An industry clever enough to gather its leaders in Florida in January might be bold enough to consider a few ideas that transcend daily competition. Here’s 10:
1. Let’s describe dairy byproducts from cow manure to acid whey as opportunities, not problems.
For centuries, farmlands have been fertilized and renewed with cow manure, yet the media’s favorite metaphor is to compare manure handling systems with sewage treatment plants. Acid whey is less acidic than orange juice yet media reports compare it to toxic waste. There’s no need for dairy “spin” here, just honest communication. (Perhaps an industry that launches terms like skim milk, growth hormone and acid whey makes its own problems.) Manure is a soil resource and growing energy source. Acid whey is a product development opportunity and the price is right.
2. Let’s prove that dairy farmers are stewards of the land.
Manure handling has become the single greatest impediment to growth on Wisconsin dairy farms – and possibly elsewhere. Arguments and lawyers are becoming entrenched, yet manure handling is really a question of good management. Perhaps every farm should have a manure management plan. Perhaps the geology of some areas should reduce or preclude application. It’s easy for opportunistic “environmentalists” to demonize stinky manure. Manure handling, and manure processing, need more research and skilled management.
3. Let’s examine which standards of identity make dairy better, and which hinder product diversity.
Fairlife milk, whether it thrives or not, is a look at dairy’s future. But let’s go a step further. What other helpful vitamins, natural extracts and probiotics can be added to milk? Do standards of identity allow beverage milk innovation? Standards are not inherently wrong, but when a dairy category marks sales declines against a tsunami of competing choices, the effect of standards must be examined.
4. Let’s stop classified milk pricing from hindering product diversity.
Does a new dairy beverage have the same price inelasticity as fluid milk? Is a new spoonable cheese a Class II or Class III product? Is concentrated milk in a coffee drink categorized Class I or Class IV milk? Do these questions keep food industry product developers from using dairy?
5. Let’s assure well-cared-for, content dairy cows.
It’s not too much to ask. Consumers want to understand the foods they’re eating and what industry calls a supply chain, consumers see as a single source. It’s time for uniform animal care protocols, good on-farm training and verification of results. Not because of vegans with GoPros. But because well-cared-for cows on a well-managed farms produce high quality milk for delicious dairy products.
6. Let’s increase funding for U.S. Dairy Export Council.
The future of the dairy industry is global product marketing. The insight that created the Council should be applauded and the staff lauded. There’s a clear link between the growing sophistication of US dairy processors in export marketing and the value of milk checks in the past two years. Certainly supply and demand are at play, and prices will fall and rise, but dairy ingredients, cheese and butter are global products now and a robust Council will be a powerful ally.
7. Let’s host more seminars on product development and social marketing than FSMA compliance.
Let’s keep count. If dairy holds more training seminars in 2015 on branding, sales and marketing than workshops on FDA, OSHA and milk marketing orders, then we’re on the right track.
8. Let’s increase checkoff funding of dairy and food science research nationwide.
Every good thing that will happen in dairy product development and dairy exports has its genesis in the trained people dairy processors will hire from food and dairy university programs and the work these hires perform with faculty. Don’t reduce checkoff funding at dairy-friendly universities, expand it.
9. Let’s get every cheese manufacturer on Pinterest and Facebook and Twitter. Well, not so much Twitter.
But a dairy processor with no social media presence simply isn’t paying attention to the next generation of consumers. For them, Amazon is a grocery store, Yelp is their restaurant critic and Foodgawker their recipe book.
10. Let’s finish the fund drive for a new dairy plant at UW Rivers Falls.
Generous donations have the new dairy plant half-funded. A final $2 million is needed to assure another generation of skilled dairy plant workers graduate from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls and take jobs nationwide. Invest in the infrastructure of the dairy industry – you need it. JU
John Umhoefer has served as executive director of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association since 1992. You can phone John at (608) 828-4550; Fax him at (608) 828-4551; or e-mail John Umhoefer at
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