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Dairy Strong focuses on building sustainable future

Tuesday, January 23, 2018   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Jamie Mara, director of public relations
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Jan. 23, 2018
Contact: Jamie Mara, director of public relations
Dairy Business Association
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Dairy Strong focuses on building sustainable future

MADISON, Wis. – Leadership, action and understanding were key themes for dairy farmers and other professionals at the fourth annual Dairy Strong conference.

Those themes point toward a common goal for the dairy community: sustainable success.

More than 600 people from across the country heard speakers, engaged in panel discussions and participated in educational programs that focused on a wide range of topics, from export markets and immigration reform to robotics and regulation. The conference was held Jan. 17-18 at Monona Terrace.

From the first pitch — by keynote speaker Major League Baseball Commissioner Emeritus Allan “Bud” Selig — to the last word — from milk marketing experts in a panel discussion — the conference aimed to help attendees learn, engage and explore.

“The conference was well structured to allow participants an opportunity to look at the big picture of the dairy community, network with peers and vendors and listen to engaging speakers,” said Mike North, president the Dairy Business Association, a host of the event. “The highlight was the people. What makes this conference and our industry strong is the people.”

In discussing leadership, Selig told farmers to never give up. “To get a baseball team in Milwaukee, we tried four times before we succeeded,” he said. “To be a good leader, you must not be afraid to act, you must not be afraid of failure and you must not be afraid of success.”

Because dairy farmers rely heavily on immigrant labor, immigration policy was a top area of interest, with a keynote speech by Republican consultant and CNN commentator Ana Navarro as well as a presentation on the EB3 Worker Visa Program.

Navarro urged farmers to keep contacting their representatives in Washington and pushing them to act.

“We can’t keep kicking the can down the road,” she said. “Are we prepared to see workers pulled from our farms and what the ramifications of that would be? Make sure (lawmakers) hear your voice.”

Understanding generations

Conference attendees also learned about dealing with generational differences in the workplace from Lynne Lancaster, a consultant and expert on generational differences. She said there are five generations in today’s workplace – including farms – ranging from traditionalists who were born before 1946 to Generation Z, who were born between 1997 and 2013. In between are baby boomers, Generation X and millennials.

“When you came of age affects you. For example, the traditionalists, who grew up during the Great Depression and World War II, dealt with a lot of hard things and know how to scrimp and save,” Lancaster said. “Later, when they started making more money, they didn’t go out and become spendthrifts.”

Family owned farms are just like all businesses, with several generations working together – although there is the extra family dynamic that needs to be considered, Lancaster said.

Lancaster’s presentation connected with Manuel Garcia, operations manager for Omro Dairy in Omro, Wis.

“Her message on generational differences was very powerful. Understanding what drives certain generations goes a long way, especially for a young millennial entering the management world like myself,” Garcia said.

Customer connections

Farmers are also looking to connect better with customers — here in the United States and globally — to keep their dairies growing, said North, who led a panel discussion on dairy economics and the future of U.S. milk marketing.

About 15 percent of Wisconsin milk is exported to other countries — usually in the form of cheese and other dairy products — and there is room for more growth, said Chad Vincent, CEO of the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board.

“Wisconsin leads in cheese production and we have an infrastructure in place to grow even more. There are few places like Wisconsin where you have research, government, processors and farmers pulling in the same direction,” Vincent said.

Dr. Michael Dykes, CEO of the International Dairy Foods Association, said the agriculture industry benefits a lot from trade — selling more products than buying — but that many people have a negative view of trade. “They use ‘trade’ for what is going wrong economically in their lives,” he said. “Trade is bad — that was the message in the 2016 election.”

When it comes to succeeding in the U.S. market, Dykes said people care about where their food is coming from, and some marketers are looking to take advantage of that by using farmers in their ad campaigns.

“Farmers have a high level of credibility with consumers and we need to be in the story,” he said.

Whether it is on trade issues or dairy promotion, Chuck Connor, CEO of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, said farmers need to be united.

“I’ve never seen farmers lose in 37 years on Capitol Hill when we are all speaking with the same voice,” he said.

Regulatory certainty

Wisconsin Atty. Gen. Brad Schimel addressed conference goers, touting his office’s success with adding predictability and stability to the state’s regulatory environment. When Schimel issued a legal opinion in 2016 keeping in check the power of the state Department of Natural Resources to regulate high-capacity wells, he was looking to create certainty for state farmers who had been left in limbo, he said.

“I wanted to clarify the law so the DNR could get moving on approving well permits so you can continue your work of feeding the world,” Schimel told the audience.

In addition to the more formal presentations, the trade show included an innovation stage where representatives from different businesses discussed products, policies and programs designed to help members of the dairy community. Topics ranged from on-the-cow sensors and the beef check-off to using robots in large milking operations and how farms can best use social media.

Three customized program tracks — legislation and advocacy, customer trends and technology — provided deeper dives for attendees.

Garcia, from Omro Dairy, enjoyed learning about using robotics, which was featured in an innovation stage presentation and an educational track.

“As milk prices fall and physical labor shortages continue, I can see this technology being applied sooner than we think to improve efficiency in our farms,” he said.

Larson honored:Sandy Larson of Larson Acres, a 2,400-cow dairy farm in Rock County, received the DBA’s Advocacy Award during Dairy Strong for the work she does to promote not only her family’s farm but the broader dairy community in general. Some of her many efforts include frequently opening her farm for tours, helping with county-wide ag projects and volunteering with 4-H.

“I don’t think I do any more than other farmers,” Larson said. “You do what’s right for you, your family, your farm and your community.”

About Dairy Strong:

Dairy Strong, in its fourth year, is a conference where all aspects of the dairy community come together to coalesce around a commitment to what’s important today and tomorrow. Farmers representing farms of all sizes and management philosophies are joined by any number of related businesses and partners to learn, engage and explore. For more information, go to

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