It’s Not Your Dad’s Checkoff

Published on Tue, 07/19/2016 - 3:15pm

By Lucas Lentsch, CEO, Midwest Dairy Association

I have about 60 days under my belt as CEO of Midwest Dairy Association, and while I knew it was a big job when I accepted it, discovering just how big the job is has been part of experiencing this new role.Midwest Dairy manages the checkoff program for 10 states in our region. Like other state and regional organizations of the checkoff, we are expected to do our very best with dairy farmers’ investment. In this new role, I am very quickly seeing the depth of checkoff programming, both within Midwest Dairy and across the country.While I’m fortunate to step into a position of leadership at Midwest Dairy, it’s clear the credit for what’s been accomplished goes to dairy farmer board members and the staff who deliver on expectations at all levels of the checkoff. It’s exciting to learn what checkoff has accomplished over the 30-plus years since it began in 1984, and see that today’s work is more relevant than ever. Clearly, it’s not your dad and mom’s checkoff anymore. Just as dairy farmers have improved the tools and technology used on dairies, our approach to reaching consumers is being reinvented, while building on what’s been done in the past.For example, the reputation of the checkoff in the health and wellness community, through Dairy Council, is strong. It’s been accomplished by promoting good nutrition — period — rather than just marketing dairy. Through your current program, Fuel Up to Play 60, we are taking things a step further. Many health and wellness leaders are endorsing the program. Even the USDA is working with us to award grants to schools who need equipment to grow their meal programs. When more school meals are served, more dairy is sold.
Work like this speaks to the greater good — healthier children. That’s a language everyone in the health and wellness community is speaking. It’s hard to estimate the value of dairy farmers leading that discussion, through their checkoff, but we know it’s irreplaceable — nobody is more credible than you, the dairy farmer.Even with what we’re accomplishing with today’s dairy checkoff, we have to be willing to change – to engage quickly to meet the ever-changing consumer and dairy industry profile. We can’t take for granted the need to refresh ourselves, anticipating the long-term needs of dairy farmers to sell their product and acting on those needs.
As a new face in the dairy checkoff, I view myself as a steward of dairy farmers’ investment. It’s my role, and the role of checkoff staff and board members, to see that your dollars are invested wisely and we do our business in a transparent manner. Moving forward, I’d like nothing more than to have regular dialogue with the dairy farmers we serve. It’s an honor to work for you — thank you for the opportunity.

Lucas Lentsch became CEO of Midwest Dairy Association in June, following the retirement of Mike Kruger, who served the organization and its predecessor groups for 35 years. Lucas was most recently the secretary of agriculture for South Dakota, after having spent his junior high and high school years on a dairy farm and studying agriculture/dairy science at South Dakota State University.