Checkoff Team Makes Mark at World Dairy Summit

  • 4 min read October 30, 2023
  • Marilyn Hershey
  • DMI Chair

The dairy checkoff didn’t have to go far to be on a global stage recently. In fact, dairy industry representatives from across the world came to us!

For the first time in 30 years, the annual World Dairy Summit was on American soil with Chicago serving as the host city. More than 1,200 dairy leaders from 55 countries were here to unite and learn from one another and hear from farming peers, business leaders and various world-renowned experts over a four-day period.

Representatives from Dairy Management Inc. (DMI), National Dairy Council (NDC), Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy and U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC) were featured throughout the event to showcase their talents, knowledge and commitment to drive sales and trust on behalf of our U.S. dairy farm families.

The summit is hosted by the International Dairy Federation (IDF) and has leadership from our checkoff team. Serving as U.S.-IDF co-chairs from USDEC are Nick Gardner (senior vice president for sustainability and multilateral affairs) and Shawna Morris (executive vice president, trade policy and global affairs). In addition, Dr. Moises Torres-Gonzalez, vice president of nutrition research for NDC, serves as a technical lead for U.S.-IDF.

I became involved with the IDF farmers roundtable portion of this meeting several years ago and represented U.S. dairy previously in Turkey. I have stayed involved with these farmers from across the globe to share ideas and discuss the critical issues we face while seeking solutions to help us all. I always am amazed at how we are far more similar than we are different and how we all manage issues related to labor, climate regulations, animal care and more.

This year, Virginia farmer Joanna Shipp (chair of the National Dairy Promotion and Research Board), Missouri farmer Alex Peterson (USDEC chair) and California farmer Becky Nyman (USDEC vice chair) participated in the roundtable with about 60 farmers from 15 countries.

O’Brien stresses unity

DMI CEO and President Barb O’Brien was among the summit’s opening-day speakers, and she shared insights on how important global collaboration is to address priority areas, including:

  • Nutrition security around the world.
  • Continued investment in research to deepen and advance dairy’s health and wellness credentials.
  • Advancing progress within environmental sustainability

Barb said it best: “This work requires deeper global partnerships … and this is the place to forge those connections.”

One thing that was clear throughout the summit is that the U.S. dairy industry and our checkoff program are admired by many across the world, and we are seen as leaders. Our checkoff experts and farmer leaders were featured in many sessions, which included engagement with their international colleagues.

Some highlights included:

  • Gardner, Morris and USDEC colleague Will Loux participated in an economics-focused presentation that addressed U.S. market dynamics and areas of optimism.
  • Shipp moderated a panel addressing how farmers face increasingly complex expectations, including environment, animal welfare and economics, as part of the global food production system.
  • DMI’s Bill Graves, senior vice president of product science, led a panel discussion on the possibilities for dairy co-products to be upcycled, converted and used for microbial fermentation or bioconversion into desirable products.
  • Torres-Gonzalez moderated a discussion on how food recommendations are increasingly tailored to a person’s unique nutrient needs, which are influenced by individual health status.
  • Krysta Harden, president and CEO of USDEC, led a discussion on technologies and innovations the industry needs to enhance its environmental commitment, achieve climate goals and remain an essential part of a sustainable food system.
  • NDC Executive Vice President Dr. Katie Brown participated in a session that looked at how dairy is characterized in a variety of dietary guidelines around the world.
  • Finally, I joined a dialogue about the results of the 2021 United Nations Food Systems Summit, which explored promoting a more sustainable future regarding what we eat and how it is made.

There were about 70 U.S. farmers at the summit and one of the best parts was interacting with our international peers. It’s amazing how even a farmer from Kenya who has three cows shares the same goals of striving for improvements with animal care, environmental stewardship and all else that goes into producing milk.

The message of unity was emphasized by IDF President Piercristiano Brazzale and other organization leaders who released a declaration statement calling on governments, global organizations and the world’s food and beverage sector to support “Being Dairy.”

It’s a very fitting theme as the summit made it clear that whether someone is milking three cows or 3,000, the global dairy industry is going to need farms of all sizes and styles to thrive.