Seven or eight years ago, I had no idea what Dairy Management Inc. (DMI) was or what it did.

I previously served on the Tillamook County Creamery Association board for more than 20 years and have been on the board of our state-based checkoff group, the Oregon Dairy and Nutrition Council, for 10 years. I’ve always had a great understanding of the checkoff-led work done here in Oregon but, when it came to DMI, I had no connection to or understanding of this part of my investment.

That all changed when I was elected by my fellow farmers to the United Dairy Industry Association in 2013. UDIA and the National Dairy Promotion and Research Board comprise the DMI board. In time, I began to see how DMI led a larger strategy, one designed to build trust and demand for our products, not just here but around the world.

DMI turns 25 this year, and I can say it’s a milestone all dairy farmers can feel good about celebrating.

Power of partners

I’m often asked which part of DMI’s work stands out the most to me, and I respond that it’s our foodservice partnerships. Working with McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, Domino’s, KFC and others really makes a difference for us. Collectively speaking, these partnerships have grown U.S. dairy sales by a combined 2.2 billion milk equivalent pounds and averaged 3% growth.


Being a board member gives me an inside look at the strategy and people who work on our behalf with these partners. We have dairy scientists and other DMI experts working side by side with these powerful companies representing our interests at their headquarters. Their efforts have resulted in many dairy-centric items offered across their menus and even at non-partner companies that “follow the leaders.”

Our partners’ top executives come to board meetings to provide insights and share how working with dairy farmers helps their business strategy. There always is a true sense of partnership and mutual respect when we meet.

As much as we’ve already accomplished, there is more to come from our partners. For example, we’re taking the model that has worked so well here and applying it in other countries where our partners are opening the door for U.S. dairy.

In fact, we had a treat at a recent board meeting when some Domino’s executives brought boxes of the “New Yorker 1kg Ultra Cheese,” a product of Domino’s Pizza Japan, for us to sample. Talk about a company upping its cheese game! Each pizza is topped with 2.2 pounds of cheese, the most cheese Domino’s Japan has ever put on a pizza. And all of the cheese is sourced from U.S. suppliers.

The international marketplace may seem like a million miles away, but I can’t stress how key it is to our future, no matter where you farm. We need to remember that 95% of the world’s population lives beyond our borders. Many countries are experiencing a rise in middle-class income levels and, as that occurs, the quality of their diets improves. This presents a significant opportunity for U.S. dairy.

USDEC on right track

It’s because of this potential I want to recognize the work of the U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC), an organization that was founded by DMI. USDEC conducts trade missions to countries where there is much unmet demand for our products.

USDEC has people on the ground in these countries who understand cultures and languages and can help keep us competitive. It’s why I’m optimistic about “The Next 5%” plan, a USDEC-led effort to increase the volume of U.S. dairy exports from the equivalent of 15% of U.S. milk solids to 20%. We’re well on our way, and I think there is great opportunity to make it happen.

Serving on the DMI board has become a very interesting and rewarding part of my life. I’m excited about the things I hear at the meetings and seeing the forward vision DMI is leading.

What I especially like is: DMI truly represents the voice of the farmer. We direct how and where our money is being invested. And I can confidently say we are moving more milk. That doesn’t mean the hard times won’t come, but checkoff efforts – locally and nationally – are working to put us in a position to not just survive but thrive over the long run.

I suspect that five years from now, DMI will be a much different organization than it is today – and that’s OK. DMI has shown it’s a progressive organization, always open to evolving to best serve the needs of farmers. With the local checkoff teams, we are working as one plan, one team, one voice across the nation.

Dairy farmers are counting on these collective checkoff efforts to keep us in the game and to continue delivering results.  end mark

Steve Neahring
  • Steve Neahring

  • Oregon Dairy Farmer
  • Oregon Dairy Farmer

Your Dairy Checkoff in Action – The following update is provided by Dairy Management Inc. (DMI), which manages the national dairy checkoff program on behalf of America’s dairy farmers and dairy importers. DMI is the domestic and international planning and management organization responsible for increasing sales of and demand for dairy products and ingredients.