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Best of NAMA 2022

Richard Clauss, chairman of the board, Hilmar Cheese Company. Photo courtesy of Jeff Broome Photography, Modesto, Calif.
Leadership is a skill that one either possesses or must practice to achieve. For Richard Clauss, longtime dairy farmer and co-founder of Hilmar Cheese Company Inc., the skill seems to come as naturally as breathing. His role as a prominent leader is widely illustrated through many facets of his life. Highly regarded and often described as a "true leader" among his colleagues, Clauss personifies leadership on the dairy farm, within the industry and his community.


Early on, Clauss adopted the philosophy that "there is no need to produce something unless it can be marketed at a fair price." In the midst of all-time low markets for milk in the early 1980s, Clauss turned his attention toward the idea of building a local cheese plant to process his high-protein Jersey milk. A resourceful and innovative thinker, Clauss inspired 11 other Jersey dairymen to join him in partnership to create Hilmar Cheese Company Inc. Looking to add value to their Jersey milk by creating their own cheese processing facility, the dairymen were considered pioneers to some, while others doubted the group's dream.

Hilmar Cheese Company's Visitor Center educates consumers from Hilmar, Calif., and around the world about the importance of agriculture.
Never looking back, the partnership formed Hilmar Cheese Company in 1984 and began producing cheese in 1985. The company utilized the cheese yield payment system, which paid dairymen based on the cheese value of their milk. This was unique to the industry and ultimately created competition, encouraging other area plants to also pay more. As chairman of the board of Hilmar Cheese Company, Clauss has helped improve milk prices for dairymen throughout California. "His inherent fairness, belief in rewarding excellence and positive outlook is what enables Mr. Clauss to interact seamlessly between the processor and producer community," shares Lance Solus, vice president of sales and marketing, Pacific Cheese. "It has made him an important leader in both sectors. Sharing the success is what Richard Clauss is all about."

Over the past 19 years, Hilmar Cheese Company has made significant and innovative strides in the production of cheese and whey products. The addition of whey protein, lactose and polished water facilities has allowed the company to more fully utilize all incoming milk while creating additional products and markets for its more than 250 dairy producers.

"Clauss is a visionary leader and is always looking forward with a drive toward improvement and innovation," asserts John Jeter, CEO and president, Hilmar Cheese Company. Today the company processes more than 9 million pounds of milk per day into Cheddar and Jack cheese, making it the world's largest cheese manufacturer on one single site.

Under Clauss' leadership, Hilmar Cheese Company is highly regarded within the local, national and international dairy communities. Guided by what the company still refers to as its core values, Hilmar Cheese Company is recognized for its superior product quality, customer-focused service and team-oriented culture. Building long-lasting relationships with its employees, producers and customers is key. "Richard has good fundamentally economic ideas based on sound economic principles and has been successful in making them work for the short and long term," asserts Wesley Allen, president and CEO, Leprino Foods. "And Hilmar Cheese Company is evidence of this and a great example to others in the industry."

The owners of Hilmar Cheese Company remain dedicated to promoting dairy products and the industry. As a strong advocate for consumer education, Clauss was pivotal in the development of Hilmar Cheese Company's Visitor Center. Hosting more than 30,000 tour visitors in 2002, the center serves as a tremendous educational outreach to consumers and students from down the street to around the world. In addition to promoting the positive benefits of agriculture and the dairy industry, the Visitor Center provides locals and tourists a full-service deli and gift shop.


Clauss has been involved in the dairy industry since the age of 11 when his parents, Hugo and Valentine Clauss, moved to central California from Southern California. In 1950 the family was milking 24 cows on a 40-acre farm. With his father suffering from a terminal illness, Clauss' plans for college were changed as he began working full-time on the dairy with his mother.

By 1956 the family herd had increased by 55 Jerseys purchased from neighbors. To accommodate the growing herd and to produce milk for the All Jersey milk market in California, a Grade A milking barn was built in 1957. Upon its completion, 35 more Jerseys were acquired. After his father's passing, he and his mother continued their partnership to develop the family's purebred Jersey herd. More cows were added as the demand for milk continued to rise.

In 1974 the family purchased a dairy across the road along with 300 additional Jerseys, and by 1979 the two dairies had a combined herd of 785 milking cows. In an effort to both improve the Jersey breed and supply his dairies with the highest quality replacements, Clauss helped found Jerseyland Sires, a sire-proving group, and has served as its president since its inception.

Today, Clauss is owner of Clauss Dairy Farms and a family partner in Sunwest Jersey Dairy and Yosemite Jersey Dairy. Together, these operations house 4,500 registered milking cows and more than 3,000 replacement heifers. He and his family currently own one of the largest registered Jersey operations in the world. The farming operation includes 700 acres where alfalfa, corn and wheat are grown.

Within the industry, the Clauss Dairy operation is a model of efficiency and profitability and serves as an example to others. Clauss welcomes countless dairy producers and students from all over the world to visit his facilities each year. His operation is practical, modern and most innovative in terms of animal health and nutrition, housing and the environment.


Photo courtesy of Jeff Broome Photography, Modesto, Calif.
Even in the midst of growing his own dairy operation and overseeing Hilmar Cheese Company, Clauss has always been willing to share his time and knowledge for the betterment of others and the industry. For nearly 50 years, he has actively contributed to the progress of the Jersey breed through numerous leadership roles in state and national breed associations and industry organizations. "His respected leadership and significant contribution of time and energy is demonstrated by his continued participation on many industry boards," comments Jeter. During the 1950s, Richard served as president for the All Jersey Milk Marketing Association and the San Joaquin All Jersey Marketing Association Board. He has also contributed years of service on the California All Jersey Board.

