Being in the same room while talking with friends and listening to speakers in person has not happened very often over the last two years. The past couple of weeks have been different. It has been fun to attend meetings, a college dairy club banquet and farm seminars.
While virtual opportunities are handy for those of us who need to keep up with on-farm demands, nothing beats interacting with people in the same place.
A fun February event was the University of Minnesota Gopher Dairy Club Recognition Banquet. At the midday gathering, friends were honored, mentors attended and spoke, and our three kids were all in the same room for a couple of hours at the same time. Rolf, my brother-in-law, Eric, and I attended. We arrived early to visit with folks before the banquet started. At our table were our daughter, Emily, her boyfriend, Anthony, and three dairy club members. It was refreshing to hear about their lives and experiences as we enjoyed the meal, speakers and scholarship award presentations. Many nuggets of wisdom and advice were given, including keynote speaker dairy pioneer, farmer and educator Bonnie Ayars telling the students to always make their beds, among other sage advice she gave for living life well.
A second event was the very next day. I wavered about attending the Carver County Dairy Day, but I am so glad I took the time to hear more speakers and visit with friends and experts in the trade show area. Apparently, I wasn’t ready to stop talking after the banquet the day before.
Dairy Day was time well spent with interesting speakers and conversations. I picked up materials to take back with me and made a screenshot to share with Mike and Rolf of salient points from University of Minnesota Extension dairy specialist Jim Salfer’s speech on strategic advantages for smaller dairies.
I jotted some good notes from the keynote speech from Corey Geiger, who spoke about dairy as an economic engine. Geiger is well-versed in dairy trends as the managing editor of Hoard’s Dairyman. Some of his key takeaways were that in the U.S., dairy cows spend five-to-six days per month producing milk for the export market, of which Mexico is the No. 1 customer and China is the No. 1 importer of our products. The dairy industry in California accounts for 443,000 jobs, and the dairy industry accounts for $45.6 billion in economic activity in Wisconsin, he said. Iowa data shows each cow is a $25,000 economic engine.
Geiger said the level of domestic dairy product consumption has been increasing steadily since 1960. U.S. consumers eat 655 pounds of cheese per capita today, on a steady upswing since 1994. Fluid milk, conversely, is in a 62-year tailspin, Geiger said. He then delved into interesting trends of milk component changes, semen sale changes, genomics testing and the need for database collection and analysis. Next was renewable energy and how it relates to dairy digesters and renewable energy.
There was a lot to think about when I returned home to do chores that day.
Next on my agenda, I was asked to take part in a market research Zoom call to probe, “How do you make buying decisions?” Not in person but still fun. From that, I learned that other dairy farmers put a lot of thought into, and can articulate, their decision-making process really well. Purchasing trends include using Google to research products. We talk to our fellow dairy farmers about what works for them, and we also consider cost. We consider how to further our goals, and support and service for the product are all still important.
A final meeting last week was a further peek into continuous living cover crops and cropping systems being developed by the University of Minnesota Forever Green Initiative. It was held a few miles from our farm and included an update on Kernza, the first commercially-viable perennial grain in the U.S. This grain, with a long, dense root system, can greatly reduce nitrate-nitrogen leaching and can deliver other environmental benefits to soil, water and climate, according to Ben Penner, farmer and vice president of Perennial Promise Growers Cooperative. The cooperative is now interfacing with General Mills to develop and market products made with Kernza. The cooperative is developing grower planning resources, including planting, growing, harvesting and marketing expertise for area farmers.
Learning about the potential of a new crop and all of the steps involved was a think-outside-the-box experience for me. It could also be something to consider as a dual-use grain and forage crop for those with interest in crops in the early-adopter phase.
Hopefully, there will be other events to attend and nuggets of information to learn in the coming weeks and months. Take advantage of what you can.
    Jean dairy farms with her husband, Rolf, and brother-in-law, Mike, and children Emily, Matthias and Leif. They farm near St. Peter, Minnesota, in Norseland, where she is still trying to fit in with the Norwegians and Swedes. They milk 200 cows and farm 650 acres. She can be reached at jeanannexstad@gmail.com.