July 16 2021 11:05 AM

Dairy Management Inc. offers some insight into the reasons behind checkoff programs.

Indiana dairy farmers Jill Houin and Tim Haynes with 2021 Indianapolis 500 winner Hélio Castroneves. (Photo credit: IMS Photo)

As the country continues to reopen following COVID-19, I’ve had the opportunity to again visit with farmers through one-on-one conversations, meetings, and public events featuring farmers. After nearly 15 months of talking with farmers on the phone or through videoconferencing, I have a renewed appreciation for making and building personal relationships.

This point struck home with me during a recent meeting with the Indiana Dairy Producers Association where I spoke and answered questions along with (and at the invitation of) American Dairy Association of Indiana CEO Jenni Browning. At the meeting of more than 200 farmers, I found that after sharing updates and results around WHAT we do, I had farmer questions about WHY we do it.

As I thought about it during the meeting and in the days after, it makes perfect sense – “what” the checkoff does nearly always gets more attention than “why” the checkoff embarks on these efforts. The whys include:

Why does the checkoff work with and through partners to advance its goals? Answer: We can bring more resources, expertise, and marketing support around shared priorities to grow sales and spur innovation.

Why is the checkoff advancing sustainability and environmental stewardship? Answer: Today’s – and tomorrow’s – consumers consider how their food is produced as being equal to traditional factors like taste and price in making their purchasing and consumption decisions.

Why doesn’t the checkoff lead with dairy’s nutritional benefits in its marketing? Answer: Research shows that most consumers know about milk’s essential nutrients, but they need to know how foods and beverages benefit them and their families – benefits that could include convenience, immunity support, digestive health, and more.

And another question: Why are there so many dairy promotion organizations?

DMI works in partnership with 15 state and regional promotion organizations that represent the United Dairy Industry Association. (For more information about UDIA, check out my last blog post.) This partnership is critical as it brings real efficiencies – and opportunities – for dairy farmers across the country.

Efficiencies result from coordinated, consistent, unified partnerships and programming that is created and implemented nationally to opportunities to advance dairy, dairy farmers, and our dairy community locally. Outcomes of this work include the in-school Fuel Up to Play 60 program; state dairy council engagement with health/wellness professionals and other thought leaders; events that bring consumers and farmers together; and much more.

I witnessed this last example firsthand when I saw the hard work of the ADA of Indiana’s “Winners Drink Milk®” partnership with the Indianapolis 500 over Memorial Day Weekend. There, milk and dairy farmers are celebrated in true Hoosier tradition during “the greatest spectacle in racing.”

Similar to state and regional promotion partners across the country, ADA of Indiana has a strong history and commitment to their local programming. Indiana dairy and dairy farmers are celebrated during events leading to the big race, and the passing of the milk glass to the winner – by an Indiana farmer – has become an iconic moment across major sporting events. Like I saw in Indiana, you too can be very proud of the work your promotion and research staff do on dairy’s behalf – domestically and internationally.

To continue this conversation, share future topics you’d like addressed and learn more about the “why behind the what” leave your questions or comments below, contact me at talktothecheckoff@dairy.org, 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 www.usdairy.com/for-farmers.