After graduating from University of Wisconsin-River Falls in 1973 with a bachelor’s of science degree in ag business, Tom Kriskovich returned home to farm where he grew up, just 8 miles south of Lake Superior near Ashland, Wis.
“I always knew I would farm,” says Tom, a 2018 Master Agriculturist. “Farming has always been my passion.”
In 1975, Tom met and married Donna, who had not grown up on a farm. That fall, they purchased his parents’ 330-acre dairy farm and 40 Guernsey cows. Over the years, Tom and Donna switched to Holsteins, steadily expanded their farm operation and grew their family.
Today the Kriskoviches farm 1,800 owned and rented acres, milk 330 cows and raise 290 heifers.
They have seven grown children and 10 grandchildren. Their youngest child, Patrick, 30, is farm manager and is in charge of crops. Their youngest daughter, Anne, 31, is the herdsperson. She does chores and handles the dairy records. Anne has a master’s degree in education and also works part time as a career specialist at Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College. Tom does the payroll and feeding chores and helps with fieldwork, while Donna keeps the financial records.
The Kriskoviches also have seven part-time employees who milk cows.
“We all work well together,” Tom says.
Over the years as his dairy herd grew, Tom converted older buildings into freestall housing with sand bedding. In 2005, he put in a double-eight flat barn milking parlor.
“We still have 60 cows in our tiestall barn, but we milk them in the flat barn parlor,” Anne says.
They built a Slurrystore for manure storage and also have a lagoon.
“We empty them in spring,” Tom says. “We also try to haul manure in the summer and spread manure as we harvest forages.”
On twice-a-day milking, their cows produce 26,500 pounds of milk on DHIA test and have a somatic cell count average of 110,000. Cows are bred using artificial insemination. They use blood tests to check for pregnancies.
Corn and soybeans
Thirty years ago, Tom started growing corn on his farm. “My dad never grew corn,” he says. “Our growing season wasn’t long enough.”
Tom credits climate change for lengthening the growing season and improved seed genetics for being able to grow corn.
“We are also protected by the lake [Superior],” he explains. “We have a later first killing frost than they do just a few miles south of here.”
Back in the 1980s, when Tom started growing corn, he only grew a crop for silage. But now the Kriskoviches grow corn for grain, too.
“We grow all of the corn we feed our cows and young stock,” Tom says. “We do have a dryer, but we put up most of our corn as high-moisture corn and corn silage.”
They also sell some corn as a cash crop. Tom says their dry corn averages 150 to 170 bushels per acre.
Patrick and Tom plant 82-to-88-day corn for grain and 92-day corn for silage.
“We try to plant our corn between the last week of April and the second weekend of May,” Tom says. “Last year we didn’t get a killing frost until late October.”
Twelve years ago, the Kriskoviches started planting soybeans.
“We try to plant soybeans right after we are done planting corn in early May,” Tom says. “Our beans average 40 bushels per acre.”
Their crops include 650 acres of corn, 400 acres of alfalfa, 350 acres of soybeans, 300 acres of hay and 100 acres of small grains.
“Farming that many acres can be hectic at times, but having a great support team of dedicated employees, knowledgeable agronomists, and outstanding dealer support makes our cropping season a success,” Patrick says.
Tom says they have heavy clay soils, which protects them from drought. But they struggle every fall after they finish harvesting their crops to get their fields tilled before winter. Dealing with soil compaction is a challenge, too.
Their crop rotation consists of four to five years of alfalfa, two years of corn, and then back to alfalfa. They rotate corn with soybeans every year.
Beyond the farm
The Kriskoviches have always found time to be active in their community and farm organizations.
Tom served as a board director for more than 20 years for Midland Services Cooperative, including two terms as board president. He also served two terms as a board director for United Ag Services. He helped with the merger of three major co-ops to form Synergy Cooperative in 2017. He currently serves on the newly formed Synergy Cooperative board of directors. He is also a member of the Dairy Business Association.
Tom and Donna credit their kids for much of their farming success.
“Every one of our kids worked hard when they were growing up on the farm,” Tom says. “They had to juggle school and homework with sports, 4-H and FFA, and getting their farm chores done.”
“We told them they could only be in one sport,” Donna notes. “The younger ones were in more sports.”
“They all worked hard — probably too hard — but they all learned how to work and are successful, even the ones who work off the farm,” Tom says. “We’re proud of them all.”