Dairy farmers and industry leaders gathered on March 6 at the Dairy Council of Michigan's 91st Annual Meeting and the American Dairy Association of Michigan's 77th Annual Meeting. The day highlighted results from 2019 dairy promotion activities on local and national levels.
"Growing sales overseas and building consumer trust locally are both essential to our future," said Jim Reid, dairy farmer and former President of the United Dairy Industry of Michigan (UDIM). "At UDIM, we've evolved our programs to react to the changing consumer."
The Michigan dairy industry will need to rely on this ability to pivot as it works to recover from the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Fortunately, during 2019, programs made important progress that the industry will be able to build on after the pandemic passes.
Results featured at the annual meeting include:
Targeting dairy markets
Reid reported that the work with U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC) in 2019 grew markets for dairy.
"Total U.S. dairy exports hit $6 billion, up 8% compared to the previous year," said Reid. At the time of the annual meeting, milk from one in seven trucks leaving our dairy farms ended up in products or ingredients sold overseas." Exports will be a vital growth path for Michigan's farmers and processors alike as the recovery progresses.
Sharon Toth, CEO of UDIM, said, "Milk is still in 94% of U.S. households. There are few items in the grocery store that can boast that number."
Toth discussed how dairy promotion programs play a big part in driving dairy forward. In 2019, UDIM shared the power and fun of dairy food with consumers at sporting events, food truck rallies, family expos, the Upper Peninsula State Fair and Maranda Park Parties.
"Whether we were refueling runners at the finish line, giving a grocery store tour to health professionals or making milk cool at school by serving lattes, UDIM never forgets our mission and who we work for, you, our dairy farmers," said Toth.
DMI discusses transformative change
Keynote speaker, Barbara O'Brien, President of Dairy Management Inc., focused on 2019 year-end results.
Twenty-seven U.S. dairy processors representing nearly 70% of the milk supply signed onto the U.S. Dairy Stewardship Commitment, pledging to a set of voluntary guidelines to ensure U.S. milk and dairy foods are produced in a socially responsible and sustainable way.
O'Brien also shared insights on Dairy 2030, an industry-wide, long-term strategic planning initiative to best position the dairy community in the future.
"Transformative change – change that reinvents and reimagines how we identify and operate today; that's what the 2030 plan is all about," said O'Brien.
One of the topics within the Dairy 2030 is the rise of ethical eating. Younger generations are inspired by and are driving a movement to better understand and ensure that their food is ethically produced throughout the supply chain – from farm to table. From animal and worker welfare to environmental sustainability and commitment to local communities, there are new considerations and motivations driving people's food purchases.
"The components of ethical eating are the same as sustainability, so if quality equals ethics, then ethical eating equates to sustainable eating," O'Brien stated. O'Brien reiterated that dairy farmers have always been ahead when it comes to planning for the future.
"Dairy farmers are in the driver's seat," said O'Brien. "They are driving change now to create a preferred future for dairy."
UDIM partners share success stories
Even before anyone heard of COVID-19, one in six American's struggled with hunger. These individuals often do not always have access to milk because perishable food items are rarely donated.
Nick Lenzi, Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Busch's Fresh Food Market, shared the remarkable results from its growing bi-annual milk drive. The milk drive is a two-week, twice a year event during which shoppers can purchase and donate gallons of milk at the checkout.
"The first year we raised one truckload of milk," said Lenzi. "This past fall, we raised over nine truckloads and we keep raising our goal each time."
Shannon Carney Oleksyk, MS, R.D., and Manager of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan's Building Healthy Communities Program, spoke about the mutual goals her organization shares with Michigan dairy farmers of providing fresh, healthy food to families. She announced her organization is supporting food bank infrastructure by donating a refrigerated truck and eight coolers to assist with delivery of cold, fresh milk to those in need.
Crises response assistance
Two Michigan dairy farmers, Brad Crandall and Gertie van den Goor, and Phil Durst, Senior Educator at Michigan State University Extension, participated in a panel discussion about UDIM's crisis support program.
Crandall and van den Goor shared their on-farm crises and explained how UDIM's staff and resources helped them get through a difficult time.
"UDIM helped us prepare a statement for the media," said van den Goor. "When I felt like I had completely lost control, they helped us get back in control."
Durst attended a crisis drill UDIM hosted with other industry partners.
"That drill opened my eyes," said Durst. "Risk has increased because the rate at which impressions are made is so rapid. Reputations can be destroyed in the blink of an eye."
Durst compared crisis management to a car accident.
"The time to put the seat belt on is now because you don't know when it's going to happen. You don't know when it's going to occur, but you can plan for it to occur," said Durst.
UDIM and MSU Extension will host pilot group of farmers to work together to create crisis plans and learn from experts who can share tips and steps to take.
UDIM's youth programs in the spotlight
Michael Roy, Athletic Director of Vicksburg High School, shared the popularity of the Chocolate Milk Grant program at his school. The sports teams within his school must first apply to him and only the top team gets to move on to UDIM's Chocolate Milk Grant application.
UDIM recently hired Aaron Scott as Youth Wellness Specialist. Scott is working in Detroit schools educating youth and parents about nutrition. He is hosting events like the Milk Means More Train "Like a Pro" Clinic where UDIM brought youth into the new Pistons training facility for a workout with the Pistons youth coach, and the students learn about nutrition from a sports dietitian. He is also teaching parents about healthy nutrition for young athletes through grocery store tours and parent meetings.
"Some of these kids don't want to eat because people make fun of them or they think they need to be like the professional athletes they see on social media. Helping them, along with parents, coaches, and athletic directors understand sports nutrition for athletes is changing the mindset, all thanks to UDIM," said Scott.
UDIM released its annual report at the meeting highlighting programs in schools, sports nutrition and marketing, connecting with consumers, health professional outreach and more. Copies were mailed to all Michigan dairy farmers. If you would like a copy, call the office, 517-349-8923. Learn more about these initiatives at milkmeansmore.org.
About the United Dairy Industry of Michigan
The United Dairy Industry of Michigan (UDIM) is dedicated to serving Michigan's hard-working dairy farm families and promoting Michigan's locally produced dairy products. UDIM is the umbrella organization for the American Dairy Association and Dairy Council of Michigan. These non-profit organizations provide dairy product promotion and nutrition education services on behalf of their funding members.