Almost 1,000 people attended the return of the dairy industry’s premier conference for large-herd dairies. The Western Dairy Management Conference was held November 2021 in Reno, Nevada.
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Editor and Podcast Host / Progressive Dairy

Dairies that milk more than 750,000 of the nation’s cows were in attendance. The conference was postponed from this spring due to challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Considering all the issues with holding a conference in this environment, it was a success. When you consider the impact of COVID-19 and the dairy economy, we were extremely blessed to be able to bring the industry together,” Kansas State professor, extension educator and conference organizer Mike Brouk said.

New DMI CEO introduced to the industry

The conference was the first public appearance of new Dairy Management Inc. CEO Barb O’Brien. She led a panel discussing the vision for the dairy checkoff’s future efforts.

“The dairy checkoff is in touch with what is happening in the marketplace and around the world,” O’Brien said. “I’m here to listen and to take in your thoughts and input in order to take the dairy checkoff to the next level. … Know that we are prepared to make changes, to look at new solutions and make hard choices about how we most effectively invest your checkoff dollars.”


O’Brien said she will work to bring more integration across the dairy checkoff’s many organizations. She aims to increase communication between farmers and checkoff staff. Her attendance at Western Dairy Management Conference was the kick-off of a listening tour during which she will hear directly from farmers. She reiterated her interest in hearing their thoughts and concerns.

“Communication starts with listening,” O’Brien said.

She explained the framework for how checkoff dollars will be spent during her tenure. Eighty-five percent of checkoff investment – both in people and in finances – will be focused on “the here and now, delivering results in the year in which you invest.” Ten percent of investment will be spent on growth opportunities obtainable in one to three years. And only 5% will be spent on longer-term opportunities.

O’Brien took questions from producers in the audience to close the session.

‘Win with integrity’

Motivational speaker Ross Bernstein presented the keynote presentation about how to adopt what great sports teams and athletes do to elevate the performance of a dairy owner or manager to a championship level. He interviewed more than 1,000 champions from across professional sports during his career as a sports journalist. He presented his tips for upgrading dairy leadership from good to great.

“Win with integrity – you’ll be tempted to take shortcuts along the way,” Bernstein said. “But being a champion is about doing the little things the right way.”

Those little things include having passion for what you do, how you do it and doing it consistently. He challenged producers to think long and hard about their legacy and who is making sure everybody on their farm is doing the right thing.

The overall predictor of success, Bernstein said, is the quality of the relationships you have. He challenged attendees to consider why others should choose to do business with them.

“There’s a whole team behind you that didn’t get to come to this conference. Take care of them. Treat them right,” Bernstein said. “Remember, individuals win games, but it takes a team to win a championship.”

The next Western Dairy Management Conference will be held Feb. 28 through March 2, 2023 in Reno, Nevada. end mark