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Checkoff Watch: Innovation Center gives farmers unifying framework to succeed

Contributed by Austin Allred Published on 18 July 2018
Austin Allred and his family

I have to admit that I didn’t know much about the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy until a few months ago, when the Dairy Farmers of Washington checkoff team approached me about applying for a sustainability award.

Each year, the Innovation Center honors dairy farms, businesses and partnerships whose practices improve the well-being of people, animals and the planet. Our dairy was fortunate to win for a system that allows us to recycle 200,000 gallons of water a day with average removal ratings of 97 percent total suspended solids.

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Winning the award was humbling, and I’m proud to share this honor with my team here at Royal Dairy. I traveled to Chicago for the awards ceremony in May, which was preceded by the spring meeting of the Dairy Sustainability Forum. This experience opened my eyes to a whole other side of the industry.

In the room were experts and leaders from across the entire supply chain. As farmers, we don’t always get to see beyond our dairies. I milk cows, and I sell my milk to Darigold. I think most farmers are in a similar role. That’s our norm.

But it was great to meet people from other parts of the industry who process, package and market our milk, as well as other innovative farmers from around the U.S. I exchanged phone numbers with a few, so I can maybe borrow some ideas.

I came away from the forum understanding our industry has made a lot of progress, and there is a place I can turn to in the Innovation Center. I feel comfortable with it being a resource to help me determine what some of my best strategies might be.

FARM unifies industry

What’s interesting is: There are aspects of the Innovation Center that I already am part of, and I’m guessing you are as well.

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For example, the Farmers Assuring Responsible Management (FARM) program is a key piece of the Innovation Center’s work. FARM is managed by the National Milk Producers Federation and receives funding from our dairy checkoff investment.

FARM has components focused on animal care, antibiotic stewardship and environmental stewardship. These programs are endorsed by the companies that make up the Innovation Center – the same ones that buy our milk and produce/sell dairy products to consumers. Their support of FARM can’t be overstated.

Dairy farmers created the Innovation Center 10 years ago with a vision of unifying people like those I encountered at the forum. When we are united, we are powerful, and we’re speaking with one voice. And, thanks to FARM, we have a single program that we follow instead of different companies and organizations splintering off and doing their own thing.

We have been following the standards of FARM for a long time on our dairy. We’re always trying to be innovative when it comes to our animal care and employee management practices. But FARM gave me a format to organize everything and check all of my boxes. It is a way for me to hold myself accountable and to get credit for what we do here.

FARM’s environmental stewardship program showed me we can put a number to our footprint and quantify it. It’s important we have a consistent indicator to show where we’re at environmentally now and where we’ll be moving forward.

Building consumer trust

These things don’t just matter to our farm. They matter to the people buying our products. Today’s consumer is not just satisfied with brand marketing or a campaign. They want to know the whole supply chain is sustainable, and we are responsible with our animals. There is a whole different mindset that didn’t exist 30 years ago.

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It’s important I impart our industry’s best practices and standards to our farm’s 48 employees, so they can be successful. I know it starts with me, and I’ll use a farm analogy here: You have to get the water to the end of the row if you want to grow a good crop.

We have monthly team meetings, and I gather with my managers every two weeks to initiate the things we want to put in place. There are two or three of us in charge of accountability, so when we implement programs, we follow through.

If you’re successful in your adaptation of these processes, then you have created a new culture. That’s what we’re working to do – create a culture of innovation and responsibility and doing the right thing.

My experience from winning a sustainability award and seeing the Innovation Center up close assures me we are united and have the right resources in place to take this industry forward.  end mark

PHOTO: Austin Allred and his family. Photo provided by Austin Allred.

Austin Allred is a dairy farmer from Royal City, Washington

Your Dairy Checkoff in Action – The following update is provided by Dairy Management Inc. (DMI), which manages the national dairy checkoff program on behalf of America’s dairy farmers and dairy importers. DMI is the domestic and international planning and management organization responsible for increasing sales of and demand for dairy products and ingredients.

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