Sustainability Awards Program Delivers Wins for All of Dairy

  • 3 min read July 15, 2021
  • Marilyn Hershey
  • DMI Chair

We don’t farm for recognition or to win awards. Earning a plaque for the office wall isn’t the goal. Dairy farmers just aren’t wired that way. In fact, we all know farmers who are most comfortable far from the spotlight.

However, there are some awards I want to acknowledge that reached a milestone this year and have delivered many benefits for the industry.

A happy 10-year anniversary to the U.S. Dairy Sustainability Awards, which were created by the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy! The program recognizes exceptional farms, businesses and partnerships for their socially responsible, economically viable and environmentally sound practices and technologies that have a broad and positive impact.

Nearly 80 winners from more than 270 nominees have been recognized over the past decade, including our new 2021 class.

Given it’s an anniversary year, I’d like to reflect on how I feel this awards program benefits the U.S. dairy industry and how winners demonstrate excellence in sustainability and contribute to the industrywide 2050 Environmental Stewardship Goals.

I see three main ways and I’ll start with consumers. We know the value of sharing dairy’s sustainability story with the people who are in the grocery stores making purchase decisions. The “how” of food production matters as much – and maybe more – than a food’s nutritional benefits to a growing part of our population, especially millennials and Gen Z. People want to feel good about the industries they support, and our award winners offer tangible stories of how dairy increases food security, enhances the earth’s natural resources, demonstrates animal care, develops a highly skilled workforce and makes various community contributions. It also should be noted that these winners have appeal to non-industry media outlets and coverage from mainstream reporters has been generated over the years.

Next, I think our checkoff foodservice partners, such as McDonald’s, Taco Bell and Domino’s, and other dairy companies that we work with through the Innovation Center, benefit. They are creating finished products for consumers and their ability to showcase how the dairy supply chain is producing food in a way that is good for society (see above) is a key selling point for them. Our winners are visible proof points that matter to our partners’ customers and they showcase these stories via their communications channels.

Finally, the awards help us as farmers. I’ve yet to meet a farmer who doesn’t enjoy learning from another farmer. There is nothing like a peer-to-peer exchanging of ideas and having the ability to learn and maybe even borrow practices from someone else. One of the common threads I have seen in our farmer winners is the importance of paying attention to details and that the small things matter. Our winners offer a deep library of proven, scalable, on-farm successes that all of us can learn from.

In fact, you can check out our archives to see each class of winners and learn more about their environmental commitments, on the farm and in the processing plant.

The thing about naming winners is it also means there are those who didn’t win. In my book, and certainly in the book of those who manage this program, there really are no losers. There often are fine lines of separation between someone who earned an award and someone who didn’t.

So, while I celebrate the winners, I acknowledge that our industry is filled with examples of people, farms and companies that are living up to the principles of this program. An award is not necessary to validate the great work happening across our entire industry.

The U.S. Dairy Sustainability Awards program has an established foundation that has it positioned for many more years of success. It’s always an exciting and prideful time for me when each class is announced. The winners are inspiring, and they shine a light on the true spirit of the U.S. dairy industry.

When they win, we all win.