his wife, Brianna, is a director for Filament Marketing. Radley, the youngest, is the farm herdsman and runs his own round baling and spraying business.
“We’re looking at transitioning the farm in the near future,” Keith says. “We like to be proactive instead of reactive. If all the kids want to participate in the farm, they’re welcome to do it. We have to step back and let them make decisions, because the best way to learn is to make a few mistakes.”
Giebel writes from Baraboo, Wis.