Building a Path Forward for Dairy

Published on Tue, 05/24/2016 - 3:52pm

By Larry Shover, dairy farmer, Delhi, Iowa

There’s no doubt our dairy industry has changed dramatically in the last 20 years. Both the challenges we face and the way we meet those challenges are often very different than a couple of decades ago. Using that hindsight, we can guess that the next 20 years will bring more change.

For starters, there is the misinformation about what we do and how we do it, distributed more broadly because of social media and its reach. Then there are the changing rural communities, where there is less livestock and therefore, often less acceptance of dairies that grow to meet family needs and business goals.

Secondly, the distribution of the milk business has changed dramatically. Nearly everywhere I go these days, dairy farmers are concerned about processing capacity and the ability to send their milk to market in the near term. While domestic demand is growing and global demand is expected to grow substantially in the next 10 years, it’s difficult for the industry to figure out how to get from where we are now to where we want to be down the road.

And then there is the question of what our consumer will want to eat and drink as the millennials come of age and the babies of today develop their own tastes and food preferences. Can we figure that out now and begin to plan for it?

We need industry collaboration and cooperation to meet all three of these challenges. While each region of the country might have a different perspective, I can tell you that in the Midwest, we’re trying to approach the future by planning for it now.

Led by Midwest Dairy Association and a variety of other stakeholder groups, we launched an initiative called A Path Forward in 2014. It reflects three areas of work: our social license to operate our dairy farms, researching consumption trends and whether we can adjust what we produce in order to meet projected demand, and the dairy development needed in farm siting and processor growth to make sure we can be a reliable supplier and maintain market share.

Moving those efforts forward takes real work, and getting dairy stakeholders on the same page. In my state, for example, Dairy Iowa is an initiative where we all sit down together to figure out the priorities. In fact, our next event, on June 14 in Waverly, Iowa, will include hearing projections about processing and plant capacity, along with the demand for dairy protein, from Dr. Marin Bozic, associate director of the Midwest Dairy Foods Research Center.

We’ve got a lot to do in order to build a promising future for dairy. From my perspective, dairy farmers need to be part of the construction.

Larry Shover and his wife, Nancy, milk 100 cows and operate an independent 120-sow farrow-to-finish hog business, along with growing corn, soybeans, oats, hay and pasture near Delhi, Iowa. Their son, Todd, is also involved.