Alan Bjerga: Hello and welcome to Dairy Defined. NNPF board chairman, Randy Mooney, a dairy farmer near Rogersville, Missouri, last week spoke at NNPF’s annual meeting held in Denver. We join him discussing dairy’s triumphs of the past year and its challenges ahead. This address is lightly edited.
Randy Mooney: A lot has happened this past year since we gathered at the Mirage Hotel. We continue to see the effects of the pandemic, logistic challenges that hit the global market and were created in part by labor shortages, which spread across and disrupted the entire supply chain. We’ve had labor shortages on our farms for years, and that trend spread across other sectors as well. That created ripple effects that impacted processors, retailers, food service operations. Supply chain disruptions were amplified by the war in the Ukraine, a growing conflict that is directly impacting global energy supplies and food security.
These are factors that combined to drive record inflation, inflation that each of us feels as farmers, as processors, as marketers and consumers, factors that create uncertainty, amplified by the fact that we do not yet know what a post COVID world will look like, and a certainty that shakes confidence and erodes trust. When we look ahead, we have to ask ourselves, “What will the world look like and how will we operate in it?” Will continued uncertainty and eroding of trust push consumers, companies, and even countries to seek more control or focus on maximizing efficiencies?
One example is labor. Where we focused on the cost of labor, are we now more concerned with retaining workers at almost any price to keep our businesses running? Sometimes I feel like that’s what’s happening on my farm. We don’t necessarily know the answers yet, but we do know that our industry is continuing to rapidly evolve with dairy farmers at the very center, and because of the investment and the work of our past, we’re in a position to take advantage of opportunities. Dairy is positioned to be a trusted anchor in an uncertain world, and the root of our ability to be that trusted anchor is our cooperative structure.
While we can never control everything around us, cooperatives give us the ability to work together to positively impact our future and the future of people around the world, and the root of our ability to that trusted anchor is our cooperative structure. While we never can control everything around us, cooperatives give us the ability to work together to positively impact our future and the future of people around the world. That was worth repeating, I think. Today we can seize opportunities to feed the world. Our product is one of the most nutritionally valuable foods available. No other product can give you the nutrition that dairy can for the price.
Opportunities to nourish communities, we create vibrant rural economies that keep America strong by helping to retain local schools, building energy independence, preserve the environment, and ensure food security for everyone. Opportunities to meet consumers evolving needs all over the world, and as countries across the globe decrease milk production, our investment in US DEC and cultivating global markets allow us to meet the demand with our US dairy products. Consumers’ purchasing trends are changing. We’re beginning to see an oat backlash., with plant-based beverages’ sales declining, but overall dairy sales continuing to increase. Opportunities to care for the environment and the next generation, sustainability has always been important to dairy farmers, whether we called it that or not.
Now USDA is investing in our commitment, with the Climate Smart Commodity projects, and four co-ops are participating, CDI, DFA, Land O’Lakes, and Maryland, Virginia. Opportunities to drive innovation. Between the work going on within our cooperatives with DMI or processors, we have a pipeline of projects from new and different packaging to innovative flavor profiles to ways to get our products to consumers more efficiently and sustainably. These projects show the power of partnerships, how we can work together as farmers, cooperatives, processors, and associations to further our industry. We can deliver all this while ensuring our freedom to operate our businesses in ways that’s best for us and our families.
Our freedom to invest up and down the supply chain as we see fit. Our freedom to drive innovation on our farms to continuously improve our product. This is possible because of the co-op model. No matter what type of cooperative you belong to, vertically integrated or not, large or small, local or national, the co-operative structure is a what allows us to control our own destiny. At its foundation, this structure works because we know we are stronger together. Together we can make every drop count, working with each other to ensure we can stay profitable in the face of increasing regulations, sustainability, climate change practices, must make business sense.
Federal milk marketing order modernization must take a balanced approach, working together to take advantage of opportunities to invent by pursuing policies that support and drive innovation and farm practices, sustainability and climate change. Working together to drive rural and urban communities through our work, supporting infrastructure, economic opportunities and labor, working together to provide the best nutrition available to families around the world by supporting and enhancing feeding programs like SNAP, WIC, and School Milk, and demanding seats at the table during global trade talks. Working together to pass our way of life to the next generation, which is important to all of us, I believe.
Through programs like Farm 4.0 and soon to be version 5.0, which gives us a social license to operate, and consumer confidence in our operations. This work and our ability to take advantage of the opportunities before us are only possible by working together through organizations like National Milk. That’s why it’s important that we all make the time to stay engaged. This is an exciting time in our industry. We’re in the middle of an evolution that some might even say is a revolution that’s being driven by the people in this room, by the farmers working day in and day out to provide for their families and their communities. What we do on our farms and in our communities is important, how we do it is important, and it’s important that we stay at the forefront of this revolution, never settling for status quo, thinking differently, and seizing the opportunities.
The most important message that I want to leave you with today is one of opportunity. When we work together as dairy farmers through our co-operatives, when we work together as co-operatives through National Milk, when we work together as National Milk through all of our industry organizations, including DMI, US DEC, the Innovation Center, IDFA, when we truly work together, we can seize the opportunities that are open to us, opportunities that we can earn through what we do and how we do it, opportunities that will benefit each and every one of us, opportunities that exist in every drop of milk. Thank you for what you do, and thank you for being part of this industry. Thank you for your passion, and thank you very much.
Alan Bjerga: That was NNPF board chairman Randy Mooney, speaking last week in Denver at NNPF’S annual meeting. For more of the Dairy Defined podcast, go to the sharing our story page at nnpf.org. We are also on Spotify, SoundCloud, and Google Play. Thank you for joining us.