Ohio dairy association talks ‘voice,’ from hiring to building relationships

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OBERLIN, Ohio — Through three meetings held in different counties, Ohio Dairy Producers Association leaders told its members and nonmembers it’s working on behalf of the dairy industry.

“Make no mistake about it, we work for dairy farmers,” ODPA Chief Executive Officer Scott Higgins said at the Nov. 10 meeting, held near Oberlin.

Higgins outlined ODPA’s past year of accomplishments and some of the challenges facing the next few years. A big effort will be to create producer dialogue with Governor-elect John Kasich and his new administration.

Higgins said the association was successful communicating dairy farm concerns when Gov. Ted Strickland took office, and expects the same effort with Kasich.

“We will have to become proactive for Ohio’s dairy industry and Ohio’s dairy farmers,” Higgins said.

Well-respected

Regardless of political position, the association has enjoyed a good relationship with the Ohio Department of Agriculture during the Strickland Administration, and has been involved in its major decisions affecting dairy — including the dairy standards being decided by the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board. Higgins is a member of the livestock care board’s dairy subcommittee.

“I can tell you this, the (Ohio) department of ag listened to ODPA, and whenever there was a topic of discussion, they called us,” Higgins said.

He said a big role of the association is to make sure Ohio’s dairy farmers present one voice.


Voicing out

A host of speakers spent the remainder of the morning and afternoon talking about how dairymen can express their own “voice.”

Stacey Atherton, co-owner of Shipley Farms of Newark, is voicing the concerns of cattle producers as an appointed member of the livestock care board. She gave an update, reminding everyone the board has approved its euthanasia standards and civil penalties, and currently is working on specie-specific standards.

One concern has been the involvement of national animal rights activist organizations, including the Humane Society of the United States. The organization formed an agreement with Ohio farm groups this spring, that it wouldn’t pursue a statewide ballot initiative if its provisions are met.

“Obviously, we care about the (livestock) industry and we don’t want to have a ballot initiative on the ballot if we don’t have to,” she said.

But the “agreement,” as many call it, will only be weighed alongside other recommendations.

Atherton said HSUS has had a strong presence at the meetings, which is positive, because “if we do something a little off from that agreement, they’ll see why we (made) that decision.”

A good boss

Taking “voice” in a fresh direction was Ohio State University professor Bernie Erven, who challenged dairy farmers to think of their people skills as being as important as their cow skills.

“The most important HR skill of the dairy farmer is communication,” he said. “How do you build a good relationship with someone with whom you cannot communicate?”

His presentation focused on employer-employee relations and was both humorous and practical.

Erven asked farmers to think of characteristics in a boss they would not want to work for. Answers included “changes his mind, “inconsiderate,” and “the town drunk.”

It may take some work, he explained, but a boss often can overcome his negatives by changing how he communicates with employees, how enthusiastic he is, how much he trusts and understands their situations and how willing he is to set a good reputation.

“You are about as good of a boss as you have ‘chosen’ to be,” he said.

Hiring new workers

Erven and CMA Consulting’s Hinda Mitchell told dairy farmers of the importance of interviewing new employees, and farmer-consumer and farmer-media relations.

“In today’s business environment, developing positive relations is mandatory,” Mitchell said. “A neighbor who doesn’t understand modern dairy farming will still have an opinion that can help shape issues that impact your farm’s future.”

Farmers can no longer rely on the motto “good fences make good neighbors,” she said, now that less than 2 percent of the U.S. population is involved in agriculture. Instead, the new saying should be “Good ‘community outreach’ makes good neighbors.”

She advises the Ohio Dairy Producers Association on communications issues, and also counsels the poultry industry and other livestock industries in Ohio.

‘Express’ yourself

Higgins said producers need to consider the differing views of their industry, but remember to “express” their own.

“Too many times we let somebody else say something and it’s consumer activists. We, as an industry, have to be agvocates for ourselves, as well,” he said.

The meeting concluded with a tour of the 700-cow Dovin Dairy just south of Oberlin. Other fall meetings included Van Erk Dairy in Van Wert, and Ramsier’s Willow Spring Farm in Rittman.

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Chris Kick lives in Wooster, Ohio. An American FFA Degree recipient, he holds a bachelor’s in creative writing from Ashland University. He spends his free time on his grandparents’ farms in Wayne and Holmes counties.

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