The author with his son Austin, the first of his four children, on his family's dairy farm in 1998.

In visiting with my dad recently, we had a conversation about life’s twists and turns. Alongside my late mother, my parents proudly built their dream, a first-generation dairy farm in South Dakota. There, our family milked cows for nearly 20 years.

As a high schooler, I learned a passion for dairy farming and our dairy industry. While studying dairy science at South Dakota State University, I recall sitting with my folks at the kitchen table and talking through the most recent milk check. While discussing the details, I remember seeing the line item deduction for promotion and research – what is known as the dairy checkoff.

That memory is from the early 1990s, when the national dairy checkoff was just over a decade old, after being enacted and implemented in 1983 and 1984. After years of a grassroots-driven, voluntarily-funded effort, farmers from across the country created a national checkoff program as a “self-help” effort to help grow demand for dairy. Keep in mind, in the early 1980s, milk production exceeded 139 billion pounds and dairy surplus was at an all-time high – more than 22 billion pounds! This surplus led to inventories of cheese, butter and milk powder, all bought and stored in rented warehouses and even in caves.

As a result, the national dairy farmer checkoff was established to grow demand for milk, cheese, and other dairy foods and ingredients through research and promotion. Little did I know at the time that a line-item deduction on my family’s milk check would have such an impact on my life and allow me opportunities to participate in the future of our industry.

In recent years, I’ve returned home to the dairy industry. Working in collaboration with Midwest dairy farmer leaders, I learned checkoff’s impact locally while leading Midwest Dairy. Today, I am helping strengthen dairy farmer voices and investments through a nationwide, unified marketing plan in my role at Dairy Management Inc. (DMI). And, with production eclipsing 220 billion pounds annually, the checkoff’s mission is more relevant than ever.

Over the next several months, I hope to use this opportunity to share more about the history and evolution of the checkoff. I’m open to answering questions about the checkoff – past, present, and future.

Please leave your questions and comments below, contact me at, or join our Dairy Checkoff Farmer Facebook group. You also can ask to receive the weekly Dairy Checkoff Newsletter through any of these channels.

Until next time!

Lucas Lentsch

Lucas Lentsch grew up on a South Dakota dairy farm and has dedicated his 25-year career to dairy and agriculture. Lucas is a former South Dakota Secretary of Agriculture and CEO of Midwest Dairy. He currently serves as Chief Federation Officer for Dairy Management Inc., which is the planning and management organization for the national dairy checkoff. For more information about the checkoff, visit