LITCHFIELD, Minn. – A Missouri man has found his place in Minnesota’s dairy industry.
    Bob Huffman is the newly appointed CEO of First District Association in Litchfield, Minn. He joined the cooperative July 1, following the retirement of long-time leader Clint Fall.
    “I admire the organization – the strength, credibility, longevity,” Huffman said. “To be a part of that is an incredible opportunity.”
     Huffman comes to First District with more than 20 years of experience in the dairy manufacturing industry, most of which was spent with Dairy Farmers of America.
    He began his career on the ground and worked through various roles in production and quality before leading the Monett, Mo., plant.
    “I was plant manager for a period of time, and then went into a regional role where I oversaw all the protein and powder plants west of Kansas City, Kan., to California,” Huffman said.
    Before coming to Minnesota, Huffman served as vice president of manufacturing in the powder division of DFA.
    “I never pictured myself in a top role like this,” Huffman said. “As every year has gone by and I’ve grown and matured in my career, and got to work with member producers a lot more, it’s become apparent this is something I’ve had an aspiration for.”
    Huffman and his wife, Jennifer, moved north with their two younger children – Cole, 12, and Mckenzie, 8 – and are calling Litchfield their new home. The Huffmans’ eldest daughter, Kaylee, 19, is a student at Missouri State University in Springfield, Mo.
    “We are really outdoors people; we love the lakes, and love to hunt and fish,” Huffman said. “We like hobby farming, and my son is really interested in getting involved in 4-H and FFA.”
    In Huffman’s role as CEO, he will maintain and build relationships with First District’s producer members, and continue to lead the company down a path that is profitable and sustainable.
    “I’ve had a lot of face-to-face time with producers, and fully understand my responsibility and accountability to them. That’s where my passion has really gotten stronger than I ever thought it could,” Huffman said. “There is something about serving farmers and making sure you can do absolutely everything possible for them that continues to be rewarding for me.”
    The leadership experience, business acumen and knowledge of dairy processing have prepared him for this position.
    “When you’re in dairy, it doesn’t seem to matter what role you’re in. The skill sets come together,” Huffman said. “Whether you’re balancing milk or developing markets, understanding the economics, or the composition of the products, it all prepares you for a role like this.”
    Throughout Huffman’s career, he has enjoyed working with people and problem solving to find an avenue where an organization can support itself in the long run.
    “Working with people is my favorite,” Huffman said. “I really enjoy a strong team and having people who are smarter than I am bringing it to the table and making it happen.”
    First District’s reputable board of directors and past leadership appealed to Huffman.
    “To come to an organization that has a good successor behind me and a really good team here, that doesn’t always happen,” he said. “For me, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity … to be a part of the strongest cooperative, in my opinion, in the Upper Midwest.”
    Historically, the cooperative has made strategic decisions to maintain a marketplace for its producer members and invest in the future of the company. As Huffman is welcomed to the organization, he is overseeing the plant’s largest expansion project to date.
      While joining First District amidst the greatest changes to the company, Huffman said the transition has been seamless.
    The trials he has encountered have been industry wide.
    “We’ve all been through it; four-plus years of extremely low milk prices and what that has done to the industry as a whole, especially on the producer side,” Huffman said. “We’re starting to see some light, but the hit all of our farmers have had to weather through is definitely the biggest challenge we have to get through and overcome as best we can.”
    In Huffman’s short time with the cooperative, he has begun establishing relationships with producer members to come to an understanding of what their struggles and opportunities might be.   
    “Farmer engagement is highly important,” Huffman said. “It’s hard with the lows in the last few years, but there’s no better bottle of energy to really get you going than to have face time and really feel that passion they have for dairy with them.”
    As Huffman creates a name for himself, he has grand goals in mind.
    He wants to build a network of cooperatives that work together and with industry organizations to protect dairies in Minnesota and the Upper Midwest.
    For First District, specifically, Huffman wants to build on what is already established.
    “[The cooperative] is in very good shape and they’ve positioned themselves well,” he said. “Now, it’s sustaining and building the capabilities so our producers’ kids and grandkids have a market for their milk and a strong cooperative to be partnered with.”
    Being the leader and face of a cooperative is a large responsibility, but one Huffman is eager to develop as he plants roots in Minnesota.