March 1, 2021 at 5:06 p.m.

Pandemic assistance, partnerships highlights of Midwest Dairy virtual meeting

By Krista [email protected] | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

    Like many meetings this year, the Midwest Dairy district meetings shifted to one virtual district meeting Feb. 17. Following the general meeting about Midwest Dairy’s work in 2020 and a glimpse of the strategic plan for 2021-23, attendees split into virtual rooms to discuss more in-depth about promotions or ideas in each of their local areas.
    Barb Liebenstein, dairy farmer and Midwest Dairy Minnesota division board chair, first gave information about how farmers are voted to serve on the state and corporate Midwest Dairy boards. From there, farmers are elected to serve on the Dairy Management Inc. board.
    “I think it’s important to know any of us as dairy farmers can serve on our local, state and national boards,” Liebenstein said. “Equally important is that if you don’t have time to serve, we do have representatives that will be happy to help with any questions, comments or concerns you might have about DMI or your state Midwest Dairy board.”
    Charles Krause, a dairy farmer and Minnesota dairy promotion council chairman, talked about the district changes. The number of districts in the state has not changed in 15 years. During that time, the number of dairy herds in Minnesota has decreased over 2,500. Following the Minnesota Department of Agriculture statute, which calls for equitable representation on the board, the number of districts was reduced from 22 to 18 with the number of dairy farms in each district being 130 to 150.
    “It’s impossible to get exactly the same number, but we did the best we could with the numbers that were current in 2020,” Krause said. “Some of you will notice big changes if you’re in northern Minnesota and others may not notice any changes at all. One big change is in Stearns County. When we went to equitable representation, Stearns county picked up a district.”
    Brittney Arnold, farmer relations manager at Midwest Dairy, then discussed how Midwest Dairy has built dairy sales, consumer trust and dairy leaders in 2020.
    Midwest Dairy has built dairy sales through partnerships, which region-wide through November resulted in 23 million incremental pounds of milk sold and reached over 14 million consumers. One example is the partnership with Pizza Ranch during June. The restaurant offered extra cheese for any online large pizza order. Midwest Dairy helped with the marketing, which helped sell over 1 million more pounds of milk and reached 17 million consumers.  
    To build trust, Midwest Dairy connected dairy farmers with congressional leaders in virtual meetings to highlight the value of the checkoff program and how it helped Minnesotans during the coronavirus pandemic.
    A virtual cheese board event also gave more consumers trust in dairy’s sustainability. The invite-only event highlighted dairy farmer Jerry Jennissen who spoke about sustainability on his family’s dairy farm and brought together people to discuss dairy’s role in sustainable nutrition. Those in attendance were from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, the University of Minnesota, The Nature Conservancy, The Agricultural Utilization Research Institute, the Minnesota Grocers’ Association and Native Sustainability.
    Other partnerships included connecting with physicians and dietitians to share relevant and science-based dairy information along with a partnership with the Minnesota Vikings Women, which featured content from two Vikings player spouses.
    Midwest Dairy continues its partnership with Fuel Up to Play 60, which has 95% of all districts in Minnesota enrolled.
    During the pandemic, Midwest Dairy provided $500,000 to food banks across its 10-state region, funded 27 food pantry coolers in Minnesota and provided emergency relief for schools across the state.
    “This program allowed farmers to support their local schools that were struggling to keep milk cold during meal distribution,” Arnold said.
    Dairy was also a part of the Minnesota State Fair Food Parade as one of the top 16 vendors asked to be a part of the event selling malts.
    Midwest Dairy continues to build dairy leaders. Perhaps one of the most well-known dairy leaders is Princess Kay of the Milky Way, a program that has continued despite the pandemic. Current Princess Kay Brenna Connelly shared how she has been making virtual appearances and promotes through social media. In the coming weeks, she will launch a new social media campaign called Dairy Takes a Team, which will highlight all the people needed to produce dairy products.
    Other ways dairy leaders are developed is through the dairy ambassador program and summer interns. New this year is the Dairy Experience and Agricultural Leadership program with five of the 15 dairy farmer participants from Minnesota.
    Molly Pelzer, Midwest Dairy CEO, then explained the organization’s new strategic plan for 2021-23.
    “Our goal in this plan was to increase our focus and set priorities. We now have six objectives in our plan, down from 15,” Pelzer said. “Each objective has a specific result measure. Our dairy farmer board leaders are dedicated to measuring the impact of your checkoff investment.”
    The three business objectives are increase dairy sales, grow trust in dairy and advance research in dairy. The three foundational objectives are to create dairy checkoff advocates, develop farm and community leaders and enhance Midwest Dairy employee culture.
    Research is a big part of the checkoff, Pelzer said. While there has been research on nutrition, science, sustainability and consumer insight, the most recent focus on been measuring dairy trust.
    “To measure sales, you can look at the incremental dairy pounds sold, but to measure trust is a little harder,” Pelzer said.
    Two years ago, Midwest Dairy started a project to assess how consumer trust is being built. This project will continue over the next three years. The research shows consumers love dairy products, they believe dairy products are healthy, and they trust dairy farmers; however, there has been an increase in the belief that plant-based alternatives are healthier than dairy foods.
    “That gives us something to focus on in our immediate work and our messaging to consumers,” Pelzer said. “We will correct that misinformation and use the new tools about sustainable nutrition – how dairy is made with care for the planet and how dairy is good for you – in our work.”
    In order to achieve its goals, Midwest Dairy can rely on help from many other organizations part of the dairy community, including Dairy Management Inc., National Dairy Council, Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, U.S. Dairy Export Council, GenYouth and Global Dairy Platform, among others.
    “We know this unified and collaborative approach will make the most of your checkoff investment, and we look forward to continuing this key to success working across the dairy community,” Pelzer said.


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