Center Focus Column

Remember You Are Important

I remember while I was growing, my parents had a framed poster hanging in their farm office with two boys, no more than five years old, dressed in bib overalls, farm shirts and baseball caps standing in a farm lane with the words above them, “You’ve been farming long?” Looking back on that now, it really demonstrates our deep connection to who we are as dairy farmers.

For most of us, dairy farming is our profession and our passion. It’s all we ever known, a heritage passed down from our parents and our grandparents. Lately, though, it’s difficult not to feel frustrated about the dairy industry. From the anti-dairy rhetoric that is out there, to the very low milk prices in the marketplace, to watching our neighbors and friends lose their milk market, there are plenty of reasons to doubt who we are and what we represent as dairy producers.

Don’t let those doubts cause you to lose faith.  Well-known NFL Referee Walt Coleman, who is also a partner at the Hiland Dairy processing facility in Arkansas, recently spoke at the Pennsylvania Dairy Summit and compared his experience as a NFL referee to that of being in the dairy industry. He jokingly shared stories of the hate mail he would get after each game he refereed and how ridiculous some of the comments about his referee skills and even about him as a person were. Through the laughter, though, he reminded us how important it is to keep things in perspective.

Coleman encouraged his audience to do three things to maintain that perspective: remember you are important, take time to laugh, and do the right thing. Even though his perspective was a little bit different than where we are now, I believe the three still have relevance in our current situation.

Nature’s Most Perfect Food

Dairy products offer the most complete nutritional package naturally available from any food. The naysayers can dispute that all they want, but the fact is that dairy has nine essential nutrients needed for health. For any other food to offer that powerful of a package, it must be supplemented with additives. A report released in 2013 by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations demonstrated this need.

The report cited how over the past decades per capita consumption of dairy products has grown rapidly in many of the developing countries. The FAO expects that trend to continue, with demand in the countries increasing 25 percent by 2025. The reason why, is because of milk’s significant nutrient value. As countries develop and have more disposable income, dairy proteins become in high demand.

In the United States, demand for many dairy products continues to increase. Cheese and butter consumption are increasing, and yogurt sales are still strong. The one category struggling the most is the fluid milk category, but even that is seeing some bright spots. Recent news about the importance of dairy fats is causing a resurgence of whole milk, with that being the only fluid milk category to post increases in sales over the past year.

Beyond nutrition, dairy farms play an incredibly valuable role in our local communities. You are the backbone of the community, providing valuable economic revenue and supporting good jobs for others in the community. In fact, the recent Pennsylvania Dairy Study documented that dairy contributes $14.7 billion in annual economic revenue and supports more than 52,000 jobs in the Commonwealth alone.

Our dairy farms also provide wide open spaces in a state where industrial and residential development is out of control. Those wide-open spaces allow for water filtration and preservation of our natural resources. They also attract tourists who enjoy the scenic beauty and culture of our rural communities.

Take Time to Laugh

The old adage that laughter is the best medicine is true. Right now it’s important to remember that what matters most is your health and your own personal well-being. Find ways to enjoy time with your family and laugh. It will help relieve stress and help you reflect on what matters most.

Finding ways to relieve stress and stay positive is important, especially in challenging times. If you do feel overwhelmed, find people you can lean on for guidance and support, whether it’s a loved one, friend, or your pastor. Don’t ever try to carry the burden on your own. They can help you keep moving forward, and that is half the battle.

Do the Right Thing

Our role as dairy farmers is important. It’s important to the people who consume our products, to the people who depend on our business, to the animals we care for, and to the land we tend. We need to stay focused on making sure we are doing that to the best of our ability. In periods of high stress, you hear stories of malnourished animals and poorly tended operations. Don’t lose sight of the things that matter most.

Also, it’s important we continue to tell our story. One of the positives I have seen arise from the current situation is how engaged our elected leaders are. County Commissioners, planning advisors, state legislators and even US Congressmen are calling our office wanting to know what can be done to bring more markets to Pennsylvania and to help the dairy farm families that are so important to the fabric of their communities. Although it may not always seem like it, we have a lot of people out there who want to help. It’s up to all of us to tell them how.

Whether you are at a school function, in church, at a community event or on social media, make sure you are taking every opportunity to demonstrate how much care you put into the products you produce. Encourage them to choose real dairy products and take advantage of its powerful nutritional package. Tell them where they can buy your products and how important buying local dairy products is. Most farmers are not marketers, but it’s up to all of us to tell our story and sell ourselves.

The Center for Dairy Excellence is working to put resources around farm families needing help during this downturn in the dairy cycle. If you would like someone to visit your farm and help you think through your options for your business, our Dairy Decisions Consultant Program can be an effective tool. If you are just feeling overwhelmed and need someone to listen, we have a network of people in place who understand agriculture and can provide counseling and support. Call us at 717-346-0849 to find out how we can help.

Editor’s Note:This column is written by Jayne Sebright, executive director for the Center for Dairy Excellence, and published monthly in the Lancaster Farming Dairy Reporter