Reflection from Dairy Forum 2017
Tuesday, February 7, 2017
Posted by: John Holevoet, director of government affairs
A farmer, a lobbyist and 200 cheesemakers walk into a bar…It’s not a joke, but rather a common experience at Dairy Forum. I just had my second experience at this annual event representing the co-op and I wanted to share some highlights with membership.
Dairy Forum is hosted by the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA), so most of the attendees are dairy processors. There are also people representing affiliated businesses there that do business with our processers. Finally, there is a smaller group representing dairy farmers, both in and outside the cooperative structure.
This year’s Dairy Forum was an opportunity to meet Michael Dykes, the new president and CEO of IDFA. Dr. Dykes is a veterinarian and has worked directly with dairy farmers before, including a stint in the Upper Midwest. He lived in Sun Prairie, Wis., for a time while working for Monsanto. He left Wisconsin with an appreciation for brandy old fashioneds and supper clubs. He appears to be a very capable replacement for Connie Tipton, who ran IDFA for many years.
A terrific panel of people who all served as chiefs of staff to different secretaries of agriculture discussed what to expect as work begins on the next farm bill. All four panelists are employed by companies or organizations that will take an active role in at least some aspects of the bill’s development. Nobody on the panel was optimistic the bill would be done anytime soon, with 2018 being a best-case scenario. Some did think the bill might be a vehicle for President Trump to show his appreciation for rural America, which was pivotal to his electoral victory.
One aspect of the farm bill that got special attention during a breakout session was the Margin Protection Program (MPP). Mark Stephenson, an ag economist from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, moderated the group. While the panel did not present any original ideas on how to improve MPP, it was a chance to identify potential allies in the fight to make the program better. One standout was John Newton, director of market intelligence at the American Farm Bureau Federation. He staked out an aggressive position on reforming MPP and ensuring that dairy is well provided for in the farm bill.
For me, the standout presentation was by Chris Gretchko, vice president of marketing at Tetra Pak. She outlined opportunities for growing demand for dairy. Ms. Gretchko payed particular attention to valueadded products, such as fluid milk with some type of enhancement (vitamins, fruit, grains, protein, etc.). She showcased real international products that could be adapted for our domestic market.
As fluid milk sales continue to slip, it is good to see innovative ideas to stop or reverse that negative trend. At the end of the day, increasing demand is one of the best things we can do for farmers looking for better milk prices.