Your Dairy Checkoff At Work: Protecting ‘freedom to operate’ to feed growing populations
By Tom Gallagher
Agriculture is one of the few industries that has a guaranteed growth rate. Why? Because over the next quarter century the global population is projected to climb to 9 billion people. It’s like adding two more Chinas to the world. Those people have to eat, and most would prefer a nutrient-rich diet that includes dairy.
The U.S. dairy industry is poised to fully participate in this projected growth in demand – if we can retain our freedom to operate in the face of increased scrutiny and activism. That means using science-based, technological improvements to maximize our productivity. It also means protecting dairy’s place in schools and in foodservice, and maintaining dairy’s “healthy halo” in the nutrition world. We need to show thought leaders and consumers how dairy is good for people, communities, and the planet.
That’s why the dairy checkoff’s image initiative is working to protect our freedom to operate by creating stronger dairy advocates among thought leaders, and connecting consumers to where their dairy foods come from and the people who produce them.
Think about today’s consumer and their image of dairy. Many have the nostalgic view of a small red barn and maybe 30 or 40 cows.
Over time, we want to effectively paint the current picture of dairy farms, where all farms fit, and instill consumer confidence that the milk produced on those farms is just as safe, wholesome, nutritious, and affordable as ever – if not more so!
This is not just a job of the dairy checkoff. Our story is much more effective when the entire dairy industry – from producers to co-ops to processors to those who market our products – tell the compelling story of our commitment to providing safe, wholesome and nutritious dairy products, while also caring for animals, land, water, and communities.
Make no mistake – engaging with consumers today is much different than it was even three or four years ago, largely because the influx of social media has fundamentally changed how people receive information and the sources of information they trust. This change requires an entirely different way of communicating.
Recognizing that fewer and fewer consumers have ever been on a farm, we know that we cannot just “educate” them about modern dairy practices. If you think about it, have you ever walked into a party full of strangers and stated, “Hey, I want you to hear about everything I do to give you safe and wholesome milk!”
Rather, we need to change the tone of the conversation from “educating” consumers to conversing with them. We need to start listening to and responding to their questions and concerns. This is what dairy advocates across the country are doing through one-on-one conversations, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media channels.
Over the next several years, the dairy checkoff will build a broader system of dairy advocates, equipping them with communications training and toolkits to encourage them to get active in telling dairy’s story. We need to marry the stories consumers are interested in hearing with current dairy practices. And, we need compelling science to back up our message.
We also need credible, independent voices to help tell our story. This may include environmental organizations such as the World Wildlife Fund. While partnering with WWF may surprise you, we share common goals. We support the use of approved technologies to increase agricultural production to feed growing global populations. WWF supports our work in sustainability, and also recognizes that, in the next 40 years, we will need to produce as much food in the world as we have in the past 8,000 years.
That’s why the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy®, founded by producers through their checkoff program, is working with WWF to convene a distinguished body of experts to help us establish that, in order to feed the world, all types and sizes of farms fit into the solution.
Other credible voices for dairy also include influential nutrition and health organizations. In a June event with The Washington Post that addressed global feeding, the National Dairy Council® (NDC) – the nutrition communications and education arm of the checkoff – announced a partnership among the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and Feeding America, which feeds the 37 million people weekly who are at risk of food insecurity.
As part of this partnership, NDC is providing $1.8 million over three years to help create nutrition materials that will be shared at food banks across the country that are affiliated with Feeding America. The materials provide a doorway to set standards for nutritious foods – including dairy -- that should be available to all Americans. The partnership also will help companies that develop and manufacture foods to deliver to food banks.
Imagine these credible partners helping us tell dairy’s story, whether it’s about nutrient-rich flavored milk in schools, reducing sodium in cheese without sacrificing taste, or our industry-wide efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in a way that helps lower on-farm energy costs. These conversations help solidify your image with consumers and thought leaders, and protect your freedom to operate.
We have great strength in numbers, especially as we grow our army of dairy advocates around the country.
There are many ways you can get involved … Connect with local civic groups about what your farm does, and why … Show how your farm supports local economies … Visit DMI’s new consumer-facing website, dairygood.org or the “Telling Your Story” section of dairycheckoff.com for a list of checkoff-funded communications training programs. Or, start a consumer-facing Facebook page.
It’s never too late to do something. When you do, you will be joining thousands of other dairy producers and advocates around the country in telling dairy’s great story to consumers.
• Tom Gallagher is chief executive officer of Dairy Management Inc. (DMI), the domestic and international planning and management organization that works to increase sales of and demand for U.S.-produced dairy products and ingredients on behalf of America’s dairy producers. For more information on dairy checkoff programs, visit www.dairycheckoff.com.