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Idaho producers gather in annual meeting

Karma M. Fitzgerald Published on 31 December 2015
Michele Payn-Knoper

United Dairymen of Idaho focus on education, collaboration and innovation

“Tell your story or someone else will tell it for you.”

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Right now, ag opponents are leading the conversation about food in this country, and that needs to change, farming advocate Michele Payn-Knoper told Idaho dairymen during their annual convention in late November.

“I don’t think Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the U.S., has any business talking about animal care,” Payn-Knoper said. She runs an organization called Cause Matters, which encourages farmer-led conversations about food.

“You have to start leading this conversation,” Payn-Knoper said.

The problem is, she said, folks in ag tend to be modest, independent and stubborn. While those are great qualities for a farmer in general, they’re not great for a farmer in a world of social media and mass communication.

Payn-Knoper told producers agriculture has been trying to respond to criticism with facts and research.

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“We can’t respond to emotionalism with science. That doesn’t work,” Payn-Knoper said. “We in the dairy business tend to be defensive, and then we overreact.”

Farm-led messages about animal welfare and safety aren’t getting out. In a world filled with thousands of messages about where food comes from, consumers have to wade through a quagmire of information.

Adrian Kroes and Mike Siegersma“Food is a deeply personal choice,” she said. Families want to serve the best food they can afford, but consumers are also more and more concerned about the quality of life of each animal. Further, many consumers relate farm animals to their pets.

So how does it change?

Payn-Knoper said it has to start with getting farm-based stories told. That means meeting consumers either online or face-to-face and sharing how animals are cared for on each farm and the passion with which food is produced.

Building connections with buyers will override the intimidating and often incorrect information floating about the marketplace.

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“Don’t think you don’t have time,” she told Idaho dairy producers. If farmers don’t share their story, the story will get told by ag opponents. Communication with consumers has to be part of every farm’s business plan.

She pointed to a current movement to require “horn-free milk” because consumers are being told that the horn removal process is painful to animals. That means polled genetics would be dictated by major retailers.

Payn-Knoper encouraged producers to find ways to connect to consumers. Share passions, values and what’s important to farm families. Those are the things most producers have in common with most consumers. Creating a social media presence for farms is an important step. But the most important thing, according to Payn-Knoper, is to look for opportunities to tell the story of farms and food.

“People never forget about how you make them feel,” she said. “We are getting our butts kicked. We have to communicate our story.”

More than 800 Idaho producers and members of the state’s allied industries attended United Dairymen of Idaho’s annual meeting in Boise in mid-November.

Speakers and activities were centered around the theme, “Educate, Collaborate, Innovate.” Participants attended workshops on everything from robotics to succession planning.

Adrian BoerFor Gale and Lynne Moser of Preston, Idaho, this year’s convention was the 29th in a row they have attended. It’s an event they say they won’t miss.

“We rub shoulders with friends, visit and get some new ideas. It’s a wonderful convention,” Gale Moser said.

Vendors had the opportunity to meet with hundreds of current and potential clients all in one place. Western States Equipment employee Darryl Simmons said UDI’s annual meeting allows the company to better the relationship with the dairy community.

“It puts us in front of more customers than we could see in a month,” Simmons said.

The event also allows UDI staff and board members to speak directly to their constituents. Board chair Tom Dorsey told the audience the agency is three years into a four-year plan to build better connections with Idaho consumers.

“We have gone from being event sponsors to being an event,” he told fellow producers.

Dorsey said UDI has found opportunities to build partnerships rather than pursuing traditional advertising methods. In the last year, UDI members and staff have created a marketing campaign focused on telling the family stories of Idaho dairy farmers and created partnerships with Idaho wine producers.

They’ve worked with producers to open more Idaho dairies to tourism. Dorsey said UDI got national media coverage when an Idaho dairy producer brought a cow and a gallon of milk to a customer’s pizza delivery.  PD

Karma Fitzgerald is a freelance writer based in Idaho.

PHOTO 1: Michele Payn-Knoper of Cause Matters gave the keynote address at United Dairymen of Idaho’s annual meeting. She told Idaho producers to start telling the stories of why they love their jobs and have a passion for producing quality milk. 

PHOTO 2: Adrian Kroes and Mike Siegersma accepted the 2015 milk quality award on behalf of SunRidge Dairy of Nampa, Idaho. The group consists of four dairy operations with ownership and management by family members. SunRidge Dairy’s Dry Lake operation milks 3,000 cows three times per day and ships about 265,000 total pounds of milk per day. Employing more than 30 people, the dairy regularly trains its workers for their specific job responsibilities, animal welfare, and compliance regarding animal care. 

PHOTO 3: Adrian Boer was named the 2015 Hall of Fame inductee. Boer has worked in the dairy business for more than 24 years and manages a herd of 5,500 cows, producing an average monthly 12 million pounds of milk. Boer has a long history of serving the dairy industry through his involvement with the Northwest Dairy Association/Darigold, United Dairymen of Idaho, Idaho Dairymen’s Association and Milk Producers of Idaho. Boer’s dairies have received the National Dairy Association’s quality award recognizing high-quality milk. He also holds a Hall of Fame Award from the Idaho Cattle Association. Courtesy photos.

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