I had the great pleasure of attending the Minnesota Dairy Growth Summit earlier this week as both a dairy farmer and a writer. If you haven't yet read the story Krista Kuzma and I wrote about the summit, you can find it on the front page.
While the front page story details the hows and whys of the summit, what it couldn't adequately explain were the feelings at the summit.
The predominant feelings at the summit were excitement and energy. I know I wasn't the only one present who was encouraged to see representatives from Minnesota's milk processors, government agencies, industry organizations, educational institutions and affiliated businesses together with dairy farmers in the same room. When, if ever, has a group this diverse convened before Monday to discuss the one thing we all have in common - the health of our state's dairy industry?
Barb Liebenstien of Wolf Creek Dairy summed it up well: "Having this group of people together with such diversity ... you couldn't ask for a better group."
Sheryl Meshke of AMPI added, "We reignited the dairy energy. We're reminded of the fact that this is where dairy should be."
I am incredibly encouraged by the idea of all players in the dairy industry joining together behind a common goal. We might not all agree yet about whether that goal should be growth in milk production or something else, but I think we can agree that working together in the three emphasis areas identified at the summit will make our state's dairy industry stronger and more resilient.
There were also feelings of concern. A goal of growing Minnesota's milk production by two percent was discussed at the summit. As a dairy farmer, I have mixed feelings about that goal. Should milk production be the only metric we use to measure the success of our industry? What happens if we increase milk production, but don't develop a new market for that milk?
Some of the leaders from our processor cooperatives agreed.
"If you're going to grow, you have to all grow together. It's not just the farms, but the industry as a whole," Donn Develder of AMPI said afterwards.
I heard similar comments from other industry leaders and other dairy farmers.
Along with the excitement and concerns, there was a feeling of determination.
"The summit really bullet-pointed all the untapped potential that exists and yet all the natural existing resources we have here. We've always had infrastructure in Minnesota - we want to maintain and grow that. That's what today was all about," Meshke said.
"Why did other livestock entities grow? Where did dairy get left behind? We have some work to do," Liebenstein said.
Like most of us, dairy farming is my heritage, my way of life. I want my children to be able to continue this way of life, if that's what they choose to do. At the summit, though, I realized that building a strong dairy business is not enough. The next generation will need the entire state's dairy industry to be strong and thriving if they want to choose dairy farming as a career.
Lastly, there was a feeling of togetherness.
As an industry, we tend to divide ourselves into factions all too often: small vs. large, starting vs. retiring, one breed vs. another, loose housing vs. stall barns, organic vs. conventional.
But, regardless of the size or style of our farms, we're all faced with challenges, such as, labor availability, regulatory issues and maintaining the public's trust. The thought of meeting these challenges together as a united industry, rather than tackling them alone, is encouraging.
And regardless of our divisions, Minnesota needs all of us. Every dairy farm of every type and size is important to our state.
Likewise, every dairy farmer is important. There was a lot of talk at the summit about the people of the dairy industry. The health of our industry isn't as much about the cows and pounds of milk and barrels of cheese as it is about the people: the farmers themselves and everyone else who's way of life depends on dairy. We're all in this industry together.