“At the Dairy Forum in January of 2020, I made a prediction that we’d see more change in the next five years than we’ve seen in the last 15 years. How many of you think that prediction's going to be true?” asked Michael Dykes, president and CEO of the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA).
“Little did I know we’d see COVID-19,” he continued during the Monday, January 24, opening session of IDFA’s Dairy Forum. “So, I had a little help from COVID-19 to help make that true. I had no idea that was going to be the case, but I wanted to make the point. Change is always coming. Change is going to come at us only faster and we need to be nimble, and we need to be prepared for it,” said the CEO, who grew up on a Kentucky dairy farm and started his professional career as a dairy veterinarian.
Building on the Dairy Forum’s conference theme of “New, Now, and Next,” Dykes made four bold predictions about dairy’s future.
Four big predictions
No. 1: Health and wellness. The connection between food and health will dominate the debate.
“It is huge for our future,” continued Dykes, with the words “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” on the screen behind him. That quote is most attributed to the Greek philosopher Hippocrates.
“Opportunities around health and wellness are estimated to be about $1.5 trillion,” continued Dykes. “We all want to live longer. We all want to live a healthier lifestyle.”
No. 2: Sustainability. No sustainability metrics? No sale.
Sustainability is becoming a condition to sale. “Many members are telling me they're already encountering that,” said Dykes of North America’s largest dairy trade association. As Dykes went on to paint a vision for the future, he asked the audience the following questions on the sustainability front:
• Will dairy farmers be able to do the things they need to do to meet your targets?
• Where will the money come from that makes all those things happen?
• How do these efforts get monetized?
• How much of this do we pass along to the consumers? Is it going to be reflected in the cost of milk?
“Again, it’s going to be tracked and you’ll be held accountable, and it will influence investments,” Dykes said of the sustainability movement to the collective dairy community attending Dairy Forum.
No. 3: Winning the marketplace. Our industry will align.
“Our industry will align our pricing model, I firmly believe that,” said Dykes. “I think this industry is coming together. We need a system that works for both farmers and processors, otherwise we don't have a supply chain,” he continued with his long-term vision for dairy’s future. “The question is, who's going to lead on this? Will the leadership come together on this?
“I think in this area, we've been afforded an opportunity that we’ve never had in dairy,” said Dykes, who shared comments from USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack from the article, “Vilsack urges FMMO consensus.”
“I highlighted some of this,” he said, turning to the screen containing a portion of the comments from the article. “I talked to him (Secretary Vilsack) about this the other day. He is saying, ‘Industry, get your heads together, think through the process, and come to me collectively with what you think is in the best interest of the dairy industry and I’ll move it forward. If you guys can’t decide what’s good for your industry, don’t expect me to decide what’s good for your industry.’
“So, I think we have a tremendous opportunity ahead for us. If we can align on this, I think the U.S. can become — will become — the world’s dominant dairy supplier.”
No. 4: People will determine our success.
“I think people are going to become more important to us . . . if they aren’t already . . . than customers. Because if we don’t have the people to make the products, we won’t have customers and we can't keep customers,” explained Dykes.
“Where are we going to get people from? The U.S. has the lowest population growth rate in history, not just one year but for the last 10 years,” continued the longtime policy strategist.
“What do we do?” he asked. “I think we'll see immigration reform passed within the next five years. But the question again is who is going to lead this?”