I'm proud to carry forward checkoff's mission on behalf of our farmers

  • 4 min read June 13, 2018
  • Marilyn Hershey
  • DMI Chair

I’ve been involved with dairy promotion for as long as I can remember, even going back to my high school days with the dairy princess program in Pennsylvania.

Promoting our industry and telling our story is my passion, whether I’m speaking at a local Rotary meeting, visiting a school or having people out to our farm.

Becoming a board officer of the dairy promotion checkoff was a natural progression, so I got involved with the Mid-Atlantic Dairy Association (now American Dairy Association North East). That led to serving on the board of Dairy Management Inc. (DMI) and working with the national dairy checkoff.

Seeing the dairy checkoff up close has opened my eyes to its value and effectiveness. Our state and regional system working in conjunction with the DMI staff is a powerful value to dairy farmers.

We have been fortunate to have Paul Rovey serve as chairman of DMI for 15 years. Paul guided a very successful period of the checkoff that saw the launch of our partnership program with global companies such as McDonald’s, Domino’s, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and others. We also enhanced our presence in schools with Fuel Up to Play 60, and we united the industry like never before through the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy. Paul’s impact will continue to be appreciated, and his legacy is secure.

When Paul announced he would step down at the end of last year, I put some serious thought and prayer into running for the chair position. I received support from my peers and my husband, Duane, knowing my commitment to such an important role would impact our farm’s day-to-day operations.

Marilyn Hershey near Ar-Joy Farm sign

It just seemed like the right time for me, and I am so fortunate to have been elected chair in February. I’m only the third person to hold this role – and the first woman. That distinction is special to me and to several female farmers who congratulated me after I was elected. I am grateful for their support.

But I know my responsibility has a broader purpose, which is to be the voice of all 40,000 dairy farmers across the U.S. It’s a charge I take very seriously, especially amid such a challenging economic climate that has caused too many farmers and friends to leave the industry.

I feel very good about the checkoff’s direction, and one of my goals is to make sure farmers understand the value of their 15- cent investment. I’m hearing from more farmers now, and I like that they’re calling and saying, “Tell me about the checkoff.”

I’d like to share some thoughts on three checkoff priorities:

  • Partnerships – We must continue working with our partners to create more opportunities, as we have historically done. Partners are giving us a great return on our investment, including spending their own dollars to promote and advertise our products. One indirect value farmers don’t always see is how our partners impact other restaurants chains we don’t work with. For example, you see others copy McDonald’s by shifting to using butter instead of margarine and pizza companies showcasing cheese as the key ingredient. This is a result of them copying something we put into place through McDonald’s, Domino’s, Pizza Hut or Taco Bell. Each of our partners is unique, but the final goal is to move more dairy, and they’re delivering on that. Moving forward, we are looking overseas to see who we can partner with globally.
  • Fuel Up to Play 60 – Our work in schools is another passion of mine. National Dairy Council has partnered with an iconic entity in the NFL to bring dairy’s health and wellness message into more than 70,000 schools. Combining NDC and NFL resources is a perfect match, and it’s helping move more dairy through schools with enhanced breakfast offerings and other programs. Kids are understanding the importance of good nutrition at a young age, and that’s critical to our industry’s future.
  • Consumer confidence in dairy – It’s so critical how we tell our story today. Our ability to communicate has changed drastically the last 15 years as people are glued to their phones. This generation doesn’t even watch TV the way we did. They’re watching Hulu or Netflix or something that does not have a regular commercial.

The way people are looking at information is very different, so we constantly ask ourselves, “How do we best tell our story and get it out there?” That’s what we’re doing through Undeniably Dairy on social media. People want to see short video clips. It’s a new kind of commercial, a new way to put ourselves in front of people.

I’m fortunate to inherit a strong foundation from the work Paul and so many other dairy checkoff leaders did for many years. My job is to make sure we continue building and seeking new opportunities that make sense for us. Along the way, we want to make sure you, the dairy farmer, understand our strategy and, more important, how it’s making a difference for you.

I’m proud to represent our nation’s dairy farmers as we continue the checkoff’s mission of growing demand for U.S. dairy and building confidence in the people behind the products.

If you have a question or comment about the dairy checkoff, please send an email to talktomarilyn@dairy.org or leave a comment below.

This article was originally posted in Progressive Dairyman.