Held at the historic French Lick Resort on Feb. 7-8, the 2023 Indiana Dairy Forum was highlighted by three keynote speakers, a variety of breakout sessions, the Indiana Dairy Producers (IDP) business meeting, award presentations and time for networking throughout the two-day meeting.

Devaney kimmi
Editor and Podcast Host / Progressive Dairy

Sustainability continues to be a key theme at dairy conferences across the nation, and Fabian Bernal, head of sustainability at DeLaval, kicked off the conference with a keynote titled “Are we winning the war for hearts, minds and shopping carts?” 

“I believe that we are at a moment of great change in the food industry,” Bernal said. “And with this great change, the dairy industry has a key component, and that’s nutrient density. Nutrient density is exactly what the world is looking for. We are gaining consumers’ hearts in two areas – energy and nutrient density.”

He discussed some of the findings of the multiple reports that showed health considerations, nutrient density, transparency and sustainability are most important to consumers. One of those reports was Rabobank’s Reducing Gas Emissions in the Dairy Value Chain report, which states “The dairy industry is facing increasing demand for sustainable milk production and emissions reduction. Despite differences in farming systems, most greenhouse gas emissions originate on the farm. These emissions are categorized as direct, scope 1 emissions for farmers, but they also contribute to the scope 3 emissions of the dairy processors and retailers who purchase milk. To increase the momentum of emissions reduction in the dairy industry, three important steps need to be taken: alignment between government and industry targets to overcome (sometimes unnecessary) layers of complexity; industry acceptance of the need to accelerate emissions reduction and prepare for this transition; and industry and government incentives to increase adoption rates of on-farm mitigation levers among farmers.”

“Sustainable products are a must … and 50 percent of consumers in the U.S. consider sustainability when making a purchasing decision about dairy,” Bernal said. “When we talk about sustainability today, it not only involves the environmental side, but also the societal and economical sides. We need to involve all [three] parts of it as we talk about and plan for a sustainable dairy future.”


Breakout sessions on both days explored bi-modal milking, maximizing the benefit from records, milkfat, feeding efficiency, inflammation in fresh cows, effective delegation and areas where successful dairies excel.

Day two featured two keynotes – the first from Don Tyler from Tyler & Associates, a management and executive coaching firm, and a closing presentation by Trey Mock, who is most known as the Indianapolis Colts’ mascot, “Blue.”

Tyler provided many tips for improving family business communication, including general rules for communication technology, strategies for improving communication, tips for holding effective and efficient meetings, and techniques for handling conflict.

“If you are talking, you probably aren’t listening,” he said. “Listen closely [when others are speaking] and allow for periods of silence in the conversation to allow people to think. [Instead of trying to cover multiple topics at once], also consider working on one issue at a time and holding the people involved in the discussion accountable to this. Summarizing the discussion prior to making decisions can also help keep everyone on the same page.”

He also presented some basic rules for using communication technology, such as phones, email and basic face-to-face communication.

“Consider the personal preferences of each person and come to a consensus as to what is the best use for texting, email, phone calls, voicemail messages and face-to-face communication,” Tyler added. “Which situations and conversations should utilize which methods? Being on the same page is helpful, especially when people in the group have different communication preferences and styles.”

Conflict is bound to arise at some point when working with others, and Tyler delivered some pointers during his presentation for de-escalating these situations. He highlighted the importance of taking personal responsibility and suggested slowing down, lowering the volume, taking a breath or a break, asking questions, clarifying the other person’s position, ensuring you know exactly what the other person wants, using only first-hand information without assumptions or hearsay, confirming the accuracy of information, and considering if you are talking about what is best for the company or best for the individual.

In the closing keynote, Mock discussed how the Indianapolis Colts – and he as their mascot – connect with fans on social media and at in-person events and how they have partnered with the state’s dairy checkoff program, the American Dairy Association Indiana, to reach consumers with dairy farming and dairy foods stories and information.

American Dairy Association Indiana CEO Jenni Browning said they are “thrilled to consider Blue part of [their] dairy team and excited to see what other viral social media dairy moments he’ll produce next.” In addition to Blue’s school show, Browning’s team worked with Blue to create a YouTube video comparing the number of foods needed to equal the 13 essential nutrients found in a glass of milk and also developed the “Milk from farm to calf-eteria” video featuring Blue’s visits to a dairy farm and milk processing plant. 

“The Indianapolis Colts are so well known in Indiana, and when we started working with Blue on various campaigns and activations, we realized that Blue is often more popular than the players,” Browning said. “With the opportunity to work in tandem on his school show development, social media posts and even some appearances, American Dairy Association Indiana has been able to share the importance of dairy nutrition and dairy farm information with hundreds of thousands of people.”

IDP business meeting

IDP President Arie de Jong welcomed everyone to the IDP annual meeting after breakfast on Feb. 8 and recognized current board members and staff.

During elections, Carrie Jo Bollenbacher, representing northern Indiana; and Alex Lueken, representing southern Indiana, were reelected to second terms while Jacob Achen was elected to fill the at-large position as Emily Hoeing finished her second term.

Executive Director Steve Obert highlighted activities from the past year, including policy discussions with legislators and other key decision-makers.

“Indiana Dairy Producers was very involved in the discussions about federal milk marketing modernization,” Obert said. “Secretary Vilsack has been pretty adamant that he’s not going to tackle any modernization efforts without having consensus within the industry, and I think on the producer side, there is consensus on some of the changes that need to be made. 

"Another thing we were quite involved in is the Farm Workforce Modernization Act. I made several trips to D.C. in support of that legislation. I think it’s important and all of us realize the critical nature of those who work on our farms, support our families and the success of our dairy farm businesses, and we know there needs to be an improvement in the legal framework that can bring workers to our farms. In the end, when we peel back the political layers of this issue, when we get into our rural communities, and we have 1.5 percent unemployment in these communities, we do not have the workers on our farm that are needed, and our farmers do not want to bring in workers that are not properly documented. So we have to lean on our legislators in order to get a framework in which we can bring in good people that can build our cultures, our farms and help our teams take care of our animals,” he said.

The board is also updating their strategic plan; the last version was updated in 2014. New this year is the addition of a value statement (Figure 1).

57071-devaney-obert-fg1.jpgPhoto by Kimmi Devaney

Scholarship and award presentations

Each year, IDP selects two farm families for their producer of the year awards. This year, Charlie and Margaret Carter from Carterly Farm Inc. in Thorntown were honored with the Indiana Dairy Producer of the Year Award, and Steve and Abbie Herr of Herr Dairy Farm Inc. in Kendallville received the Young Dairy Producer of the Year Award.

Additionally, Jacqueline Mudd was announced as the IDP Scholarship recipient, and Sophia Bollenbacher was awarded the Alan Kuehnert Scholarship.