CHICAGO, Ill. — More than 1,200 dairy industry leaders from dozens of countries, including processing experts, dairy farmers, suppliers, government representatives and more, gathered in Chicago to discuss the latest issues facing the global dairy sector.
The International Dairy Federation World Dairy Summit took place Oct. 16-19 at the McCormick Place conference center in Chicago, the first summit held in the U.S. since 1993.
The theme of the summit, “Be Dairy — Boundless Potential, Endless Possibilities,” showcased the challenges and opportunities represented around the world with a focus on a more sustainable global food system.
First District Association, of Litchfield, Minnesota, sent four dairy farmers to attend the event.
Patti Schaefer, director of milk marketing and member services at First District Association, said the cooperative’s board of directors was happy to provide the opportunity for its interested member-owners.
“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Schaefer said.
The attendees — Marty Shay, of Albany, Minnesota; Megan Schrupp, of Eden Valley, Minnesota; and Carl and Heather Olson, of Mayer, Minnesota — are all members of First District Association’s Young Cooperator program. Schaefer also partook in the summit.
Schrupp, who milks 1,000 cows and is a co-owner of both NexGen Dairy and NexGen Market, said the topics presented at the summit cemented the idea of sustainability as a priority that is not going away and one that is being focused on around the world.
“The summit really drove home the point to me that it actually is something that’s happening in our industry and worldwide,” Schrupp said. “It’s not just something we’re hearing. It’s becoming where we’re deciding which business decisions we should make based on sustainability.”
Schrupp said she learned that Denmark is aiming to reduce beef and dairy cattle numbers in order to reach its ambitious climate targets. In New Zealand, Schrupp said, focus is being placed on feed additives to reduce the methane production of cattle that are on pasture. In Kenya, the focus is on developing quality electric cutting machines for crops and having quality forages for cattle, she said.
Despite the vast differences presented at the summit, coupled with negative national and world news, Schrupp said she left the summit with a positive outlook.
“We’re all different, but we all have a lot of things in common,” Schrupp said. “We may have different views on trade and supply management, but we’re focused on providing nutrition for people that is quality nutrition, quality protein and caring for the environment. We forget all the positive things in our day-to-day work and as we go through our lives.”
Carl Olson, who milks 130 cows and farms 600 acres, said he and his wife were excited to attend the summit to learn what is happening in the industry.
“We need to be involved,” Olson said. “What is coming down the pike to the EU is going to blow these dairy farmers away in the United States, and there’s no stopping it here.”
In Holland, Olson said, there are proponents legislating for keeping a calf with the cow for a specific number of days after it is born.
“At every meeting we were at, there were some foreign leaders against it, and there were some really on the other side of it for it,” Olson said. “It’s a critical turning point for the dairy farmer to be very involved and informed — not to be upset, but to be very informed about what is going on worldwide.”
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack attended the summit, and Olson said he was pleased with how Vilsack represented the interests of America’s dairy farmers.
“He really stood up for the dairy farmer,” Olson said. “I don’t care if you’re Democrat or Republican; I was proud that he was our spokesperson there. He told the audience that we want the right stuff to happen, but forcing it down the farmer’s throat is the wrong approach.”
Olson said he most appreciates the relationships he forged while networking with fellow dairy farmers. He now is connected with a diverse group through a digital platform where they can share ideas and challenges facing their respective farms.
“It’s going to help us because it’s a network of people, bouncing ideas off of each other,” Olson said. “First District does a very nice job for their young farmers because relationships are huge.”
Schaefer said what stood out to her the most was the vast differences in viewpoint relating to animal agriculture.
“In the U.S., we’re constantly fighting activism and the vegan mindset that we can’t consume meat, dairy and eggs, and we have these really great products to offer consumers,” Schaefer said. “In third-world countries, they really see dairy and the dairy cow as a means to pull themselves out of poverty.”
Schaefer said a woman from Kenya started a cooperative, and 85% of its members are women who own between one and three cows. One cow produced enough income to send a woman’s children to school. Two cows afforded a woman clean water and more.
“The dairy cow is literally saving them and saving their people,” Schaefer said. “Also, on top of that, the cow is giving them a nutritious product to consume and improving their overall health within these impoverished nations.”
While U.S. dairy farmers may feel as though they are always advocating for themselves and a place for dairy in the marketplace, Schaefer said dairy farmers should not lose sight of the fact that they have a good platform from which to share their story.
“It centered us,” she said. “There’s such a need and value for dairy. We have to keep fighting and tell our story.”
A highlight for the Minnesota contingent was a roundtable discussion with other young farmers where they shared the challenges in their areas as well as the positive aspects of dairy farming in their part of the world.
“Two things that everyone left with was that we’re all on some level fighting the same things when it comes to activism and sustainability,” Schaefer said. … “The end of the story was that we need to do more. We need to keep telling our story across the world. People have such a skewed vision of agriculture. Without telling a story or inviting people on farms, we’re never going to win the battle, and that sentiment was world-wide.”
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