NMPF Galvanizes Dairy Response to HPAI as Animal Health Concern Evolves

NMPF helped lead the dairy community in responding to rapidly evolving circumstances around the spread of the H5N1 virus among dairy cows while advocating for farmers before the federal government and reassuring consumers about the safety of milk throughout April.

With the National Dairy FARM Program available as a resource for best practices and communications efforts that informed everyone from farmers in NMPF member cooperatives to consumers of national and global media, NMPF expertise was at a premium as the dairy industry, the federal government and dairy buyers navigated a landscape that changed significantly over several weeks, culminating in a Federal Order that took effect April 29 covering testing and interstate movement.

Many efforts revolved around clearly understanding the problems posed by the virus and understanding those problems for what they are, and what they are not.

“Since this virus was first discovered in cows, H5N1 in dairy cattle has been primarily an animal health concern,” said NMPF President and CEO Gregg Doud in a statement released April 24, the day USDA announced testing requirements for lactating cows traveling interstate.

“USDA, FDA and scientific research has established what accumulated science indicated all along: The consumer milk supply is safe. Pasteurization renders the H5N1 virus, like other viruses, inactive, an important reminder to consumers of its value as a basic safeguard for human health. We appreciate that these agencies are sharing this message, which will help alleviate any concerns consumers may have.

“That said, the presence of this virus in dairy herds, as well as dairy farmers’ own commitment to animal and human health, makes USDA’s actions on testing and interstate travel appropriate. Dairy farmers stand ready to take a proactive approach to ensuring that we better understand the spread of the virus, do what we can to limit that spread, and ensure the health of our animals and workers.”

As NMPF Chief Science Officer Jamie Jonker served as a go-to resource for public information in the evolving virus situation, discussing dairy-farmer actions and concerns for National Public Radio, the Washington Post, Science Magazine and other outlets, NMPF members were kept informed in real time via fast-moving member alerts.

NMPF also organized three webinars focused on different aspects of High Pathogen Avian Influenza in dairy cattle relevant to members; convened its Co-op Communicators Committee to share media strategy and make NMPF co-op resources available; and served as a shield for members as they faced often-unanswerable questions in an at-times challenging media spotlight.

In addition, NMPF’s HPAI resources page was the most-viewed page on NMPF’s website in April, drawing more page views than the homepage itself – the first time a page other than nmpf.org was most-viewed for the month since the launch of NMPF’s Covid resources page in 2020.

April ended with the new rules on interstate cow travel and testing, while FDA tests showing the effectiveness of pasteurization in killing the H5N1 virus in milk helped allay consumer concerns. Still, HPAI as a dairy concern shows little sign of abating.

Maryland & Virginia Milk Producers Co-op Takes Top Communications Honors in NMPF Contest

Maryland & Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative Association took top honors in the National Milk Producers Federation’s (NMPF) annual cooperative communications contest, and a farmer-owner of the cooperative also received NMPF’s Farmer Communicator of the Year award.

Austin Schwartzbeck of Peace & Plenty Farm won the farmer award for his active efforts in promoting dairy’s values through communicating with both dairy and non-dairy audiences – including a recent television feature about how he and his wife met at the Maryland State Fair.

“Austin’s excellence in communication on behalf of the dairy community is rooted in his ability to tell a compelling personal story, connect with readers emotionally, educate and advocate for the industry, emphasize family values, utilize visual storytelling and leverage various media platforms for outreach,” Maryland & Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative said in its nomination letter. “Through these efforts, he effectively portrays the dairy industry as one filled with dedication, tradition and a deep love for farming.”

Schwartzbeck and his family milk 245 registered Holsteins and farm 1,100 acres in Union Bridge, MD.

Maryland & Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative was also recognized as the Cooperative Communicator of the Year, receiving top honors in the writing category and recognition in the publications, graphics and special projects categories.

The cooperative’s “Best of Show” award winner, “MDVA Member Stands as Beacon of Service to Others,” details North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University’s 492-acre farm with 57 dairy cows three miles from the skyline of downtown Greensboro – a Maryland & Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative Association member and the only dairy unit at a Historically Black College and University.

