Gannett newspapers have been doing a deep dive on the dairy checkoff. To stir up dust on the topic, its Milwaukee Journal Sentinel questioned whether checkoff programs provide value to dairy farmers. Some readers suggested that we have been unusually silent on the matter.

In the early 1980s, Hoard’s Dairyman was a staunch advocate for a national dairy promotion program. In those days, USDA’s Commodity Credit Corporation was buying cheese, butter, and milk powder by the semi load and storing mountains of product to simply prop up milk prices.

Once created, the 15-cent mandatory assessment per hundredweight began stimulating sales, and the stockpiles vanished. The checkoff continued to build demand as Americans now consume an additional 73 pounds of cow’s milk some 37 years later. Even more tangible — cheese consumption more than doubled from 17 pounds to 38 pounds since the checkoff’s inception.

With passing time, some among us have hazy memories as to the founding mission of Dairy Management Inc. (DMI) and the regional dairy promotion groups. The dairy checkoff’s mission is to grow demand, sales, and trust for dairy products. It’s not a policy group, it does not lobby for legislation, and it cannot be accountable for milk prices. These functions are clearly defined in the Dairy and Tobacco Adjustment Act of 1983 passed by Congress and signed into law by President Reagan.

In “pulling the veil back on DMI,” Gannett published salaries for senior dairy checkoff management. There is no debating those staffers are highly compensated. But every team needs a quarterback . . . this we know.

Would the New England Patriots have been better off with or without quarterback Tom Brady? We believe that every Patriots fan would contend their prized quarterback earns every penny for having delivered a record six Super Bowl trophies.

To that end, DMI’s CEO developed partnerships with the world’s largest restaurant chains. What’s the value of having direct communication lines to CEOs for McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, and Domino’s? These partnerships have grown demand for dairy, and that’s critical as four out of five Americans live in urban areas and spend over half their food dollars at restaurants.

Likewise, the CEO for U.S. Dairy Export Council has a commanding presence that garners meetings with top leaders around the globe. That talent most definitely helps U.S. dairy develop relationships and, in turn, grow new sales. That’s critical as every U.S. cow provides milk for export markets one day each week. The dairy checkoff has been the epicenter for this export activity.

This executive leadership gives dairy a leg up over the competition. That is exactly what anti-animal agriculture zealots loathe. That’s why we believe anti-animal groups’ new war room strategy is this — to topple dairy, topple its checkoff. Yes, that’s a missing narrative in Gannett’s story.

Those planting seeds of doubt about the dairy checkoff include the Socially Responsible Animal Project (SRAP). Among its tentacle organizations are the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Animal Legal Defense Fund, the Sierra Club, and the granddaddy of them all — The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).

The divide-and-conquer strategy involves pitting small and large dairy farmers against one another. The situation has gotten so nebulous that one regional dairy newspaper based in Pennsylvania went so far as to publish a letter by a former HSUS staffer entitled, “The checkoff must go.” In publishing that letter by an associate of HSUS leader Wayne Pacelle, it confirmed how deep the animosity against dairy has reached.

Yes, that dairy “must go” scenario is why the Organization for Competitive Markets (OCM) is linked to almost every fringe piece of federal legislation demanding “more transparency” in checkoff programs. These groups couldn’t care less about our dairy farms. They want us gone.

These are indeed challenging times for dairy. Infighting and pointing the finger toward dairy promotion will not lead to a brighter future. In the March 25, 1984, Editorial Comment we wrote, “This dairy promotion program is long overdue.” We’d like to add that this dairy promotion program has taken dairy product sales to a 56-year high and has helped build synergy not seen in our lifetime.

If you truly want to learn more about dairy promotion activities, ask a fellow dairy farmer who serves on a state, regional, or national dairy promotion group. Better yet, consider attending a promotion meeting. Lastly, if you truly want to see a full report as to activities of the dairy checkoff, call, write, or email, and we’ll point you to the annual audits Congress has received dating back to 1983.

Yes, there is oversight.

“This Editorial Comment reflects the researched opinion of the Hoard’s Dairyman editorial team. It was published on page 192 of the March 25, 2020 edition of Hoard’s Dairyman.
Active dairy farmers holding a permit to sell milk are welcomed to submit thoughts regarding the Dairy Checkoff to or write Hoard’s Dairyman, Editors, P.O. Box 801, Fort Atkinson WI 53538. When making comments, please list the city and state in which you dairy farm. Since the Dairy Checkoff is funded by active dairy farmers, including our own Hoard’s Dairyman Farm, we will consider publishing thoughts from those who contribute financially to the checkoff.”