Later in his career, Richard served as president of Cal-Milk Incorporated and was a founding director of the League of California Milk Producers. He also served on the Merced County Dairy Herd Improvement Association and the Merced County Farm Bureau Board as a member and past president.

Most notably, Richard contributed a combined 17 years toward the American Jersey Cattle Association (AJCA) and National All-Jersey Inc. (NAJ). He is one of the few people to serve as president of both organizations. Under Clauss' leadership and vision, AJCA moved to package its registration, milk marketing, appraisal and performance programs, which led to a continuous increase in program participation. Clauss' presidency also brought about the re-engineering of the registration process and the development of an intranet-internet data processing system - the first of its kind for a dairy breed association.

During his presidency of National All-Jersey Inc., the organization was a significant influence on the nationwide acceptance of multiple component pricing (MCP). "Clauss was instrumental in developing a pricing structure that was beneficial to all breeds of cattle producing milk," comments Joe Lyon, past president, American Jersey Cattle Association and National All-Jersey Inc. The percentage of the nation's eligible dairy farmers in some type of MCP plan grew from 25 to over 70 percent. In 2002, MCP pricing was also implemented in the first Federal Milk Marketing Order with MCP plans underway in 12 other orders. "As NAJ president, Richard's accomplishments benefited a lot of people," asserts Duane Wickstrom, Wickstrom Jersey Farms, Hilmar, California. "He is highly respected and has been a great leader in all aspects of the industry, but in particular for the Jersey breed."

Clauss' contributions to the industry do not, however, begin and end with the dairy farm, nor do they adhere to national borders. The progression of agriculture on a grander scheme continues to be a primary focus. During the 1960s, he served on the Growers Harvesting Committee Board of Directors, and in 1962, Clauss was one of the original stockholders of Hatch Milling, a dairymen-owned feed company.

In 1967, following a six-week trip to India and hosting Indian farmers in his home to share farming methods, Clauss was appointed to the Board of Farmers and World Affairs where he served for six years. He was instrumental in bringing developing country leaders to the United States to share agricultural practices.

In 1970 he was elected to the Turlock Irrigation District (TID) Board of Directors. As a member of the board for 24 years, Clauss served during extreme seasons of wet and dry, recognizing that California is truly desert land. "Richard was instrumental in providing guidance and direction during those challenging times," recalls Robert Nees, assistant general manager for water resources and regulation affairs, TID. "He always had a steady hand of guidance and direction and was able to grasp difficult concepts and provide clear direction." TID, a public utility, supplies irrigation water to more than 5,800 customers, covering approximately 150,000 acres of farmland, and power to 65,000 customers in the local area. His capacity on the TID Board allowed him to assist in the completion of the Don Pedro Dam and Powerhouse, which provides a dependable source of water and energy to the local area. Clauss retired from the board in 1993. His involvement in water policy led to an active role in the Association of California Water Agencies. He was also elected the first president of the California Farm Water Coalition, which was formed to better educate the media and public on agricultural water issues.

Clauss' years of contribution to the dairy industry have not gone unnoticed. He was selected as a member of Class 1 for the California Ag Leadership Program in 1971. He received the California Jersey Cattle Club Senior Breeder Award in 1982. In 1995, Cal Poly State University honored Clauss as their Los Lecheros Dairyman of the Year. At the 1995 World Dairy Expo, he was recognized as Dairyman of the Year. He also received the National Dairy Shrine Guest of Honor Award in 1998 and the U.S. Dairy Forum Innovative Farmer of the Year Award in 2000.


Richard and Sharon Clauss
A devoted family man, Clauss has been able to blend and balance his industry involvement with his family. "He has been successful in including his family in every aspect of his industry success," asserts Lyon. "His priorities are straight and he knows what is really important in life." He and Sharon, his wife of 41 years, have fostered a great enthusiasm and appreciation for the business and agriculture within their family. They have three daughters, Kirsten, Karen and Kimberly, and two sons-in-law who are all active partners in the dairy operation. Six grandchildren are also enjoying their grandfather's zest for the dairy industry.

Yet another significant facet of Clauss' busy life is his commitment to his church and community. Living out the tenets of his church on a daily basis, he is an active member and board member of the Hilmar Covenant Church. "Our church has greatly benefited from the leadership provided by Richard Clauss, who motivates and inspires people to follow," comments Pastor Bruce Metcalf, Hilmar Covenant Church. "Presently he is chairman of the committee charged with overseeing the construction of an 18,000-square foot, multipurpose facility. Richard casts a vision for the future ministry of our congregation as we strive to impact our community for Christ. Richard leads by example by giving of his time, talent, energy and financial resources."

A dynamic member of Hilmar and the surrounding communities, Clauss has been highly honored for his many years of service. He has been a member of Rotary International for 27 years and is a Paul Harris Fellow. In 1980 he was named Dairyman of the Year by the Turlock Chamber of Commerce and was named Dairy Industry Leader of the Year by the Merced County Chamber of Commerce in 1982. The Hilmar Chamber of Commerce pronounced him Citizen of the Year in 1996.

Although leadership is simply a way of life for Richard Clauss, he does not take his ability for granted. Richard so freely offers his time and many talents. As a result, he has made a remarkable impression on the industry, his community and family. AM

End Note: Agri Marketing would like to thank the communications department of Hilmar Cheese Company for its contribution to this section.

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