Ensuring the succession, an essential task for William Berthoud

William Berthoud is President of the Société de laiterie de Semsales (Semsales Dairy Company), whose Gruyère AOP was designated as a cheese of excellence for 2021 by the Fribourg State Council. This milk producer runs the family estate that he took over from his father and before him from his grandfather. He raises some 60 cows.

15 Sep 2021
Around Le Gruyère AOP
© Aliénor Held

“I believe in the adage 'If you don't go forward, you go backward'. Whether as president of the dairy company or as a producer, I am committed to moving forward with the times, to modernising, but at the same time, if possible, remaining closely linked to the family tradition and the transfer from generation to generation.”

William Berthoud, president of the dairy company Semsales

“I believe in the adage 'If you don't go forward, you go backward'," says Berthoud with determination. “Whether as president of the dairy company or as a producer, I am committed to moving forward with the times, to modernising, but at the same time, if possible, remaining closely linked to the family tradition and the transfer from generation to generation.” It is therefore not surprising that the family estate has undergone several transformations over the years. In 1979, his father updated the cow shed and in 2011 when he had the opportunity to expand the farm, William took the big step of moving to free stalls. With the increased land area, it was a good way to make the work easier.

Mr. Berthoud worked for many years with his father and an apprentice. Today he runs his estate with two apprentices. Since he started, he has trained a total of 28 apprentices. This is an activity that he is keen to keep alive. Moreover, he likes this contact with young people. "They are all different. You have to listen to them and take them as they are so that they can give the best of themselves. Some prefer the cattle, others the machines.”  Berthoud has trained both boys and girls, some from the region and others from the German-speaking part of Switzerland; some are 15 or 16 years old, others are older and come to him for training in a second career.

William Berthoud was a member of the training committee for 16 years. Therefore, he is very familiar with the knowledge required of apprentices. "You have to take them at the stage they are at and help them develop. It is essential to see them progress during the year. If they're not from a farming background, you have to start from the ground up. Otherwise I go into a bit more detail. If they come from the German-speaking part of Switzerland, I speak German to them until Christmas and then, for some unknown reason, I forget how to speak the language," he says with a smile.

William Berthoud emphasises hygiene to his apprentices. This is all the easier with free stalls and milking rooms. "You might think that there is no connection. And yet, spacious, airy and light rooms indirectly help to have better hygiene. And obviously, this is very important for the milk production for Le Gruyère AOP.”

The apprentices live with the family during the three years of training and it is Noémie, William's wife, who is in charge of the stewardship and above all of welcoming and supervising these young people. "In fact, they are part of the family. We include them in the leisure activities, provided of course that they want to. For my part, I replace their mother to some extent. If they have flu or an injury, I am there to take care of them. For some, I am also a confidant. I adapt to their needs and I really enjoy this role."

At the Berthoud’s, the succession is assured. Their son Rémy is currently doing an apprenticeship as a farmer and their daughter Adeline wants to become an agricultural engineer. "We have always given them complete freedom to choose their career. They naturally showed an interest in agriculture and made this choice, which makes us very happy," exclaim Noémie and William.

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