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A New, Exciting Vision for Dairy

The up and down of the dairy industry is something we all have grown accustomed to, especially over the last couple of years. We now are in a world that seems to be divided by before and after COVID, whether that is with supply chain hiccups, high inflation, or even labor. Seizing opportunities ahead and navigating challenges, Michael Dykes, the president and CEO of the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) sees the glass full—optimistic about IDFA’s new vision for dairy. He says dairy's future doesn’t have to feel like a rollercoaster.

Dykes kicked off his speech at the 2023 Dairy Forum with the fact consumption is up 12 pounds per person per year, adding that exports also give reasons for producers to smile.

Looking at exports, the U.S. had both record volume, but also record value with $9.5 billion and 2.8 million metric tons in 2022.

Hailing from an upbringing on a dairy, barley and tobacco farm in southern Kentucky, Dykes leads with a true appreciation for farmers.

“I think about the dedication that it takes 24/7 to milk cows. To keep the milk flowing, it all starts with you, the farmers in the room,” he says. “This industry starts with you. Without the milk, we don't have anything to process.”

Labor Challenges

With labor struggles felt everywhere across our industry, Dykes outlined positive steps IDFA has taken to overcome labor challenges within the dairy industry.

“Most of you are down 10% to 20% in the workforce, and that’s true across our industry,” he says. “It’s especially clear at the dairy farm level, but also in the processing plants, the retain institutions, it is clear across the board.”

Efforts have been put in place to help attract the best and brightest employees in dairy. These programs include:

The NextGen Leadership Program – This includes an estimated 115 individuals that have either completed or are in the NextGen Leadership Program.

Women in Dairy – Consisting of nearly 700 women who are involved in mentoring circles, networking events, and dairy diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts.

“We know that we’ll have a more diverse workforce, and we know that will only make us better,” he says.

Farm Bill

During the IDFA Dairy Forum, Dykes joined the stage with former U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan talking about the need for immigration reform.

“We’re working closely with the National Milk Producers Federation on that, and others in food and agriculture, but we won’t give up, and will keep going,” Dykes says.

Understanding that we ideally want a workforce that comes from a dairy farm or who has experience in the industry, ultimately Dykes says we need all kinds of labor.

“We need computer skills, we need microbiologists, we need logistics experts. We need all kinds,” he says.

Speaking on the upcoming Farm Bill, Dykes says we call it a farm bill, but it’s really a food bill.

“Over $1 trillion is nutrition, which is primarily SNAP,” he says. “I often say, ‘food is produced in Red America, but consumed in Blue America.’ We need to merge the two groups.”

Areas that IDFA are pushing for in the Farm Bill include:

Health, Nutrition and Wellness. “If there’s one thing that unequivocally unites this dairy industry, nutrition, health and wellness is that,” he says.

Bringing science forward, Dykes encourages everyone in the industry to be bold in this area.

“We must be bold, we must be aggressive, and we must get out there with our latest science. We need to bring it and we need to bring it now, and we need to stay united. And in this area, I say we need unexpected people saying unexpectedly positive things about dairy in unexpected places,” he says.

Sustainability. “Our dairy industry is investing significant resources to achieve some ambitious environmental goals,” Dykes shares. “More than half of our ice cream companies are reporting they're moving towards sustainable packaging options. We're looking at water. How do we use less water?”

Infrastructure. According to Dykes more efforts are underway to digitalize our supply chains. He shared that we saw 111% increase in dairy in containers carried by CMA going out of the port of LA and 57% across all other ports in 2022.

Milk Pricing. Dykes says that the federal milk marketing orders are aging, and we need to think about our pricing system.

“Does it need to evolve? Does it need to change to make it better for everyone,” he asks. “Farmers, processors, consumers, everyone won’t work if we only do this to advantage farmers and not processors or vice versa. This has to be a supply chain.”

27 billion More Pounds of Milk

To produce 27 billion more pounds of milk by 2032, Dykes says we need market access.

“Today we are exporting more of your milk product than we are drinking,” he says. “And as we move forward, we’re going to need to export more.”

According to Dykes, we need people with economic development so they can afford to purchase dairy.

“China is number one for most agriculture exports,” he says. “Number two for dairy. De-linking from China is not in the cards.”

While China is a large target to grow dairy, Dykes also outlined that five of the 10 largest countries in the world by 2100 will be in Africa.

To show different results, we must have different actions. Speaker Ryan shared that we need to come together, something Dykes echoes. “This is going to take real courage,” he says. “Real courage to stand up, real courage to lead.”

February 24, 2023



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