“My leadership is grounded in two fundamental principles. One is all about listening. The second is a bias for action,” shared Barbara O’Brien, who is the new president and CEO of Dairy Management Inc. (DMI).
“I am committed to ensure you see greater transparency, accountability, and two-way communication from your checkoff. I have spent the last five months on a listening tour of sorts and met with hundreds of farmers across the country and other industry leaders to hear their perspectives on the state of the industry and how the checkoff can better balance the needs and expectations of farmers from across the country,” shared the dairy checkoff leader at the 24th gathering of Dairy Farmers of America (DFA) on March 23.
ASPIRE will be the goal
As for putting that plan into action, O’Brien used the word “aspire” as the guiding force.
Aspire: A is for action. “We will have a bias for action in everything we do at the dairy checkoff,” she shared, noting goals and outcomes must be measurable.
Aspire: S is for sustainability. “Dairy, farmers and cows will be viewed as environmental solutions — backed by science and proof, and economically additive for farmers, markets, and society,” O’Brien shared. Knowing that this idea might need more explanation, O’Brien shared the following quote: “To achieve our bold aspirations, we need to not only work with our suppliers, but across the entire dairy industry and with all who touch Starbucks. That’s why we joined the U.S. Dairy Net Zero Initiative, with a commitment to spending $10 million to work with the industry to research and test new approaches, including more sustainable cow feed, manure management and on-farm energy efficiency.” That quote and commitment came directly from Michael Kobori, the chief sustainability officer for Starbucks. It’s one example of the collaborative work taking place in dairy.
Aspire: P is for people. “The Dairy Checkoff will be an employer of choice,” she said confidently. “U.S. dairy is thriving, our work and success is visible, and the organization and category will be sought after for employment opportunities,” she further explained. “Subject matter experts will bring their skill sets in science, engineering, computer science, innovation, marketing, and more, all on behalf of America’s dairy farmers.”
Aspire: I is for innovation. O’Brien kicked off this priority with a grounding in consumer expectations. “Consumers today define wellness in a much more comprehensive way . . . good for me and my family, good for my community, good for the earth.
“We’ll need to deliver A.I.-powered breakthrough science, benefits, and innovations to advance U.S. dairy’s wellness and product leadership,” said O’Brien, who was referencing work in artificial intelligence (A.I.) “We’ll do that by digitizing current and future nutrition science and R&D capabilities to accelerate claims, messaging, and product development cycles.”
Aspire: R is for reputation. “It is critical that we control the narrative on U.S. dairy and lead the conversations that ultimately reach policymakers, thought leaders, customers, and end-consumers with the real story of America’s dairy farmers and the essential, even superior role dairy plays in the diet and in society,” O’Brien said. “U.S. dairy’s image and relevance as a source of human nourishment, renewable energy, and societal and planetary solutions is so important. This is an area where dairy has a strong standing,” stated O’Brien of others’ perspective on dairy.
Aspire: E is for export. “U.S. dairy must continue to strive to be a consistent, preferred supplier in key markets globally. It’s important to grow in this area as over 75% of new milk production in this country has been destined for U.S. dairy product exports in recent years,” continued the 20-plus-year veteran of the dairy checkoff.
“We will continue to build U.S. dairy’s reputation internationally, maximizing current markets, channels, and new product opportunities with multinational customers, and identifying and capitalizing on new opportunities for U.S. dairy products and ingredients in new and emerging global markets.”
A fresh view on the GENYOUth Foundation
“Based on conversations, I have already made a number of significant changes that will impact the way the checkoff works,” O’Brien shared of her five-month listening tour.
“The first area is with the farmer-funded GENYOUth Foundation. As I listened to farmers across the country, it’s clear that many did not fully understand the role of this foundation or felt that the benefits weren’t accruing directly to dairy or to dairy farmers. So, I’ve worked with our youth leaders across the country to redirect GENYOUth’s strategies,” she shared.
“First, to focus on dairy access and the cafeteria experience in schools. Second, to shape curriculum that assures that kids understand where their food comes from and the people behind those products,” she continued. “Ann Marie Krautheim, who has worked for you for 30 years, is the planned successor as CEO. I can assure you that I will work closely with her to see that America’s dairy farmers are front and center as we reach youth in schools as we drive quantifiable results in that school channel.”