Aug. 9 2016 06:00 AM

Don't be afraid to answer the call to promote dairy.

Oregon Dairy Farmers Association young leadership program

The dairy industry deserves to be commended for the amazing job it does giving the next generation so many opportunities to grow and learn. From 4-H to FFA, youth breed associations, young cooperatives programs, and leadership courses, you don't have to look far at any age for chances to expand your horizons.

When the opportunity arose for my participation in the Oregon Dairy Farmers Association's young leadership program, I wasn't sure I had the time. Now 18 months later upon graduation, I realize how vital it is that we make the time to participate and engage in activities like these off the farm.

Build relationships within your state dairy association. Get to know what current issues your directors are facing and how your voice could be of help. Expand your network throughout your state to other agriculture sectors; many issues that dairy faces also affects other commodities. Your state Department of Agriculture and Farm Bureau often offer many opportunities to build and grow your network across your state. Be willing to participate and represent the voice of the dairy industry.

Engage with consumers! We are in a day and age where consumers are more conscious than ever of their food choices. Buzzwords fly around like wildfire, and with the average consumer being many generations removed from farming, they look to Google for their answers as they often don't personally know a farmer. I guarantee the top search result is not very favorable to the dairy industry. Utilize the tool of social media to tell your story to a larger crowd than has historically been reachable. But also don't forget the importance of those face-to-face conversations. Next time your in the grocery store, thank the person with milk in their cart. I promise they will remember getting to meet a dairy farmer. If we don't take advantage of the opportunity to tell our story, someone else will tell it for us.

Create relationships with our elected officials. I am probably the last person who 18 months ago would have said that. Engaging in the legislative field is something a person who didn't consider herself "political" would have ever thought necessary. It is! From your city council to state legislators and your senators, your elected officials need to know who you are. They are making decisions on your behalf that directly influence the future of the dairy industry. Build a relationship with them, let them know you're their constituent and a dairy farmer. In building these relationships, they will have a resource to the real dairy farm story. The opportunity to have a conversation with them and tell your story is truly necessary to make sure they understand the way their votes affect your dairy farm's future.

With our numbers dwindling, all our voices are needed to tell our story. Take advantage of the programs out there to help you build your skills and grow your confidence in sharing our story. The next time opportunity knocks to engage and participate off the farm, be sure to answer the door.

Darleen Sichley

The author is a third-generation dairy farmer from Oregon where she farms in partnership with her husband and parents. As a mother of two young boys who round out the family run operation as micro managers, Darleen blogs about the three generations of her family working together at Guernsey Dairy Mama. Abiqua Acres Mann's Guernsey Dairy is currently home to 90 registered Guernseys and is in the process of transitioning to a robotic milking system.