‘Dairy Transformation’ Work Keeps Our Eye on the Future

  • 3 min read February 2, 2021
  • Marilyn Hershey
  • DMI Chair

I totally understand living in the moment as a farmer. We have cows, land, people and our businesses to manage. And then there’s the needs of our families and ourselves on top of that. The days can speed by in a nonstop blur.

But while we’re caught up in the day-to-day business of our farms, we cannot take our eyes off tomorrow.

Thankfully, our team at Dairy Management Inc. (DMI) and leaders of the checkoff-founded Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy are doing just that for us with our Dairy Transformation plan, which we originally referred to as “Dairy 2030.”

One of the biggest learnings of last year was to see just how quickly change can happen and how people will adapt to it. Can you imagine how differently our world will be nine years from now? What will the dairy industry look like?

Our 2030 work has been in motion for more than a year and a half. We began by surrounding ourselves with experts, including futurists who study consumer trends and make projections. We want to understand how people will engage with technology and food and how they intersect. We’re also working with 15 CEOs from leading companies outside of the dairy industry to learn from them and the path they’re following to see if it makes sense to apply those learnings to us.

Along the way, we have taken a hard look at ourselves and had to acknowledge that we have been behind in some areas as an industry, particularly when it comes to innovation with our products. But we’ve also validated that we’re following the right trends, especially with e-commerce. Checkoff-led initiatives with food delivery services such as Peapod and now Amazon are meeting growing consumer acceptance of home delivery of groceries that was accelerated during the COVID-19 crisis.

We also learned we are ahead of the game with another important aspect: our generations-long story of caring for our cows and our land. Consumers, especially younger generations such as Gen Z, make purchase decisions on a punish/reward scale. If they feel an industry or a company isn’t living up to the standards they believe in – particularly when it comes to sustainability – they not only will avoid buying those products, they’ll call them out on their social media channels. Sometimes, rather harshly.

Conversely, if they see an industry doing things they align with, they’ll become a loyal supporter. This is another reason why the industrywide 2050 environmental stewardship goals are a critical step for us.

I understand much of Dairy Transformation can seem abstract and a little mind stretching. It is a lot to soak in. The technological aspect of our fast-paced world is something I continue to wrestle with. I’m from the generation that didn’t grow up with technologies that are now an everyday part of life.

That’s why I am encouraged that younger dairy farmers are part of our Dairy Transformation meetings and committees. Farmers such as Ashley Messing-Kennedy (Michigan), Alex Peterson (Missouri) and Tyler Ribeiro (California) participate and offer their valuable insights.

These young famers have no apprehension about the future and technology. Technology has been a big part of their lives and they look forward to what the future holds. It gives me hope to see their hope. I plan to bring their insights into this space so you can hear their thoughts on Dairy Transformation.

So, while we all are busy in the moment, take some time to think about tomorrow and beyond. And know that the checkoff and others through the Innovation Center are surrounding us with the right experts on this journey.

I’m confident we’ll emerge with a road map that will provide clarity and a place of relevance for dairy, not just for 2030 but beyond.