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Serving: WI
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LITTLE THINGS COUNT: Dairy farmers play a role in promoting their products. For example, bringing string cheese snacks to softball or soccer practice can open the door to positive and rewarding conversations with consumers.

Building demand, sharing stories in big and small ways

Commentary: Promoting dairy products to consumers is important, whether through checkoff programs or individual efforts.

If your farm is anything like ours, the to-do list seems to be never-ending. Nearly every day we find something that needs to be fixed, changed or managed.

As dairy farmers, our expertise and focus are on caring for our animals and managing the people, equipment and processes it takes to keep things moving. Of all the things on my to-do list every day, thinking about how the cheese made from my cows’ milk is marketed to consumers is something I simply don’t have time or expertise for.

It takes a team

My family and I rely on a team of professionals to help in planning for and managing our business, as well as making sure that animals are healthy and rations are balanced. When an animal is sick or we have a new challenge to overcome, we don’t hesitate to reach out to professionals in our industry to ask for help or advice.

Why should we treat building demand and marketing our products any differently? Dairy checkoff programs were created to provide a professional resource to advocate for our industry and build markets for our products, and I’d argue that those investments are even more important when times are tough and margins are tight.

When I started my first term on the board of the Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin, I would have described myself as a skeptical believer in the role of the dairy checkoff. Three years later, at the start of my second term, I have become a wholehearted believer and supporter of the dairy checkoff programs at the state and national levels.

My first “aha” moment was understanding all the programs that are happening to build relationships with buyers and consumers — things that I don’t see as a dairy farmer. Staff members spend years building relationships with restaurants, food service and retail organizations so they understand the dairy industry and the role of dairy products in today’s healthy lifestyles. Dairy products are included in new-product development for fast-food restaurants and joint promotions. When McDonald’s, Domino’s or Festival Foods buyers have a question, these relationships are strong enough that they call the checkoff team member first.

In the early weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic, the checkoff teams worked quickly on several fronts, including working to move product that would normally have been going through school food service or restaurant businesses, partnering with food banks, and developing a media campaign to build trust in farmers and the food system.

Embrace your role

We each have our own role to play in supporting checkoff efforts on our farms and in our communities, too. Our goal shouldn’t be to correct or change minds, but to share our story and stay true to who we are.

This doesn’t mean we add becoming full-time dairy industry spokespeople to that never-ending to-do list, but we can each look for small ways to share our story, and be willing to always wear our dairy farmer hat. Saying thank you to a mom buying three gallons of milk for her family in the grocery store or reliably bringing string cheese snacks to softball or soccer practice can open the door to positive and rewarding conversations.

We all have important roles to play in keeping the dairy industry strong, productive and sustainable. While it is hard to keep up with the to-do lists in this crazy, ever-changing world, my family and I will continue to stay focused on producing the best-quality milk, and will support the investment in the dairy checkoff to build demand and trust in our products.

Clark is a dairy farmer from Rosendale, Wis. She and her husband, Travis, and her brother David Grade own and operate Vision Aire Farms LLC with her parents Roger and Sandy Grade. The farm earned the National Milk Quality Award in 2015 and 2016. Clark is a board member of Professional Dairy Producers, Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin and Dairy Management Inc. She received her bachelor’s degree in agribusiness management from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville.

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