“This entry delivers delightful surprises while at the same time examining — without flinching — a serious national problem: the decline of black dairy farmers from 1 million in 1920 to 50,000 today,” the contest evaluator wrote. “The entry does more than expose a crisis. It shines a spotlight on a hidden gem providing a partial solution.”

NMPF also spotlighted the farm earlier this year as part of its Farmer Focus series.

The “Best of Show” award is selected from the first-place entries in the contest’s main areas: publication, writing, graphics and special projects. This year’s winners were:

All the winners will also be recognized at NMPF’s annual meeting in Orlando, FL on Nov. 13-15. A full list of the winners of the NMPF communications contest, which received 110 entries from 15 member cooperatives, can be found here.

Reaching Out: Dairy’s Voice Heard as Farm Bill Groundwork Laid


  • Coordinated farmer appearances at numerous congressional policy panels
  • Placed farmer perspectives in mass-market media
  • Developed dairy’s next-generation leadership through timely webinars

Farm Bill hearings and listening sessions held by the House and Senate Agriculture Committees this spring and summer provided another opportunity for NMPF to proactively engage its members of all sizes, and across the country, to provide critical input to Congress as they prepare to craft a new farm bill next year.

NMPF recruited and worked closely with several farmer leaders, including Melvin Medeiros, a Dairy Farmers of America producer from California and NMPF Executive Committee member; Ashley Kennedy, a Michigan Milk Producers Association producer from Michigan; and Lolly Lesher, a DFA producer from Pennsylvania and NMPF Dairy Voice Network member on their testimony before Congress in favor of maintaining and strengthening the Dairy Margin Coverage program and providing additional resources to help farmers enhance their ongoing environmental stewardship efforts.

More informally, NMPF also worked with its member cooperatives to secure farmer participation at a variety of listening sessions held in the field. The events featured multiple members of NMPF’s farmer leadership, including Steve Schlangen, Chairman of Associated Milk Producers Inc. and an NMPF Executive Committee member from Minnesota; Joey Fernandes, a Land O’Lakes producer from California and NMPF board member; Jim Boyle, a United Dairymen of Arizona member from Arizona and Chairman of NMPF’s Immigration Task Force; and Medeiros. Other producer witnesses included Jeremy Visser, a Northwest Dairy Association/Darigold board member from Washington; Jim Werkhoven, an NDA/Darigold member from Washington and former NMPF board member; Charles Krause, a DFA member from Minnesota; and KC Graner, an LOL ag retail member-owner from Minnesota.

While NMPF-affiliated farmer participants hailed from different parts of the country, NMPF helped hone a cohesive message nationwide, focused on continuing and building on current dairy policy and making additional, needed investments in conservation, trade, and nutrition programs.

NMPF also communicated dairy’s policy message through targeted efforts to place farmers voices in mass-market media, allowing the industry’s best messengers to break through media noise. Brittany Nickerson-Thurlow, Medeiros, and Josh Gladden, all members of the NMPF Dairy Voice Network created last year, each bylined op-ed articles on dairy’s policy needs in daily newspapers in Florida, California and Arizona, resulting in follow-up interviews from the Wall Street Journal, BBC and other globally known outlets.

At the same time, NMPF communications staff helped develop and serve the next generation of dairy-farmer leadership through its Young Cooperators (YC) program. The YC Program is providing virtual and in-person educational and leadership development opportunities every month this year, covering a variety of topics of importance to young and beginning farmers including farm safety, employee onboarding, transition planning and consumer perspectives on dairy cattle welfare.

YCs also met this year in Washington, D.C. for the first time since 2019 for the program’s capstone Dairy Policy and Legislative Forum. 45 dairy farmers from 15 states and representing ten member cooperatives participated in the two-day event, which included discussions about political engagement and dairy policy issues, along with training on how to be an effective advocate and spokesperson for dairy. YCs then headed to Capitol Hill to speak with members of Congress and their staffs about NMPF priorities.