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Four tips to foster a healthy farmer-processor relationship

Contributed by Mary Hookham Published on 07 June 2021

Customers’ changing demands from food producers are driving the importance of strong working relationships between dairy farmers and milk processors.

Farmers and processors use words like trust and transparency to describe the essential elements in a partnership built around shared understanding of the ultimate goal – to please the customer. “This will keep us relevant, competent and successful well into the future,” said Jason Mischel, vice president of sales and milk procurement at Valley Queen Cheese in Milbank, South Dakota.

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Mischel and farmer Kevin Souza of Victory Farms, along with Greg Siegenthaler, vice president of Grande Cheese Company near Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, and farmer Jim Winn of Cottonwood Dairy, have found that these are some of the keys to fostering healthy farmer-processor relationships:

Acknowledge mutual reliance: Both partners have to understand that each is dependent on the other for success. A farm without a good milk market has limited economic value; a cheese plant without a sustainable milk supply is just a warehouse for stainless steel. Farmers and processors are in the game together on the same team.

Align commitments: The farmer-processor partnership vision can be oriented to a shared set of responsibility pillars, such as business sustainability, environment, employees and community. In order for the farmer and processor to succeed in business, both must be successful in each of these areas.

Talk openly and honestly: Difficult conversations are inevitable as changes are needed, for example to meet customer choices in animal welfare or environmental sustainability. A processor who is up-front with the farmer will earn trust. Sharing the “why” behind new ideas, plans and policies is also important because changes without context are tough to implement. Regular visits to the farm are great opportunities for meaningful communication and to build rapport.

Maintain a positive, progress attitude: A willingness to adapt as customer decision-making shifts is a crucial trait in a farmer. Digging in your heels in the current consumer environment just won’t work. Keeping an open mind is also helpful in cultivating innovative ideas for both the farmer and processor. With the right attitude, anything is possible.

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Watch the full Dairy Strong presentation.  end mark

This series is brought to you by the Dairy Business Association on behalf of the Dairy Strong conference, Jan. 19-20, 2022. This event focuses on cutting-edge technology, cultural trends and the future of the dairy community. Learn more about Dairy Strong here.

PHOTO: Evan Grong, transportation and procurement manager at Valley Queen (left) and Kevin Souza, owner of Victory Farms in Revillo, South Dakota (right). Photo courtesy of the Dairy Business Association.

Mary Hookham is an ag journalist and photographer. Email Mary Hookham.

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