Young Farmers Share Insights on Why ‘Dairy Transformation’ Matters

  • 4 min read February 18, 2021
  • Marilyn Hershey
  • DMI Chair

While Duane and I are not retiring anytime soon, the reality is that we’re closer to it than some of our peers around the country. I often think about what the future will hold for dairy farmers who are in the early stages of their career.

This is why the checkoff-led Dairy Transformation work that looks to 2030 and beyond is so critical. The intent is to project strategies that will allow our industry to remain viable and give younger farmers a chance to continue enjoying their livelihood.

It’s crucial that we listen to many voices with this work and farmers are an important part of these meetings. We intentionally invited some of the younger generation to participate and I’m always excited to hear their feedback and ideas and to see their energy and hope for dairy’s future.

I have asked three younger generation farmers to share some of their insights on Dairy Transformation.

Ashley Messing-Kennedy (Michigan):
It’s been 15 years since I started college. In that time, the dairy industry went from being a really great career choice to something where people are now asking, “Are you sure you want to do this?” Things are hard but this is why Dairy Transformation is so important. If things continue the way they are, we’ll only have a handful of famers left in each state and that’s doing a disservice to our industry. Dairy Transformation can help assure I can have a future and my kids, if they choose to, can also have a future. It’s important that we sit down and recognize the future has potential, but we need to be the ones who create it instead of letting someone else dictate it for us.

The Dairy Transformation meetings are some of the most fascinating gatherings I’ve been part of. I grew up in an environment where learning is power. I get excited when I hear people talk about technology that may seem unrelated to dairy, but someone suggests opportunities and ways farmers can benefit. It’s about thinking outside the box; how can the situation and technology apply to us? It can if all of us get on board and go with it. We can’t fight it. We want to have our say and we need a seat at the table. Others won’t represent our best interests.

I’m really excited for the future. The industry may look very different but that isn’t a bad thing.

Alex Peterson (Missouri):
My uncle Mike had a good sense of humor and a very green thumb. I once asked him when the best time to plant a tree was, and he quickly said 20 years ago, with a smile. Hindsight is 20/20, but foresight requires a lot of squint time and head scratching. We greatly benefit today as a result of dairy leaders of yesteryear sowing the seeds that created promotion, the U.S. Dairy Export Council, the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, Fuel Up to Play 60, etc. Dairy Transformation is our process of convening the best minds in and around dairy to find the most critical and fruitful opportunities that warrant our focus.

I don’t want you to presume that this is just a marketing study. This process has brought tremendous input and buy-in from new and existing partners from throughout the dairy chain in addition to many others whose time, talent and resources will aid dairy greatly. Let me paint a picture of one case in point. We likely have the ability to be, not just carbon neutral, but regenerative in many ways to the Earth. That makes sense in an industry where we measure farms by generations of those tending them. We all work hard to leave our land better for our families. If we could develop a process to verify being regenerative, then we could set the pace for consumers and dictate more of our future.

With purpose we will strategically plant new, prune those that need reshaped, harvest the mature, and remove the unproductive as we create inspiring new futures for U.S. Dairy.

Tyler Ribeiro (California):
The work of 2030 is something I have never seen before but have always wanted. It’s about looking into the future, playing offense and having a game plan instead of being retroactive and trying to change the past. This mind frame is what will propel the dairy industry into a brighter future. As the world continues to progress in more rapid form thanks to technology and social media, we as an industry need to not only keep up with the changing times to stay relevant but stay united as we move forward into the future. The 2030 movement has both attributes.

My optimism comes as I look at our leaders in the industry. Not only those who hold board seats and CEO roles but those who actively advocate for the dairy industry daily. More now than ever, we as a dairy industry have started sharing our story with shameless pride. We love our story and we want to share it while connecting with those who wish to listen. Our leaders dictate dairy’s perception and goals and therefore its future. We are seeing more and more leaders rise up, ready to take a stand and make a change toward our future. Tired of the same old song-and-dance, our up-and-coming leaders are ready to propel this industry into the future.