Renowned dairyman Don Bennink’s leadership and unwavering standard of excellence have had a profound impact on the dairy industry in Florida and around the world. In recognition of his involvement, he will be inducted into the Florida Agriculture Hall of Fall in February 2019.
A native of western New York, Bennink began milking cows in junior high school and would continue until his graduation from Cornell University in 1963. Slowly he expanded operations while continuing his education, earning a law degree from Cleveland Marshall University and working at a legal practice. However, his love for dairy could not be denied so he moved to Bell, Fla., in 1980 and established North Florida Holsteins.
Over the years, Bennink improved his operations using innovative construction and milking practices. In 2001, he began using tunnel-ventilation barns, which made cows more comfortable and productive. Eventually, he converted the entire operation and today has 12,000 head of cattle on 3,000 acres.
Early on, Bennink recognized the value of a partnership with universities and veterinary students. He has a longstanding relationship with the University of Florida’s College of Veterinary Medicine and one of the most well-respected international student internship programs in the country with Ohio State University. North Florida Holsteins has become a field laboratory, with hundreds of students, graduate students and scientists conducting research and field trials.
He is known around the world for his research in animal genetics and reproduction. A respected advocate for improving the Holstein breed, Bennink has developed his own system of genetic selection and pioneered the use of genomic testing.
His leadership in the industry is extensive. He served on the board of directors of the Upper Florida Milk Producers, the Florida Dairy Farmers and Southeast Milk. He also has served as SMI trucking chairman for more than 20 years and as Florida Dairy Farmers president for two years. He has received numerous honors and awards, including the World Dairy Expo’s highest honor, Dairyman of the Year.