Checkoff Gives Science Nerds Reason to Celebrate

  • 4 min read March 14, 2023
  • Marilyn Hershey
  • DMI Chair

I confess to being a bit of a science nerd and I imagine most of my farming colleagues are, too. It’s hard not to get excited about science when it’s all around us every day on our farms in so many ways.

I get the same feeling when I look at how deeply the dairy checkoff is entrenched in science- and research-based work. It is prevalent in every aspect of the checkoff’s mission to drive sales and build trust and is being led by a powerful team of talented and respected scientists.

This emphasis on sound science started more than a century ago when farmers founded National Dairy Council (NDC). Our organization is the established leader in dairy nutrition research and is a go-to credible resource for so many health professionals across the country.

But our work in the science realm stretches far beyond the health and wellness elements of that glass of milk.

When I look around the Dairy Management Inc. (DMI) team, I see scientists in various capacities that are crucial to our industry – today and tomorrow. In addition to NDC, we have scientific expertise in the areas of environment/sustainability, food safety, and dairy product and ingredients research.

The checkoff has attracted a talented stable of experts who bring a daily drive and scientific curiosity to the table that is refreshing and contagious. While so many people deserve a call-out, I want to recognize Dr. Juan Tricarico, who is DMI’s senior vice president of environmental research.

Juan is a highly recognized and respected expert on dairy cow nutrition and enteric fermentation. As a way of acknowledging his value and contributions in the U.S. and globally, DMI has bestowed Juan with the inaugural Distinguished Scientist designation, setting the table for more team members to be recognized in this manner.

And while we’re honoring Juan, we’re also saying good-bye to one of the checkoff’s most well-known scientists, Dr. Greg Miller, our very own “Dr. Dairy.” Greg has a well-earned retirement coming his way on May 1 after more than three decades as the lead science expert of NDC’s nutrition research program.

Greg is renowned for his commitment to nutrition and dairy’s nutrient-dense value. He has stood behind the science related to the benefits of dairy fat, dairy’s heart-healthy attributes, milk as a recovery drink and much more. And he’s done it on the international front as well, serving as chief global science officer for NDC, global dairy sector lead for nutritional security for Global Dairy Platform and representing the industry at the United Nations Food Systems Summit in 2021.

Greg has laid an amazing foundation and I am forever grateful for his efforts and how he always included the farmer story every place he went. We wish Dr. Dairy all the best in retirement!

Stronger emphasis

It’s exciting to see how the checkoff is pushing its chips forward with an even stronger emphasis and strategy on science and research in our Unified Marketing Plan.

The DMI Board of Directors and CEO Barbara O’Brien are seeking to make more bold moves and commitments, building upon one of the biggest home run moments of 2022 when we announced a collaboration with the renowned Mayo Clinic. Nutrition research is a key part of this work.

Back on the farm, we understand the need to continue building the case for dairy to be seen as an environmental solution. That’s why the work of the checkoff-founded Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy continues to be critical. Playing its role of convener, the Innovation Center is securing funding for research efforts that will help us be even better at what we do and provide the proof points important to consumers that dairy is produced in a way that is good for the planet.

The Innovation Center has secured nearly $35 million from known entities such as Nestlé, Starbucks, The Nature Conservancy, Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research, Walton Foundation and others to support advancing industry research, case studies and scaled adoption of best practices and technologies.

Nationwide scientific support

One other example of the checkoff’s tried-and-true strategy of working with partners has been occurring through the Dairy Foods Research Centers network. Farmers had the vision to create this resource 36 years ago and it serves as a cornerstone and complementary heavyweight to our product research team.

The checkoff provides the structure and oversight for more than 20 universities that comprise the network’s six regionally based centers. This system has supported more than 400 dairy companies with research-based solutions related to processing, food quality and safety, ingredients and other areas.

The DMI board recently visited the Southeast Dairy Foods Research Center at North Carolina State University where we met Dr. MaryAnne Drake, an internationally recognized dairy foods expert with a keen focus on flavoring. She led an interactive session to show how her team is helping lead the way with science-based innovations that will meet consumer demand and keep dairy competitive, including in the school milk arena.

Scientists such as Dr. Drake and those from our team are working every day on behalf of farmers to develop credible, breakthrough science and innovations that make a difference for dairy and for people and the planet.

And that appeals to the science nerds inside all of us.