Rob Vandenheuvel and Sybrand ‘Syp’ Vander Dussen, will be honored as 2011 Outstanding Dairy Industry Service Award recipients at World Ag Expo, Thursday, Feb. 10 at 11:45 a.m. in the Seminar Center by Western DairyBusiness magazine.
The two men, representing Milk Producers Council (MPC), have worked countless hours sharing their ideas and strategies with dairy organizations and producers nationwide in an attempt to bring the industry together to find a solution to the volatility problem that has driven many dairy producers out of business the last couple years.
Takes leadership role
Rob Vandenheuvel, MPC general manager, headquartered in Chino, Calif., has taken a leadership role in the effort. He joined the organization in 2007.
A native Californian, Rob was born in 1980 and reared on his family’s small Chino dairy – J & D Star Dairy. “I was 15 years old and milking cows in an old flatbarn with 12 machines. I couldn’t get my driver’s license until I was milking cows,” he recalled.
Vandenheuvel graduated from California Polytechnic State University, Pomona with a degree in accounting, but continued to work as a foreman on the family dairy. He decided accounting wasn’t for him and spent five years working in the House of Representatives in Washington, D.C. The last two years he was press secretary for the Ways and Means Committee, under chairmanship of Congressman Bill Thomas, R-Bakersfield.
Vandenheuvel has been the general manager at MPC since May 2007. MPC is a non-profit dairy producer trade association with offices in Chino and Bakersfield, Calif. Their membership is made up of dairies throughout Southern and Central California.
Highest highs, lowest lows
“In my short time with MPC I’ve seen the highest highs and the lowest lows in the dairy industry,” Vandenheuvel said. “I came in just as the dairy industry wreck of 2006 was wrapping up…just in time for the high milk prices that producers experienced in the fall of 2007.”
Contacts and collaboration
Vandenheuvel has had to use all the skills he learned and contacts he developed while working in the nation’s capitol. He collaborated with university researchers Chuck Nicholson and Mark Stephenson, in an effort to find a solution to the milk price volatility dilemma plaguing the industry. Both were at Cornell University back then and had determined that you needed a plan that allowed for producers to grow their business.
“Any change worth making is going to take a lot of work,” Vandenheuvel said. “To get to where we are today is proof that nothing happens easily in this industry. But you’d be amazed how much you can accomplish when you take the time to connect with dairy producers around the country.”
The MPC board allowed Rob, his father Geoffrey, and Syp to travel the country connecting with dairy groups struggling like those in the West. They’ve built a coalition and Rob is incredibly encouraged with the progress as more industry organizations see the need to put a mechanism in place that will bring the volatility roller coaster under control.
“There is still a lot of work to be done,” Vandenheuvel says. “We continue to work toward a solution that will hopefully become reality with the adoption and passage of the 2012 Farm Bill – if not before.”
Sybrand ‘Syp’ Vander Dussen, president of the board for Milk Producers Council, and a Corona dairyman, has been involved in the supply management issue since the beginning.
Syp has traveled back and forth across the country talking to dairy groups about the need to come together on a supply management plan that will take the devastating volatility out of the milk market.
His message has been simple and straight-forward: “For four years, we have been promoting the need to influence milk supply in a way so that individual producers receive a clear supply/demand message. At present, when we are ahead of demand, the only indicator is a generally declining national milk price. The producers only option is to produce even more milk to maintain cash flow. This worked very well in the past, or so we thought. The reality is, we have lost more than 80% of producers in the last 50 years. We are now down to 63,000 producers; we cannot sacrifice any more. That’s why, after two years of historical losses, we are still outstripping demand.
“Our experience? With few exceptions, we have found producers are willing to accept supply management. But, cooperatives and staff are more cool to the idea. Why is that? For 50 years, we producers have demanded of our coops, ‘Just take my milk, and if you don’t, or you want to restrict my production, we’ll just go to another coop or we’ll organize our own ‘paper coop.’ Our coops have become a reflection of what we have demanded of them. It is our fault we are in such financial distress.
No restriction on production
“One thing we need to keep hammering home; Supply management does not restrict your production – produce all you want, when you want. However, when national supply exceeds demand, and the big buyers of our milk continue to grind us down, isn’t it just basic sanity to not increase production? And perhaps even decrease? And isn’t it just basic sanity that when you want to increase you do it at a time when national supply is not excessive?
“Our biggest hurdle has always been ‘How does one get the individual dairyman involved?’ We as producers have never had to be personally involved in supply, pricing, regulations. Our cooperatives did that. Now, after years of equity have been sacrificed on the altar of inactions, will we finally respond?”
Message hasn’t changed
That’s his message – the same now as it was then, and it’s still as true now as then.
A native of The Netherlands, Syp immigrated to the United States with his parents in 1947. He became a naturalized citizen in 1960. Vander Dussen grew up in the Artesia, Calif. area where he also received his education.
He owns Syann Dairy in Corona, milking 4,000 cows. He and a partner own and operate Vander Dussen & Haringsma, a dairy real estate brokerage firm since 1982. He obtained his broker’s license in 1987.
Syp has served two terms as a director for United Dairymen’s Association, Ontario, Calif.; and two terms on DHIA board. Prior to serving as MPC president, Syp was a director and vice president. His MPC tenure has stretched from 1981 to the present.
Vander Dussen was a director and secretary/treasurer of Valley Milk Producer’s Association from its inception in 1981, until it closed in 1989. He was a member of the El Prado Incorporation Committee, a group seeking incorporation of the Dairy Preserve in Southern California.
His public service involvement includes: Fellow, Class XII, Agricultural Leadership Associates; Elder, Chino Valley Reformed Church; one-year appointment by George Gomes to Directors Dairy Advisory Committee; current director, Inland Empire Resource Conservation District; and current director, Inland Home Endowment Fund.
Syp served his country with the U.S. Marine Corps. Reserves from 1962 to 1970, and was honorably discharged as a staff sergeant.
He has been married to Ann (Lemstra) since 1967, and together they have three sons – Mark, 41, Mike, 38, and Dan, 35, each operating their own dairy in California.