Held Jan. 19-20, at the Monona Terrace in Madison, Wisconsin, the event fostered an atmosphere of education and inspiration through sessions, networking and a trade show.
The first day of Dairy Strong, which was emceed by Progressive Dairy’s Peggy Coffeen, welcomed keynote speakers who brought motivation to the main stage. Ryan Estis, a business performance expert and entrepreneur, challenged farmers and other business owners to embrace disruption on their own terms, look for opportunities and be strong leaders. Adapting to change and thriving in a volatile environment like that of the past two years is crucial, Estis said, and farmers must be catalysts for change as markets and day-to-day operations shift frequently.
“In business, we all must disrupt ourselves before others have a chance to do it to us,” Estis said.
Attendees also listened to a story of resilience as speaker and author John O’Leary shared how his survival after being severely burned as a child placed him on a path to inspire others to live a life of gratitude and meaning.
“Our jobs as leaders are to bring the head together with the heart,” he said. “We also must remind others they are loved and worthy and ask ourselves: What more can we do? We need to give the world examples to live up to.”
Topics covered in breakout sessions included renewable natural gas, carbon strategies and the latest in technology to improve animal health and on-farm management.
Dairy policy, supply chain and federal programs
On the final day of the event, the focus shifted to agriculture and dairy policy. Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers (D) made an appearance and underscored the importance of investing in the state’s dairy industry. Kansas Congressman Mike Pompeo (R) also provided insights from having served as secretary of state under President Donald Trump.
Three viewpoints were shared on the supply chain crisis, providing insights from dairy beyond the farm gate, by Scott Sexton, Dairy.com; Chad Vincent, CEO of Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin; and Craig Culver, retired CEO of Culver’s Franchising System (Culver’s fast food restaurant company).
Participating in a cross-country trip to communicate with producers on federal dairy programs, Dana Coale, deputy administrator of the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service Dairy Program, provided an update on policy issues.
Coale said most producers waiting on Pandemic Market Volatility Assistance Program (PMVAP) payments should receive them by the end of February. Announced last August, the program was designed to reimburse dairy producers with up to $350 million for unanticipated financial losses created during the COVID-19 pandemic, when the change to the Class I mover price formula and federal food box purchases weighted heavily toward cheese combined to create significant losses for some producers. Under the original timeline, payments were scheduled to be distributed in December.
Coale also noted discussions regarding the Federal Milk Marketing Order (FMMO) system continue to heat up. As a veteran of the USDA’s dairy programs, Coale prefers to define any potential changes to the FMMO system as “modifications” and not necessarily reaching the level of wholesale reforms. While there are issues impacting dairy producers and processors across all FMMOs, there are also regional issues that may impact individual or multiple FMMOs based on geography and market characteristics.
Whether modifying or reforming FMMOs, the process will take upward of 12 to 18 months, she said.
Citing comments by U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack, Coale said modifications to the FMMO system will require a consensus within the dairy industry. She noted that it was up to dairy producer organizations to initiate the FMMO hearing process.
With both a potential FMMO hearing and the upcoming 2023 Farm Bill, “Right now we’re at a prime point in time for [producers] to get engaged; you can get involved,” Coale said.
DBA Advocacy Award presented to the late Jerry Meissner
It was a bittersweet moment as the Meissner family accepted the Dairy Business Association’s Advocate of the Year award on behalf of Jerry, who passed away recently due to an illness. Jerry was made aware of the award before his passing.
“We’ve learned so many things from Dad and he’s shaped our lives in so many ways,” Josh Meissner said as he accepted the award on his father’s behalf.
Jerry, who farmed in Clark County, was a founding member and past president of DBA and helped create a sister organization, Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative.
The award was presented by Bob Hagenow, on behalf of Vita Plus. Also recognized on stage was the 2021 Advocacy Award winner, Mitch Breunig. Breunig owns Mystic Valley Dairy LLC, Sauk City, Wisconsin.
Board members re-elected
Members of the Dairy Business Association re-elected three directors to its board during the group’s annual business meeting at DBA’s Dairy Strong Conference.
The three board members are Steve Bodart, Compeer Financial; Kevin Collins, dairy farmer, Collins Dairy LLC, Greenleaf, Wisconsin; and Bob Nagel, partner and manager of Holsum Dairies, Hilbert, Wisconsin.
PHOTO 1: Dairy producer and DBA President Amy Penterman welcomed guests to Dairy Strong 2022.
PHOTO 2: Josh Meissner received the DBA Advocacy Award on behalf of his late father, Jerry Meissner. Jerry was a founding member and past president of DBA and helped create a sister organization, Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative. Photos courtesy of Dairy Business Association.