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Checkoff Watch: Innovation Center, USDA continue work toward shared sustainability vision

Barbara O’Brien for Progressive Dairyman Published on 30 March 2018
 Paul Rovey, Sonny Purdue and Tony DeGroot, Jr.

The Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy and the USDA share a unique and constructive relationship.

The power of this relationship – and the potential it holds – was on full display Feb. 14 when we gathered to sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to jointly promote and enhance environmental stewardship in the dairy industry, central to building trust with our consumers.

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This pact extends and builds upon an MOU signed in 2009, not long after dairy farmers founded the Innovation Center through their checkoff as a forum to bring together the dairy community to address the changing needs and expectations of consumers through shared best practices and accountability.

We collaborate on efforts important to us and our valued customers, including food safety, nutrition and health, the environment and economics.

This MOU – like previous MOUs – is not a financial agreement. While it does not obligate either party to fund specific projects, this MOU opens doors for us to jointly pursue innovation and promote and enhance environmental sustainability in our industry.

Fittingly, the MOU signing took place at DeGroot Dairies, owned by Tony and Rochelle DeGroot in Hanford, California. Many members of California’s dairy industry were on-site to hear Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue talk about the value of the dairy industry and the importance of working together toward our common goals and values.

“[The] USDA has the resources that the dairy industry needs to be successful, but they are spread out throughout our various agencies,” Perdue said. “This MOU is by no means reinventing the wheel but more like giving the Innovation Center a ‘green light’ to interact with our agencies and centralize our various research and voluntary conservation efforts to reach their goals.”

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The Innovation Center and the USDA share the vision of a diverse agricultural system that is economically viable, socially responsible and environmentally sustainable. And, over the years, we have pursued creative and common-sense ways to work together that allow us to develop technologies, research and on-the-ground practices that move us ever closer to this vision.

The many members of the Innovation Center are proud of the synergy that has resulted from our USDA collaboration, and we have no question this public/private partnership works in the best interest of farmers, our dairy community and ultimately – and most important – our consumers.

History tells us good things will come from extending the MOU. We are very confident this will afford us the opportunity to achieve more together than we could independently. We welcome the work of the USDA to enhance research, data and information transfers that advance the adoption of important new technologies for dairy.

Previous and current collaborations have led to successes such as:

  • Creation of the Farm Smart Project that ultimately evolved into the FARM Environmental Stewardship module – a voluntary tool farmers use to identify opportunities for improvement within our Farmers Assuring Responsible Management program, which represents 98 percent of the U.S. milk supply

  • The dairy community’s development of voluntary sustainability analysis and assessments, which continue today as an industry-wide movement to demonstrate dairy’s ongoing environmental improvement efforts

  • Work between the USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service and Newtrient – a company founded by the dairy checkoff to help farmers, technology providers and other stakeholders assess manure management opportunities and challenges – to develop advanced nutrient recovery technologies that will be a win-win for all stakeholders

  • And we can point to other joint efforts related to resource recovery technologies on dairy farms, reducing food waste, recognizing and celebrating sustainability success and more.

On behalf of the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, we express our gratitude to Secretary Perdue for this incredible opportunity to pursue the synergies and successes we know come with working together.

The Innovation Center will do its part to challenge our members to vigorously pursue those opportunities, to grow our success and to exemplify the true value of collaboration for our farmers, our dairy community and the consumers who trust us to produce nutritious products they can feel good about feeding to their families.

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To learn more about the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, visit online (Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy). end mark

PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Purdue (center) signs a memorandum of understanding (MOU) in February on the farm of Tony DeGroot, Jr. (right) in Hanford, California, with dairyman Paul Rovey signing on behalf of the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy. Courtesy photo.

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.

Barbara O’Brien
  • Barbara O’Brien

  • President, Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy and Dairy Management Inc.

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