Beretta Family’s Culture of Care Recognized with Luther Burbank Conservation Award

Written By: Tim Tesconi
Published: June 1, 2019

Beretta Family to be honored at Farm Bureau’s Love of the Land Celebration

A sign over the breakfast table lays out the “Beretta Family Rules.” Some of the rules are common-sense admonitions like “Love Your Family” and “Forgive and Forget,” daily reminders that keep the close-knit family moving forward as they live and work on their multi-generational dairy just beyond Santa Rosa’s urban edge.

The sign also inspires both life and the business of farming with the words “Try New Things” and “Do the Right Thing.” Doing the right thing is the guiding philosophy as the Beretta Family – four generations of them – produce organic milk for Clover Sonoma while farming in a way that respects and enhances the natural resources that are part of their 400-acre farming domain.

The Beretta family strongly adheres to the Old-World philosophy that if you take care of the land it will take care of you. Taking care of the land means giving back to it by composting, managing manure, pastures and waterways and always being mindful of the land’s carrying capacity.

“We were always taught that you milked as many cows as the land could handle. This has kept our farm what it is today,” said Doug Beretta, 55, a third generation dairy rancher.

He grew up milking cows and driving feed wagons on the family’s oak-dotted land along the Laguna de Santa Rosa. His grandfather, the late Joe Beretta, purchased the land in 1948 and established the dairy. Doug took over from his father Bob Beretta who still helps out on the ranch.

Taking care of the land also means preserving the plants and animals that were there before the Berettas and their cows. Thriving on the Beretta dairy are three endangered species, the California Tiger Salamander and two plants, the Sebastopol Meadowfoam and Sonoma Sunshine. The Berettas carefully farm in a way that preserves these protected flora and fauna.

“We are the largest landowners still with a farming operation that is habitat for the California Tiger Salamander and the two flowers,” said Beretta. He said through judicious grazing practices and other management tools the endangered species prosper.

It’s not always easy but Beretta believes as a steward of this remarkable property it’s his duty to protect them. “We take pride that those endangered species still thrive on our ranch.”

It’s this culture of care and stewardship that has earned the Beretta family the 2019 Luther Burbank Conservation Award from the Sonoma County Farm Bureau. The award annually recognizes an individual, business or family making extraordinary efforts to balance economic viability with environmental stewardship. The Beretta Family will be honored at the Love of the Land Celebration on July 11 at Richard’s Grove and Saralee’s Vineyard in Windsor.

The event is open to the public and celebrates the land and people who propel Sonoma County’s farm economy and unique way-of-life.

The Luther Burbank Conservation Award is one of many honors Doug Beretta and his family have received over the years for not only being exemplary farmers but community leaders and boosters for agriculture and farm youth. They are active in Farm Bureau, the Sonoma County Fair and many other organizations while eagerly educating others about farming and what it takes to produce food and fiber.

“Doug and the Beretta family have always managed their lands to be a successful family business by enhancing the natural resources on their property,” said Joe Pozzi, manager of the Gold Ridge Conservation District and a director and past president of Sonoma County Farm Bureau. Pozzi, a dedicated conservationist, was the first recipient of the Luther Burbank Conservation when it was established 12 years ago by Farm Bureau.

Pozzi said Doug Beretta has spent many years working with agencies at the local, state and national levels to educate himself and others on how grazing and wise management promotes a healthy ecosystem on working lands.

“By working with these agencies Doug and his family show how production agriculture enhances the natural resources on the land and how agriculture and the natural environment can coexist,” said Pozzi, a Valley Ford sheep and cattle rancher.

And on top of all that, said Pozzi, the Berettas are good neighbors who are actively involved in the community and dedicated to keeping agriculture part of Sonoma County’s rich heritage.

“Whether it’s a neighbor who needs help moving animals, a local FFA program that needs someone to barbecue, or a class of kids who want to see cows being milked, Doug and his family are always willing to step up,” said Pozzi.

Doug and his wife Sharon operate the family ranch with their daughter, Jennifer, 31, and son, Ryan, 26, along with assistance from daughter, Lisa, 29, and her son, Brayden, 8, whose love of the land and cows promises that he may one day be the fifth generation to carry on the family dairy farming tradition.

