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0408 PD: Admirable but not appreciated

Published on 27 February 2008

Every once in a while we’ll see a poll question that will garner an above-average number of responses. Last issue’s question was one of those. Late in January, I received the following letter from Timothy Jenck, a dairy farmer in Tillamook, Oregon.

Tim wrote:

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I was wondering if you would poll the farmers of the U.S. The poll I would like to see would ask if the country’s food supplies get too low, would farmers want to step-up to the plate and produce more. This is taking into account all of the government regulations, activists and the Wal-Mart consumer mind-set of wanting everything cheap, which we deal with today.
I ask this because President Roosevelt asked us in the 1940s to feed the world, and we did it. I don’t think the U.S. farmer would do it today. I believe that the farming community feels that the consumer and the government don’t appreciate what we do.

In response to Tim’s request, I posted last month’s poll question to test the second part of Tim’s theory. Readers voted in above-average numbers. And it’s clear that Tim was right about dairy producers’ attitude toward consumers: Most of our readers don’t think that the U.S. consumer or the government appreciate the people or processes involved in safe, efficient milk production.

The question is, “If that feeling truly is widespread, what can producers who want to be more appreciated do to change public opinion?” That is the question a panel of dairy producers talked about during World Ag Expo in Tulare, California, last month. (see Producers organize, launch campaign to unite others).

Tim is also right in that we can feed the world with U.S. dairy products. The world came to us in 2007. Last year we posted the largest year-over-year change in dairy exports – a 62 percent increase – in more than a decade.

Yet those I see and hear speaking out about the safety, quality and quantity of dairy products produced in the U.S. don’t want to feed the world because it’s profitable but rather because it’s the right thing to do. They and their families are willing to stand up for dairy’s honorable livelihood and its tradition. Their passion nears that of patriotism.

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Talking about solutions will be the prerequisite to change. Yet more dairy producers must take an interest in what others think of them, their livelihood and their operations before lasting changes will occur. Tim asks a gut-check question we should all ask ourselves: Are we willing to continue to do what is audacious and admirable, but not appreciated?

In my opinion, the answer to this question will measure one’s future sustainability in the dairy industry. I believe that dairying can, and one day will, be fully appreciated. But the reversal of public opinion will not come quickly or quietly. So all of us will have to ask: How proud am I of dairying? PD

Walt Cooley

Editor

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