Organic dairy cows at Morris.

Researcher Spotlight: Bradley Heins

February 1, 2015

Bradley Heins is an Assistant Professor for the Department of Animal Science and the West Central Research and Outreach Center. In his nearly five years at the University, he has focused on organic grazing dairy and management at Morris. The organic dairy herd at Morris is one of only two certified organic dairy farms located at a land-grant university and the work being completed promises to have a large impact on the growing organic dairy industry.

Brad Heins.What is the primary focus of your research today?

Organic and Grazing Dairy Management

What do you hope to accomplish next?

My commitment to the enhancement of organic dairy production in the Upper Midwest will continue to strengthen through focused research and extension programs. The opportunity to assist dairy producers to solve real-world problems in organic dairy management is very exciting to me. 

How does your research potentially impact the state of Minnesota and beyond?

The number of organic dairy producers in Minnesota continues to grow. Over an eight-year period from 2000 to 2008, the number of organic farms in Minnesota grew by 42 percent. Currently, there are over 200 organic dairy farms in Minnesota — ranking Minnesota #9 for organic dairy production in the United States. Organic dairy farming may be a profitable alternative for dairy farmers who want to use a less intensive production system that caters to a growing market niche. According to the Hartmann group, 75 percent of consumers are choosing organic products, and 35 percent of those consumers purchase organic products monthly. Most consumers purchase organic products because of concerns associated with pesticide, growth hormone, and antibiotic use. Furthermore, consumers purchase organic products because of the perception that they are more nutritional, safer, and taste better than conventionally raised agricultural products.

Minnesota’s dairy industry is also an economic driver of both rural and metro counties. Each organic dairy cow generates over $15,000 of economic activity through direct and indirect ways of business and employment.

What drew you to your field of study/what problem were you hoping to solve?

My Ph.D. work was with dairy farms in California that were implementing a crossbreeding program with the Holstein, Montbéliarde, and Viking Red breeds of cattle. Some of the farms that we worked with were grazing dairy cattle and one converted to an organic production system during our study. Grazing dairy cattle is a very different management system than confinement dairy management. These grazing farms intrigued me and I found it a challenge to evaluate research that these farms needed to improve the profitability and efficiency of their farms.

What is your most notable accomplishment at the University so far?

Because of my willingness to engage a team of experts to collaborate on research and extension for organic dairy production, we were awarded a $1.9 million USDA-NIFA grant in 2012 to improve the profitability of organic dairy operations in the Midwest. This project will have impact for many years to come for the organic dairy industry across the United States.

What makes your research unique?

The organic dairy herd at the UMN WCROC is home to one of just two certified organic dairy farms at land-grant research universities in the United States. Being located at a research and outreach center offers many valuable opportunities to serve the WCROC, the Department of Animal Science, and the community. The WCROC is deeply rooted into the Morris community, and there is higher-value to have faculty located at an ROC. Therefore, it is my vision to adapt my research and extension activities to the emerging issues of the state and surrounding community.

Where did you grow up and what was that place like?

I grew up in Lake City, MN, which is about 75 miles south of the Twin Cities. It is the birthplace of waterskiing. Southeastern Minnesota is a beautiful part of the state with rolling bluffs and beautiful fall colors on the trees. Lake City is on Lake Pepin, and there are many activities to do from boating to fishing.

What is your favorite place on campus?

I received my undergraduate degree from the St. Paul campus. However, I enjoy the East Bank campus at the University and enjoy being on the Mall during the spring. I really enjoy going to Annie’s Parlor for the food and great milkshakes.

Organic Dairy at Morris.

Part of the organic dairy herd at Morris. It is one of only two certified organic dairy herds at a land-grant university.

Bradley Heins at Morris.

Bradley Heins discusses the University's research on organic grazing dairy cows during a field tour at the West Central Research and Outreach Center at Morris.