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Are you Dairy Strong?: Revamped conference to be held Jan. 12-14

Maria Woldt Published on 29 December 2015
jim gaffigan

When it comes to dairy farming, routine is key. Everything happens at the same time every day, in the same order. Any variation can upset the cattle. And then no one is happy.

In agriculture, we tend to be conservative – with just about everything. We take enough risks in our business lives, so we often find comfort in the familiar and routine.

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But sometimes, more of the same gets boring. We need excitement so we can feel inspired to keep pushing ahead.

Enter Dairy Strong

In 2014, a group of board members from the Dairy Business Association (DBA) grew concerned that their regular association meeting needed an update.

DBA board members Jen Keuning and Jim Ostrom worked together with the staff to revamp the annual conference and consolidate a few other smaller events into one that they hoped would be Wisconsin’s “bigger, better dairy event.”

Keuning and Ostrom envisioned a “movement,” something that went beyond a meeting. It would be part learning, part networking, part socializing. It might even be part controversy. And there would be big-name speakers at the event. Like once-in-a-lifetime “guess who I saw” big.

The inaugural theme was “Gain the Edge” in keeping with the idea that Dairy Strong was intended to be an event dedicated to innovation and forward momentum.

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Dairy Strong is organized by DBA – an organization dedicated to the success of all dairy farms in Wisconsin. But don’t think you have to be a member to attend; Dairy Strong is open to everyone. There’s only one pre-requisite – you must love dairy.

Partners in Progress

It’s been a rough year for dairy, and just like in life, when times get tough, you learn who your real friends are. The fact is, there is room and a need for dairies of all types and sizes. Partnerships and a willingness to innovate are what will propel this great community forward.

The theme for this year’s event embodies this truth – Partners in Progress.

“Our community is diverse, and that’s a good thing. We need the tools to carry this message to our customers. This year’s event features practical solutions alongside groundbreaking innovations,” said Gordon Speirs, a farmer in east-central Wisconsin who serves as DBA president. “Plus, Dairy Strong is really fun and is a welcome few days off the farm in the middle of winter.”

The customer is always right – The Food Dialogues

People in agriculture need to do a better job of talking to their customers, the people who buy food. Misrepresentation and misunderstanding of agricultural practices are probably the main reasons why the public has concerns about the food system.

The reality is that the U.S. has the most abundant, affordable and safe food supply in the world. Dairy Strong is co-hosting The Food Dialogues at the conference with the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance (USFRA) to help bring this message to the public.

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“The panel will focus on how customers’ concerns with their food – from farm to fork – have evolved over time,” said Tim Trotter, executive director for the Dairy Business Association. “We will discuss from both sides of the issue how dairy can meet customer needs while being sustainable and successful.”

USFRA is a group of 90 farmer- and rancher-led organizations and agricultural partners leading a movement to answer questions about how food is grown and raised.

The Food Dialogues signature events are designed to bring together farmers, ranchers, industry experts, scientists, media and customers for a dynamic panel discussion about the most pressing topics related to food and food production. Healthy tension is welcome.

“We are going to open our doors to some folks from the public who don’t necessarily have the best opinion of agriculture,” Trotter said.

Since its launch in 2011, the USFRA has hosted more than 26 such discussions across the country.

More than a conference

With conferences, there is so much build-up to the event. The event itself is great, but the challenge is always keeping the enthusiasm going after it’s over.

“We want Dairy Strong to develop into a movement that fosters innovation all year,” Trotter said. “Webinars and tours are just two ways we can keep Dairy Strong going beyond the conference in January.”

The first Dairy Strong webinar was hosted in November with Mike North from Commodity Risk Management Group. North’s webinar focused on the dairy markets and pricing trends and future projections.

Trotter and his team hope to have in-person and virtual events during the year, with the January conference as the capstone.

“The conference and all Dairy Strong-related content is for everyone in dairy,” Trotter said. “Yes, DBA is an association, and we need members in order to exist, but first and foremost we want dairy as a whole to be successful.”

Dairy Strong is open to anyone with an affinity for dairy and Trotter hopes to one day welcome other related organizations as co-hosts.

“Dairy Strong isn’t about ‘ours versus theirs’ or ‘big versus small,’” he said. “This year’s theme, Partners in Progress, sums it up. Let’s all collaborate and work together for a brighter future for dairy.”  PD

Progressive Dairyman is proud to be Dairy Strong’s media partner.

It’s not too late! Make plans to attend the second Dairy Strong conference, Jan. 12-14, in Madison, Wisconsin. Find more information at the website.

PHOTO (Top of page): Jim Gaffigan kicks off the conference Tuesday night as the keynote presentation. Gaffigan is a New York Times best-selling author, comedian and actor and is the star of the critically acclaimed series, “The Jim Gaffigan Show” on TV Land. Photos courtesy Dairy Business Association.

jacob breyFarmer’s Perspective: Why do you attend Dairy Strong?

Jacob Brey, 25 (pictured above)
Cycle Farms, Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin
450 Registered Holsteins

Why did you attend Dairy Strong in 2015?

I was drawn to the first (2015) Dairy Strong conference because it was a new event that featured some great speakers, ideas and networking opportunities. Also, the fact that it is in Madison, Wisconsin, and cost was free for producers was attractive.

Did you like the conference?

The speakers (Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Mike Rowe, Robert O’Neill and Ken Schmidt from Harley-Davidson) provided a variety of valuable and unique perspectives that I was able to bring home and apply to our dairy. They were entertaining and inspiring, which kept me engaged in their talks and motivated me to think differently about situations on our farm.

How do you think Dairy Strong compares to other conferences you have attended?

Considering the event’s high quality, hopefully producers like myself take advantage of the fact that Dairy Strong is free to attend. It was a good way for me to get my feet wet in regards to what Dairy Strong stands for and what DBA is doing for our industry on many different levels.

Will you be back in 2016?

For sure! I’m looking forward to this year’s line-up of speakers, the trade show, catching up with industry contacts and the entertainment, of course.

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