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Majority of dairy farms have hosted a public tour before

Progressive Dairyman Editor Walt Cooley Published on 11 September 2015

woman making pancakesMore than half of dairies in the U.S. have hosted a farm tour for the public at some time in the past. That’s according to recent online and phone surveys conducted by the magazine.

Beginning in June, we asked readers: “Have you ever hosted a farm tour of your dairy for the public?” More than 380 responses were collected online and over the phone from June through August. Over the phone, readers were asked why they had given a tour or why not.

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Online readers polled (307) were more likely to have hosted a tour in the past. More than 60 percent of those readers (190) said they had given a tour previously. Of the 79 phone responses, only 33 readers, or 42 percent, said they had hosted a tour. This may have been influenced by the herd sizes sampled. Half of the phone responses received were from dairies with fewer than 100 cows.

Anecdotal review of the data indicates that as dairy size increases above 100 cows, the likelihood a dairy will have hosted a tour increases. That trend continues up to a point.

Progressive Dairyman editors have previously observed that at the largest of herd sizes, when the number of animals on a facility numbers in the thousands to tens of thousands, concerns about liability and privacy are more likely to discourage dairies from hosting public tours.

For example, a pair of comments from dairies sampled in the survey indicated they “had someone get hurt previously [on a tour] and don’t want the liability” or thought “it’s dangerous to bring people in around so many animals.”

That suggests there’s a perceived “sweet spot” or “ideal size” of farm to open up for tours.

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“The first word that comes to mind when I think of farm tours is pride. A farm tour gives a farmer an opportunity to impact consumers,” says Mollie Waller, chief communications officer for Dairy Management Inc. (DMI).

Waller says tours are just one way that dairy farmers can engage with consumers.

“We do find that farm tours are a valuable tool,” Waller says. “It is a choice, and it is up to each farmer to decide individually if a farm tour is right for them. We respect that farmers have that choice.”

poll resultsCommonly referenced reasons for deciding to host a tour were:

  • To educate the public or kids.
  • For positive public relations.
  • To return the favor. (These respondents said they like to visit other farms. They thought it was only fair to open up their own farm for a tour since they enjoy when others do the same thing.)

Waller says the “moveable middle,” or those consumers who can be persuaded, want to know more about where their food comes from.

“They have honest questions, and they want to talk to someone who is going to give them a straightforward answer versus a sensational answer they might hear on the Internet,” Waller says. “Consumers want to hear from someone who is a true expert … They want to talk to a dairy farmer if they have questions about dairy.”

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Commonly referenced reasons for not hosting a tour were:

  • They take too much time or work.
  • They are a financial liability.
  • Dairy location is in too rural of an area; no public interest.
  • They are a social liability. (Don’t want hidden cameras or PETA on their place.)

Additionally, Waller says producers must answer an important question before giving a tour: “Is this where I am comfortable?”

“The upside [of a tour] is the chance to talk directly to consumers … Not every farmer is comfortable in a public-speaking situation. So they have to consider that.”

Waller says local and regional DMI organizations have planning resources and preparation checklists to help farmers who do want to host a tour get ready for one. She encourages farmers to connect with those resources in order to assist with preparation and to improve the overall impact of the event.  PD

PHOTO: Northern Lights Dairy in Mandan, North Dakota, hosted more than 3,000 visitors during an on-farm tour and breakfast earlier this year. Photo provided by DMI.

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