ST. PAUL, Minn. — The CEO of Midwest Dairy, Molly Pelzer, has announced her retirement after nearly 40 years with the dairy checkoff.
“Without the dairy farmers, I wouldn’t have had this opportunity to have a great career,” Pelzer said. “I’m forever grateful, truly. ... I’ll be a dairy advocate forever.”
Pelzer, who started with the dairy checkoff in June 1984, began her tenure as CEO in September 2019.
Pelzer said a search firm has had a positive response in the pursuit to find her replacement and a diverse, national pool of candidates from which to choose. She said Midwest Dairy tentatively plans to announce the CEO in late February.
Pelzer will work with Midwest Dairy in March to assist in the transition.
“Midwest Dairy staff isn’t going to drop a beat,” Pelzer said. “Everything’s going to happen, just as we would expect it to roll out.”
Pelzer said one of her biggest accomplishments as CEO was the creation of a dairy checkoff scorecard for the Midwest Dairy Annual Report. This infographic shows progress on foundational objectives and goals.
“The whole goal was to communicate the impact of a dairy farmer’s checkoff investment,” Pelzer said. “I like to be able to communicate with transparency and meaning to dairy farmers.”
The idea for creating a scorecard came from the board of the dairy farmer-led Midwest Dairy.
“They were speaking on behalf of other dairy farmers, and that’s so meaningful,” Pelzer said. “We want dairy farmers to understand that their fingerprints are all over the work that we do.”
Another accomplishment that came through guidance from the board of directors is the increased collaboration between Midwest Dairy and 15 state and regional organizations.
“Rather than just thinking of the interaction between (Dairy Management Inc.) and the state and region, what if we went sideways?” Pelzer said. “What if we shared across states and regions more?”
Pelzer said this sharing has meant Midwest Dairy has gained ideas from other regions, such as learning about gamers from Texas and other areas. Midwest Dairy has also shared its ideas, including the Dairy Experience and Agricultural Leadership Program.
“It was all done under the idea of, ‘Let’s be more effective and more efficient with the dairy farmer investment and checkoff,’” Pelzer said.
Pelzer said a fun memory from her time with the dairy checkoff happened when Minneapolis hosted the Super Bowl in 2018. Pelzer said the event brought dairy farmers to unexpected places.
In the days leading up to the game, Midwest Dairy provided virtual reality tours of a dairy farm and an NFL locker room through a program at the time called Fuel Up to Play 60.
While participants stood in line for the experience, dairy farmers visited with attendees and answered questions.
“It was a fantastic opportunity to shine a spotlight on how dairy farmers care for their community,” Pelzer said. “They had children’s health and wellness in mind. They were talking about physical activity and healthy eating.”
Pelzer is a registered dietician who worked for two years at a hospital before coming to Midwest Dairy.
“That passion for nutrition has led to a deeper passion of getting to work for fantastic people,” Pelzer said. “Milk is just so integral in foods that we all enjoy eating.”
Pelzer said consumers want to know where their food comes from.
“Let’s be bolder and louder and prouder about dairy’s nutrition,” Pelzer said. “The other thing is helping consumers understand the choices dairy farmers make every day to take care of their cows and take care of the land.”
Pelzer also said dairy product innovation is important for the future of dairy advocacy.
“What are consumers looking for?” Pelzer said. “What would be helpful?”
Pelzer said Midwest Dairy is in a good position. She said the biggest challenge to dairy advocacy is to maintain relevance with current consumers. Pelzer said the problem is not a new one.
“That old saying is, ‘What we’ve always done will not get us where we need to go,’” Pelzer said. “While change is hard, we need to continue to evolve if we’re going to make a difference for dairy farmers.”
In retirement, Pelzer said she will be spending more time with family and volunteering at her church and in her community.
“I’m excited to shift my energies,” Pelzer said. “I really do believe the skills I’ve learned as a dairy checkoff employee can be put to use in other ways.”
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