The Dairy Experience and Agricultural Leadership Program had its first meeting of 2022, where 13 of the 15 DEAL members met in the Dairy Block of downtown Denver, Colorado, in February. DEAL is an 18-month program that provides an opportunity for dairy farmers, ages 40 and younger, to gain a deeper understanding of the dairy checkoff, network with their peers and others in the industry and learn valuable skills. Skills include training and tools to help these farmers better engage with consumers and conduct media interviews so they can successfully tell their story. The 2022-23 class was hand-selected from applications across the Midwest Dairy region, including participants from Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Kansas, Nebraska and South Dakota.
The DEAL Program is made up of three phases with in-person meetings and local assignments like meeting their local leadership and being a part of consumer events. The first phase focused on diving into dairy checkoff as well as discovering each participant’s strengths and how to successfully use them within and outside the industry. We kicked off the meeting by learning more about each person’s color personality along with the characteristics and strengths of each color. Throughout the presentation, participants learned how to apply their color learning to leverage personal strengths, improve leadership and collaboration skills, and support their personal and professional well-being. By learning more about themselves, our DEAL class not only develops confidence in themselves but also better leverages their industry knowledge with consumers and peers.     On the second day, Bob Lefebvre, vice president of agricultural affairs for Midwest Dairy, led a discussion about Midwest Dairy’s history, mission and strategic plan. We also heard from Bill Keating, senior director of industry image and relations for Dairy MAX, who shared more about dairying in Colorado and Dairy MAX. It was interesting to hear more about what other regional checkoffs are doing and gain a better understanding of how our industry varies in other states. Later, Angela Tuxhorn, senior manager of food safety and supply assurance with Leprino Foods, provided a presentation about Leprino Foods, which is headquartered in Denver. The group then ventured to Top Golf during the afternoon for an icebreaker activity. The group handled the single-digit weather with grace and had a lot of fun getting to know their new peers.
On the third and final day, two speakers from Dairy Management Inc. joined our group. Kristiana Alexander, director of knowledge and insights for DMI, dove into consumer insights. Highlights included explaining the impacts of changing U.S. demographics and household composition as well as consumer needs and trends relating to food, beverage and nutrition. The group was also pleased to hear from Stan Erwine, senior vice president of farmer relations for DMI, as he spoke to the history and purpose of both dairy promotion and DMI. He also discussed DMI’s collaborative relationship with Midwest Dairy and how this relationship is so important to making the checkoff dollar go further. The group thoroughly enjoyed the content and conversations on this day and felt they had a better understanding of dairy checkoff.   
DEAL members were asked to complete a survey following the first meeting, and Midwest Dairy was pleased that phase one received a 9 out of 10 rating. One farmer commented, “I really enjoyed getting to know the teachers and other class participants. The materials discussed were very educational. The energy from the group was also fun, and I can’t wait to meet up again.”
From a personal perspective, I am truly excited for the new DEAL farmers joining the program this year. Like many of the participants, I am also looking forward to our next phase, which will be held in Chicago and will focus on engaging with consumers.