In many ways, the Berettas are the profile of today’s American farm family. They astutely manage the bottom-line while being environmentally aware, focused on the welfare of their animals and dedicated to producing a quality product. In 2007, the Beretta Family Dairy became certified organic, selling its milk to Wallaby Yogurt. That relationship continued for many years but last year when Wallaby moved its processing facility out of California, the Beretta’s milk found a new home at Clover Sonoma.

Throughout the decades the Berettas have continued to be innovative and transparent in their management of natural resources while sustaining their family dairy business. In the 1950s, the Berettas began moving toward environmentally friendly practices on their land. They gave up chemical fertilizers, emphasized pasture management and focused on growing much of their own feed so it doesn’t have to be trucked long distances.

Since 1981 the Beretta family has used recycled water from the City of Santa Rosa to grow hay and silage on 200 acres of their land. They are utilizing a valuable resource while avoiding the need to pump groundwater from the aquifer beneath the Santa Rosa Plains. Today they produce 60 percent of the feed for their 350 milk cows. It’s a proud accomplishment that helps reduce feed costs at a time when the market for milk is under pressure because of an oversupply.

In 1992, the Berettas developed a “fertigation” system, which mixed manure from the cows with the reclaimed water. Crop yields increased by one ton per acre while containing the manure and keeping it from flowing to waterways.

In 2015, Beretta and his family were recognized by the North Coast Water Quality Control Board with its Water Quality Stewardship Award for the management of the water and resources on the dairy.

A director and past president of Sonoma County Farm Bureau, Beretta believes the time spent off the ranch is important for his family’s farming future and for other farmers and ranchers. He said if farmers aren’t informed and ready to advocate for their way-of-life they will be regulated out of business. He said one-on-one meetings with government leaders and the agencies regulating land, water, air and farm labor are essential to put a face on farming and dispel misconceptions about production agriculture.

More than 10 years ago, when faced with the listing of the California Tiger Salamander as a federally endangered species, Beretta represented affected farmers by participating on the Sonoma County CTS Task Force, which included educating other producers about farming on land with endangered species. He offered tours of his ranch to regulatory agencies and elected officials so they could see first-hand how the salamander and wildflowers can co-exist with livestock.

Beretta said working with agencies like the Sonoma Resource Conservation District and the Natural Resources Conservation Service on water quality, nutrient and pasture management projects helped improve the management and operation of the dairy.

“We always tried to work with the RCD or other agencies to fix problems before they become issues,” he said.

Most recently the Beretta Family Dairy was one of the first properties to work with the RCD and the City of Santa Rosa on a voluntary nutrient offset project that involved the installation of water quality and drainage improvements on the dairy.

The Berettas are always looking to the future and ways to improve. Working with UC Cooperative Extension dairy specialist Randi Black they have applied for a $600,000 grant through the Alternative Manure Management Program, administered by the California Department of Food and Agriculture. If approved in September, the grant money would be used to develop a system to remove solids from the manure so it can be dried and used for compost for the fields or bedding for the milk cows. The liquid manure would continue to be mixed with recycled water to irrigate and fertilize pastures and forage crops.

Black said dairy farmers like the Berettas are being proactive in finding solutions to manure management and water issues on their land. She said it is encouraging that the state of California is providing funds to help producers meet those goals.

The Berettas have always been generous with their time, opening their ranch to not only aspiring young farmers but urban residents and city kids who want to see cows being milked and newborn calves take their first steps.

Through the RCD’s FARMS Leadership Program, the Berettas have hosted hundreds of local students at their dairy, providing invaluable experiences through hands-on learning opportunities.

Beretta encourages his children to get involved, knowing it’s vital for their future in farming. Daughter Jennifer, like her father, is a director of Sonoma County Farm Bureau, currently serving as first vice president. She also participates on other boards and committees.

“It’s our goal to continue for generations into the future,” said Beretta. “We are all working together to accomplish that goal by doing the right thing in caring for our land and cattle.”

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