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Mike McCloskey pictured outside of OVC.

Michael McCloskey receives honorary doctorate, inspires the next agri-food innovators

Vision and innovation are necessary to overcome challenges, and this is especially true for agri-food systems. Global warming and a growing population call for changes and solutions. Leading change with vision and through development of technology were recognized as Dr. Michael McCloskey received his honorary doctorate during the Ontario Agricultural College (OAC) convocation ceremony on June 15.

Mike McCloskey receives his honorary doctorate at OAC's convocation ceremonies in June 2023.

Food systems are becoming increasingly demanding, and more than ever, agriculture needs visionary and innovative leaders and practices to remain efficient and productive while feeding nine billion people with healthy and sustainable food. Mike is working toward the reality of dairy production surpassing net zero targets and being a climate change solution.

“I believe farming will be the filter of the earth”, he said during his speech to OAC graduates.

“Dr. McCloskey is a visionary innovator and bold advocate for progress in sustainability for the dairy industry,” said Dr. Stephen LeBlanc, Director of Dairy at Guelph in his introduction.  “His dedication to bridging the gap between producers and consumers about where food comes from and how it can be sustainably produced is unrivalled.”

Veterinarian turned farmer: About Mike McCloskey

Dr. McCloskey grew up in Puerto Rico. His uncle was a veterinarian who took McCloskey to farm visits, nurturing his interest in veterinary medicine and food supply systems. After graduating with a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) from the University of Mexico, he returned to the United States to complete a residency in dairy production medicine at the University of California.

McCloskey practiced as a dairy veterinarian where he met his wife and business partner, Sue. He soon went from supporting dairy farmers as a veterinarian to being a dairy farmer when he and Sue bought their first herd of 300 cows. That kicked off a process of growth as dairy farm owners that progressed over the next 30 years. Together, they founded Fair Oaks Farms, a large commercial dairy farm in Indiana that models sustainability practices and supports a massive public engagement effort by informing the public about the origins of food and the technology and animal care that sustain food production.

He pioneered novel processing that led to Fairlife milk and has led innovations in moving dairy farms to net zero carbon emissions through energy-from-manure technologies. He co-founded Select Milk Producers, a dairy producers’ cooperative with 99 family-owned dairy farms, now the sixth largest in the US. McCloskey also served on the board of the National Milk Producers Federation and the Sustainability Initiative of the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy. Mike continues to be a restless and visionary innovator and a tireless champion for animal agriculture. He challenges producers to develop and implement the means to make the dairy industry a nutritional and environmental solution, and the public to see farming as a positive.

Highlights from McCloskey’s convocation address

In his commencement speech, McCloskey shared that the University of Guelph influenced his career achievements.

“One of my mentors was a graduate of this great institution, and his knowledge and preparation was what inspired me to become the veterinarian that I became over the years,” he says. “Through my entire agriculture profession and career, I have always admired the great information, research and development that has come out of this university”.

His address also touched on issues and opportunities in modern agriculture and highlighted the importance of graduates in solving current challenges. “It is in your hands now as you come into our profession to carry the torch and make sure that we demonstrate that we are incredibly efficient at what we do, that we do care for our animals, and that we do care about our environment”.

McCloskey emphasized the importance of education and science in overcoming these challenges and encouraged the new professionals. “What matters is to never get discouraged, to know that the knowledge that you gained here is the basis to give you the strength to move forward against those who try to push you back, to stay positive, and to truly know that science is what will bring us the truth, the nutrition, and one planet that will serve us all.”

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