It is hard to believe that it’s already been four years since I began my journey with DBA. It has been an action-packed time filled with challenges and opportunities.
The challenges are many — the political and regulatory landscape is uncertain, the markets have been depressed due to trade uncertainty, customer and brand demands are ever changing and the image of farmers is under attack. I’m sure you could add more to the list.
Within those challenges, however, have come opportunities, such as developing stronger relationships with legislators at the state and local levels and providing proof of environmental improvement. On the federal level, our sister organization, Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative, is defending dairy in trade agreements like the proposed United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement and fostering collaboration within our milksheds to better determine customer preferences and make sure farmers’ voices are heard.
The greatest opportunity is providing farmers a way to have direct influence on how people perceive them. At the end of the day, farmers must grow relationships beyond the farmgate and leverage their passion, wisdom and credibility in all aspects of the food they produce and the environment they preserve.
In the coming year, we will continue to build momentum from the last legislative session. DBA is going to bolster our internal capabilities by hiring an additional lobbyist. As we respect our contract lobbyists of the past, DBA is at the point of needing more full-time in-house representation.
At the same time, we are building build more coalitions with like-minded groups, because a united front is the best approach. In September, DBA, the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association and Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin hosted a tour of dairy farms and a processing plant to provide information to state lawmakers about what dairy farmers do and why. This wasn’t a lobbying effort, it was an educational experience.
At a more local level, last month I hosted a farm tour and roundtable meeting with a couple of county administrators and conservation officers to provide them with that same experience. These interactions will be ongoing initiatives to build an understanding of the issues and to create two-way conversations that will foster respect and trust.
Perhaps the best investment DBA has made in the past three years is supporting farmer-led environmental initiatives throughout the state. The dairy community must demonstrate its ability to voluntarily improve conservation practices that address local environmental challenges. This requires proof, and farmers are in the best position to help themselves with data. This is why, through our partnership with the Dairy Strong Sustainability Alliance, we directly support farmer-led watershed groups. To date, these groups represent 170,000 acres and 80,000 cows on farms of all shapes and sizes. In addition to striving for positive environmental outcomes, these farmers are finding methods that work in their business models. Both aspects are needed for success. These efforts will build a cornerstone of confidence in dairy among legislators and customers.
It is wonderful to see what happens when you empower members to take an active role in the association. They see themselves as part of the solution. Make no mistake, DBA will continue to refine and improve just as our members do. Together we are a winning combination.