A group of people in Wisconsin is coming together to come to the aid of dairy farmers.
    The Dairy Task Force 2.0 was created in June 2018 as a joint effort between the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection and the University of Wisconsin to make recommendations on actions needed to maintain a viable and profitable dairy industry in Wisconsin. The task force has its work cut out for it as members try to find practical solutions to some of dairy’s most pressing issues.
    The Dairy Task Force 2.0 is comprised of 31 individuals including dairy farmers, milk processors and allied organizations – all volunteers representing a broad spectrum of the industry and a wide geography of the state. The task force’s ultimate mission is to help Wisconsin’s dairy industry achieve long-term success, while removing any roadblocks that stand in the way.
    As the name suggests, this is the second edition of the Dairy Task Force. The first was created in 1985 to address the state’s declining milk production. About 80 recommendations resulted, and many were implemented successfully to help Wisconsin retain its status as a dairy leader.
    “The current state of the industry made it necessary to revisit the task force,” said Dr. Mark Stephenson, chairman of the Dairy Task Force 2.0 and director of Dairy Policy Analysis at UW-Madison. “However, this time, there’s not just one issue that we’re trying to resolve. In fact, at our first meeting last August, we identified 130 different issues to address.”
    Contrary to what some might believe, the task force was not created to fix current milk prices. Rather, the task force is trying to implement ideas that will prevent this type of catastrophe from happening again.
    “The marketplace will sort out the industry’s low-price problem before we could even have a chance to implement anything that would improve milk prices,” Stephenson said. “However, that problem is what brought us here, and we are working hard to ensure a bright and vibrant future for the dairy industry.”
    The task force is divided into nine subcommittees: markets, dairy and rural community vitality, consumer confidence and perception, access to capital, education and workforce, generational succession and transition, price volatility and profitability, regulatory certainty, and research and innovation.
    Task force members were assigned to various subcommittees to work on specific issues within these categories. Each subcommittee has met several times to develop recommendations specific to their topics, which are then bubbled back up to the entire task force.
    “The members have come up with many great ideas, and we are now almost to the point of voting on them,” Stephenson said.
    The task force holds open hearings, and meeting minutes are available to the public on the DATCP website. The full task force will meet for the third time at 10 a.m. March 15 at UW-Green Bay’s Sheboygan campus to vote on each subcommittee’s recommendations.     Recommendations voted in favor of will then be executed at one of three levels: individual, state or national.
    “Most recommendations fall at the state level,” Stephenson said. “But, that doesn’t mean they’re automatically decided by government. Some of these recommendations are coordinated by dairy farmer groups.”
    A couple recommendations have already been voted on and passed by the task force, including the creation of a Dairy Innovation Hub. This is a request for state funding to support university positions that will advance the dairy industry.
    “There are no task force members from the university system, so this is not a self-serving recommendation,” Stephenson said. “Dairy is losing some capacity at the university level, and it’s concerning to the industry. We don’t want our intellectual capital to deteriorate by running out of a stream of new ideas for process or product technologies and advancements in regards to things like genetics, milking equipment, new dairy products and so on. The Dairy Innovation Hub will be very beneficial to Wisconsin’s dairy industry.”
    Offering new types of state loans for dairy processors is another idea passed by the task force and on its way to implementation. Better lending options will make it easier for plant expansions to take place, benefitting rural communities by creating more jobs and increasing the volume of milk that processors can purchase from farmers.
    Amy Penterman, a member of the Dairy Task Force 2.0, operates Dutch Dairy with her husband, Sander Penterman in Thorp, Wis. The Pentermans milk 850 cows and own and rent 1,400 acres of corn, soybeans and hay.
    “As a dairy farmer and crop insurance agent, I wanted the opportunity to speak up for all farmers in our state,” Penterman said. “I want to be part of the solution.”
    Penterman is on three subcommittees: education and workforce, consumer confidence and perception, and regulatory certainty. She said the task force has reflected on all the major issues and the best ways to tackle each one, and hopes to have some of their ideas implemented by this summer.
    “I want farmers to know that even though it might appear things aren’t going as fast as they would like, there are a lot of people behind the scenes giving it their all,” Penterman said. “We have farmers’ best interests in hand; we want them to be successful. Our end goal is to make our state the best in the world.”
    Don Hamm of Sandy Loam Farm in Fredonia, Wis., is also a member of the Dairy Task Force 2.0. His 350-cow operation is a family-run affair that includes Hamm and his wife, Diane, daughter, Heather, brothers, Rick and Randy, and many nieces and nephews.
    “With everything going on in the dairy industry right now, I thought it was important to try to be a part of the solution to fix the problems we’re having,” Hamm said.
    But it was his daughter’s words that really convinced Hamm he wanted to be a part of the task force.
    “She told me, ‘I want to be just like you, Dad. I want to come back home and be a dairy farmer,’” Hamm said. “I want to make that dream come true for her and everyone else who has sons and daughters that want to come back and work as a family unit.”
    Hamm is involved on three subcommittees: access to capital, price volatility and profitability, and dairy and rural community vitality subcommittees. He said the task force is looking at all kinds of avenues – from pricing issues to local and state regulations – to discover how to make an infrastructure that can handle today’s industry, while looking at new markets for using milk and milk products and even assessing markets not related to food.
    “We need to look for new uses and ways of doing things like new technologies to produce more products that could be made out of milk,” Hamm said. “We need to find dairy’s ethanol so to speak. Of course, we need a better price right now, but all of these pieces will help make us a better dairy industry as a whole. Mark Stephenson really cares about what is going on in the dairy industry and is working very hard to make a difference.”
    The task force is hoping to wrap up committee work by late spring. It will then spend one to two months writing documents that summarize its work and recommendations. In total, the task force will likely be in session for a little over a year – about the same time period as the first task force.
    “We’re moving with a lot of speed and have gained considerable ground since our first meeting,” Stephenson said. “Once our recommendations are handed off to the appropriate parties for implementation, we will continue to follow their progress over the next couple of years to see which items are actually implemented.”
    Penterman said the task force represents all farmers, whether conventional or organic, small, large or in between.
    “It’s for all of us,” she said.