Why does the dairy industry refer to dairy farmers as milk producers? Why are our farms called operations?
Is it to avoid the stigma that farmers are uneducated and, instead, make us sound more mostly intelligent and professional? To make our farms sound more modern and progressive?
Regardless of why we do it, I find these terms misleading.
From a purely grammatical standpoint, milk producer (and dairy producer, for that matter) is a bit inaccurate for what we're doing. According to my dictionary, to produce means "to make or manufacture from components or raw materials."
We aren't actually making or manufacturing the milk. We're growing the cows and the cows are making the milk. So, technically, if we don't want to call ourselves dairy farmers, we should call ourselves cow growers.
Apparently, that phrase didn't resonate with the dozens of dairy cooperatives and organizations who chose to call themselves 'milk producers' or 'dairy producers' instead.
What I find even more interesting is that many chicken farmers and egg industry organizations refer to themselves as egg producers. Now, while there are some dairy farmers who can actually produce milk, I've never heard of any farmers who can actually lay eggs.
Why does any of this matter?
Think about it from a consumer's perspective.
Which sounds more like a corporate farmer: a dairy farmer or a dairy producer? Which sounds more like a factory farm: a dairy farm or a dairy operation?
Well, since we all know that there's no such thing as a factory dairy farm and that nearly 100 percent of the dairy farms in Minnesota are family-owned, why are we referring to ourselves as producers and to the places where we live and work as operations?
A great way to illustrate this was shared at a presentation I recently attended about using easily-understood terms when communicating with consumers.
If you do a search for 'producer photos' in Google, guess what shows up? Yeah, it's not farmers. The first eight pages of photos all show music and movie producers.
The same thing happens when you search for 'operation photos'. You'll mostly find pictures of the popular board game, surgeons in blue masks, and a few soldiers with weapons depicting military operations.
The point here is that the terms producer and operation are more likely to confuse consumers than make them think about farms and farmers.
I took the Google example a step further and did a search for farmer photos. How disappointing.
Most of the photos involve bib overalls, flannel shirts, straw hats and pitch forks. Now, I still use pitch forks quite a bit, but I can't remember the last time I wore a flannel shirt and bib overalls. And straw hats have never been part of my work attire.
Obviously, Google's idea of a farmer is sorely outdated.
Sadly, Google isn't alone. Last year at the Stearns County Breakfast on the Farm, one of the visitors, who was visiting a farm for the first time in her life, wanted to know why there weren't any farmers in bib overalls.
How do we update the public's image of a farmer and communicate in terms non-farmers understand?
By referring to ourselves as farmers, in every form of communication. And by avoiding industry jargon like producer and operation.
I admit, I'm just as guilty as anyone else when it comes to using these terms. I did a quick search of the writing I've done for the Dairy Star. While operation didn't show up very often, I'm sad to say that 'dairy producer' did.
But I'm vowing now to delete these phrases from my vocabulary.
We're dairy farmers. And we live and work on dairy farms.
Sadie and her husband, Glen, milk 70 cows near Melrose, Minn. They have two children - Dan, 4, and Monika, 2. Sadie also writes a blog for the Dairy Star at http://dairystar.blogspot.com. She can be reached at gsfrericks@meltel.net.