The NexGen: Adventures of two dairy daughters

Proving passion, purpose to policy

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Winter is receding, and these recent warm days have us preparing and planning for the quickly approaching growing season.

In this annual tradition, we find it exciting and comforting to retreat into our dairies and focus on what is occurring within our farm. Back to the goals we’ve set, tasks the warmer weather allows and hobbies laid aside with last year’s frost.

Our thoughts and focus on any burdens and upcoming challenges to agriculture and the dairy industry tend to fall to the wayside as the excitement of warm weather unfolds. However, it is imperative that we remain focused on things that aren’t always enjoyable but are crucial to our dairy businesses. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Those small things that make us uncomfortable help us build courage to do the work we do.”

National Ag Day is March 19. It was created to remind Americans of the importance of agriculture in our daily lives. National Ag Day is also the Minnesota Farm Bureau’s scheduled Day on the Hill — a day when dairy men and women can step outside their comfort zones and bring their stories of agriculture to those in our Capitol.

It is often intimidating to join events such as these. Last summer, we took part in a Young Cooperator fly-in in Washington, D.C., with other dairy men and women from across the U.S. During the two-day meeting, we met with senators, house members and their staff, conversing on dairy policy issues and providing an account of the dairy industry to those directly involved in decision-making positions.

It was intimidating but ultimately very rewarding. This upcoming day in St. Paul, Minnesota, will most likely be similar. When considering the opportunity to attend such events throughout the year, we remember that ultimately, the way we choose to farm is dictated by society and the government.

Policy decisions can encourage or discourage actions through legislation. Right now, we are witnessing policy actions that will determine how we address agriculture’s response to climate change, among others. Agriculture has enormous potential to provide climate-friendly solutions to current climate change challenges, but we must be a part of the conversations that are taking place. We must be present as a first-hand witness and face of agriculture to those making these decisions that will affect our family businesses. We must be present at the table where initial policy decisions are developed.

A great example of the implications of climate policy decisions and their direct effects on generational farms can be witnessed within the European Union.

It’s been fascinating and disheartening to witness the situation unfold. We have all most likely learned of the numerous farmer-led protests, conversations and legislation taking place regarding the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy.

Most recently, farmer protests occurred with the meeting of the EU’s agricultural ministers in Brussels, Belgium. When farmers fail to be heard or are not intimately involved in initial conversations, policies are developed that directly affect family farms — sometimes to the peril of multi-generational family businesses.

Last year, reports of Ireland’s goals to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050 spurred rumors of further government-led forced culls of up to 200,000 cattle to achieve those goals and more farmer protests. Thankfully, Ireland’s Climate Action Plan 2024 is open for review from the public once again until April 5. This is a critical opportunity for those involved to voice their concerns with policy-makers before the final decisions are made.

Let these events remind us of the gravity of the effects of policy decisions and inspire us to set aside our daily duties to attend conversations and events this year with legislators and decision-makers. Let our experiences and innovations showcase the exceptional attributes that agriculture can not only provide to our local communities but also to the greater climate solution. Let them inspire you to step outside your comfort zone, even if it is a small step, to be part of these conversations.

Your voice matters. Speak up.

Megan Schrupp and Ellen Stenger are sisters and co-owners of both NexGen Dairy and NexGen Market in Eden Valley, Minnesota. They can be reached at Nexgendairy@gmail.com.

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