Ohio dairy farmers working to boost demand amid tight market

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Scott Higgins speaking
Scott Higgins, CEO of Ohio Dairy Producers Association.

WOOSTER, Ohio — During the spring board meeting of the Ohio Dairy Producers Association, April 11 at the OARDC, farmers and dairy trade groups got an update on what the checkoff is doing to bolster demand.

Milk prices are on a downward trend of nearly $2-$3 less per counterweight compared to this time last year, and dairy producers are once again facing an era of tight profit margins.

While there is much they can do at the farm-level to adjust, many producers are also hoping their checkoff program and market outreach will continue to increase demand.

Marketing milk

The checkoff has long-touted its partnership with Domino’s Pizza, to use and promote dairy cheese on its pizzas. The partnership has been active since 2008, but this year, farmers got to hear the news straight from the source.

Joe Jordan, vice president-chief marketing officer at Domino’s, said last year, Domino’s used 230 million additional pounds of milk, and since partnering with dairy producers in 2008, the company has increased its overall cheese use by 43 percent. For every $1 the checkoff invests in the partnership, Domino’s invests nearly $20.

Jordan said dairy farmers and pizza franchise owners have a lot in common — at least when it comes to values.

“Our franchisees are part of a local community just like you are,” he said, noting that the stores are often family-owned, and that like farmers, the food industry is around-the-clock work.

Jordan said he sees “much more runway” ahead, in terms of additional market potential.

Defending dairy

He was joined by Tim McIntyre, Domino’s vice president of communications. McIntyre pointed out that the company not only uses a lot of dairy — but also defends farmers.

He’s no stranger to the antics of animal rights activist groups — particularly those with an anti-animal agriculture bend. But extremists don’t actually want to put farmers out of business, he said — only to use them as collateral.

“They need you, because every time they criticize you … they also include a ‘donate here,’” McIntyre said. “You are a money maker for them.”

Activist shareholders can vote in the company’s corporate structure, but McIntyre said the highest percentage of the vote they have made up was only 4 percent.

He said Domino’s goal is to let people know that “first and foremost, we support America’s farmers. We’re not going to tell people how to farm. We’re not going to tell you how to do your business.”

The company is also planning a major donation to the FFA, because “we know that it’s in everybody’s interest to keep America’s farmers running.”

The dairy checkoff also has strategic partnerships with McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Quaker Oats and many others.

Research funds

Maurice Eastridge, Ohio State dairy specialist, gave an update on a separate program, known as the Ohio Dairy Research Fund, in which producers can elect to contribute a small percentage of their milk check to fund research. Eastridge said since the program was started in 1982, about 135 projects have been funded, with $837,000.

Policy matters

In policy matters, ODPA CEO Scott Higgins said water quality continues to be a top concern — even for farms not located in the Western Lake Erie Basin.

He said the association worked to limit some of the manure-application legislation to the counties in northwestern Ohio — realizing that down the road, a statewide ban on winter manure application is always possible.

Moreover, he said the counties already under the ban need assistance to help them install the kinds of manure storage structures required — if they’re going to store manure all winter.

He has met at least one producer who would incur an additional $100,000 for the storage he needs, on a 100-cow dairy. With this in mind, ODPA supports a bill introduced in Ohio’s legislature in the fall, that would provide farmers a tax credit for making necessary manure-handling improvements.

Known as H.B. 297, it would provide farmers a 50 percent refundable tax credit on what they spend to comply with the new nutrient law, including farms located outside of the basin.

“We’re asking leadership at the state to recognize the dilemma we’re in,” Higgins said, “where dairy farmers want to be a part of the solution, but financially, it’s simply unaffordable.”

 

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Chris Kick served Farm and Dairy's readership as a reporter for nearly a decade before accepting a job at Iowa State University Extension. An American FFA Degree recipient, he holds a bachelor’s in creative writing from Ashland University.

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