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Checkoff Watch: Strength in unity for American dairy farm families

Contributed by Tom Gallagher Published on 12 December 2019

Unity – it may be the most important concept for dairy farmers today.

I’ve seen farmers come together for each other in times of crisis, usually because of weather, fire or personal catastrophes, and it’s always inspiring.

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You sacrifice your time and equipment to help your fellow farmers in times of need.

That is very inspiring to a guy who grew up in Chicago, the son of a firefighter dad and a waitress mother – who by their very nature would go out of their way to help others. The ability to drop everything and help someone in need is admirable and perhaps slipping away these days.

But for dairy farmers, it is crucial that you, and we who serve you as your promotion checkoff organization, come together like never before.

There are many marketers who have launched products that are labeled as “milk” or “meat” when, to you and me, they are neither.

We also have seen media coverage that reports anti-animal agriculture groups are out there, doing what they can to put you out of business. They are trying to divide dairy farmers into groups – large versus small, conventional versus organic, etc. We know some are even former dairy farmers, and they are telling smaller farmers they want their support to shut down the big farms or put farms out of business.

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They have even come after the checkoff because they realize we are the only group that stands up for and will promote and defend all 38,000 dairy farms, the work you do and the great products you deliver.

Unity to me means we acknowledge but put aside individual differences in the name of a common goal: the long-term health of the American dairy farm community.

Pulling together

Representing you, we have long pulled together all the resources of your state and regional promotion organizations, where you have people on the ground who build consumer confidence in the products you take to market.

We founded and work closely with the U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC), which has increased American dairy exports to 15+% of your production to an increasingly dairy-hungry world. Former USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, now the CEO of USDEC, has set the organization’s goal at 20%. There’s a lot of room for growth if we work together.

We founded and work with the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, which represents major dairy organizations that collaborate on new approaches to products and uses to move more of your milk here and around the world.

Likewise, we provide the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) with research, consumer information and insights, and resources they can use to talk with legislators and regulators on dairy policy matters, as provided for in the Congressional Act and Order that created the national checkoff in 1983.

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Rounding this out, we founded and work closely with Newtrient, which provides environmental sustainability resources to farms; the Global Dairy Platform, which brings together dairy farmer organizations from around the world to work on issues of mutual interest; and GENYOUth, which raises funds for Fuel Up to Play 60, our in-school wellness initiative that moves more milk and increases consumer confidence in dairy.

We, as your checkoff promotion group, are out there, unified, telling your story on a world stage. Farmers need to help tell these stories because you are the most credible group in any food category. And increasingly you (and we) are telling your stories – on the farm, at schools and at world forums where important decisions about the future of food and farming are being decided.

There is great risk if we don’t tell the good story we have in environment and animal care and look for financially sustainable ways to improve in these areas on our terms. If we don’t, it could lead to farmers being more heavily regulated or required by retailers to change the way you farm. Some anti-animal ag groups may be working to put you out of business. Small farms, large farms, all farms.

I’ll end this as I started it: Unity. As in almost any other business, outside interests will always come after you. It is so very important dairy farmers remain unified in their belief that all of you belong – no matter the size of your operations or your production practices – and not allow others to divide you or dictate your future.

But remember: Unity doesn’t mean we can’t have the hard conversations with one another. We can and must. But there is a time to find consensus and a time to put aside any differences and move forward together. That time is now.

Unified, you can thrive into the future.  end mark

Tom Gallagher
  • Tom Gallagher

  • CEO
  • Dairy Management Inc.

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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