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California’s Tony P. Lopes returns to dairy roots

Maura Keller for Progressive Dairy Published on 11 September 2019
Tony P. Lopes

At the age of 23, Tony P. Lopes is managing employees twice his age. As the operations team leader for his family’s multisite dairies, this California dairyman credits his family, mentors and educators with putting the passion for dairying on his heart.

Lopes represents the fourth generation of dairy farmers in his family. His great-grandfathers on both sides emigrated from the Azores Islands, off the coast of Portugal, and started dairying in California. “My grandfathers, both named Tony, subsequently started their own dairies, and when my parents, Paul and Darlene Lopes, were married in 1995, they started a dairy of their own, called P&D Dairy,” he says.

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Located in Gustine, California, Tony L. Lopes Dairy L.P. and P&D Dairies milk roughly 4,000 mature Holstein cows and raise the youngstock on five locations. They additionally farm approximately 2,100 acres of corn, oats, wheat and alfalfa. Lopes’ father, Paul, managed his grandfather’s farming enterprise, while his mom, Darlene, managed the P&D Dairies – which grew from 50 cows on one location in 1994 to four sites and roughly 1,000 cows milking today.

“When my grandfather, Tony L. Lopes, passed away in 2013, my parents assumed ownership, and we still maintain ownership of the P&D Dairies,” Lopes says.

It all started with a calf

Lopes’ start in the dairy industry began at the age of 6 when his father gifted him a Holstein calf, which grew into a 4-H and FFA project herd of registered and grade Holsteins. This collection of cattle ultimately earned Lopes the California FFA Star State Farmer Award, the National FFA Dairy Production Entrepreneurship Proficiency and made him a national finalist for the FFA Star American Farmer awards.

The Lopes family raises and markets approximately 2,500 head of Angus/Holstien cross calves a year

From the age of 10, Lopes participated in dairy bowl and dairy jeopardy through the state and national Holstein associations. He excelled at both levels, winning every division of dairy bowl and dairy jeopardy as well as the dairy knowledge exam. He was also awarded the Young Distinguished Junior Member (YDJM) and Distinguished Junior Member (DJM) awards from the National Holstein Association.

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“I credit the Holstein Association for not only the technical dairy knowledge I learned but for developing within me confidence, public speaking, leadership and an awareness of how big and special our industry is,” Lopes says.

Lopes is thankful to have been surrounded by many great mentors throughout his life.

“Dennis and Kirsten Areias’ work through the junior Holstein association was instrumental to my personal growth and development, and they, like my outstanding professors at Cal Poly who challenged me to grow and learn, can never be thanked enough,” Lopes says. “Additionally, my grandparents and parents have been tremendous examples for me to emulate. Everything I know about the value of hard work, and how to care for the cows and the land, came as a result of watching and learning from them.”

The road that led back home

Lopes attended Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in dairy science and a minor in agribusiness in 2018.

Prior to graduating in 2018, Lopes completed a research and development internship with Elanco Animal Health, a sales internship with Mycogen Seeds (formerly Dow AgroSciences, now Corteva) and a marketing internship with the California Milk Advisory Board in Seoul, South Korea.

“While at Cal Poly, I was very actively involved in student government and agricultural lobbying, and believe firmly that dairy producers need to be actively involved at all levels of government,” Lopes says. “I look forward to maintaining an involvement in industry advocacy groups to ensure that our elected officials and the public-at-large recognize the tremendous value our industry provides to our employees, consumers, communities and environment.”

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One of the valued team members at tony L Lopes Dairy location

While he valued those opportunities to see aspects of the dairy industry beyond production, the more he learned and experienced, the more he felt that he was called to be on-farm.

“My passion has always been the dairy side of our business, so my return to the business enabled my father to return to solely focusing on our farming operation, and enabled my mom to realign her focus to the P&D Dairies,” Lopes says. “While there are a number of areas where we share responsibility and our roles overlap, all three of us are better able to deploy our skill sets in our individual area of focus than before. All three of us feel this ‘refocusing’ has helped us improve tremendously in every area of what we do.”

Leading a team

Lopes’ role as operations team leader encompasses the day-to-day management of the Tony L. Lopes Dairy L.P. (TLL) location while assisting in some areas of managing the P&D dairies and the farming operation. This location calves out all cows and heifers for both TLL and P&D, raises all replacements for both entities from birth to breeding (where some heifers are moved to P&D Dairy), coordinates all feeding and milks roughly 3,000 cows. Lopes prides himself on making Tony L. Lopes Dairy the best possible place of work, for not only the cattle but also for the approximately 40 team members between all the enterprises.

“While I was in school, I managed the genetics and herd demographics via TeamViewer and made frequent trips home,” Lopes says. “While my studies took me away from the hands-on, day-to-day cowside management, I was able to play an active role in the culling, herd inventory projections and development of our beef-on-dairy cross program.”

Lopes also acted as an amateur consultant for the dairy during his time at Cal Poly, which included reconfiguring the dairy’s transition program, the addition of a colostrum pasteurizer, helping design the farm’s heat abatement infrastructure and eliminating their clean-up/herd bull program.

“Just prior to my graduation, I was responsible for the internal financial review to purchase back the original dairy facility my grandfather starting milking cows at in 1946 and 1,000 acres of his former farmground,” Lopes says.

Most recently, Lopes was a member of the California Dairies Inc. Leadership Program and had the opportunity to travel to Sacramento to meet with legislators and regulators on behalf of the dairy industry.

While Lopes recognizes how fortunate he is to have traveled and competed extensively, his proudest accomplishment is the work he gets to do each and every day.

“While there is still a lot of room for improvement, and we are striving to get better every day, I am extremely proud of what our team has been able to accomplish in the last year,” Lopes says. “A lot of people said I was crazy or wasting my abilities by going back to the dairy, or even that there was no way a 23-year-old could successfully lead an employee twice my age, let alone a team of them. I am proud to have earned the trust of my parents to be in this position and proud to have earned the respect of our employees in order to have attained the ambitious goals we accomplished in the last year.”

The Tony L. Lopes Dairy location

Lopes’ main goal for his family’s operation is doing the absolute best job in every facet of production. Only time will tell if that will ultimately mean more cows or robotic milking, or combining all the facilities onto one location, but at the end of the day, Lopes believes they have the team in place to produce milk and care for cows as well as, or better than, anyone.

“We aren’t there today, but I look forward to getting better every single day in every single aspect of what we do. It is my hope to one day be able to pass down this legacy of dairy farming to my future sons or daughters, but neither the state of California nor the global dairy economy are known for their mercy,” Lopes says. “If that dream is going to be a reality, our dairy is going to have to become exponentially more efficient, sustainable and productive. As of now, I am focused on achieving our on-farm goals, but I look forward to the potential of being involved through cooperative and advocacy group boards in the future.”  end mark

PHOTO 1: Tony Lopes in the calf barn where the family raises all of their own heifer calves.

PHOTO 2: The Lopes family raises and markets approximately 2,500 head of Angus/Holstein cross calves a year.

PHOTO 3: One of the valued team members in the double-35 parallel parlor at the main Tony L. Lopes Dairy location.

PHOTO 4: The Tony L. Lopes Dairy location from the top of the 2018 corn silage rollover pile. Photos provided by Tony Lopes.

Maura Keller is a freelance writer in Plymouth, Minnesota.

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