In Ohio, the dairy industry is one of many parts of the state’s diverse agricultural landscape. The state didn’t want to pick a favorite, so the industry supports itself.
It’s up to groups like the Ohio Dairy Producers Association and the American Dairy Association Mideast. Those two groups lead the way in promoting and advocating for Ohio dairy farmers.
How do you help your industry when you don’t have millions of dollars at your disposal? You get creative, said Scott Higgins, chief executive officer and president of the American Dairy Association Mideast. Higgins is the energetic and passionate leader behind both groups. He’s also chief executive officer of the Ohio Dairy Producers Association.
The Ohio Dairy Producers Association is an advocacy group, ensuring dairymen and women have a voice in legislation, regulatory issues and anywhere else it’s needed. 1
“We’ve been focusing on issues, challenges and opportunities that dairy farmers need us to focus on to deliver the best results possible,” Higgins said.
A place with both challenges and opportunities is in dairy processing. That’s why the ODPA is partnering with the Ohio Dairy Foods Association, the group that represents dairy processors, to do a large-scale opportunity and barrier assessment in 2020.
Higgins said the assessment will look at barriers “that are choking the industry.” It will also find opportunities to meet consumer demand.
“What are consumers looking for? What is going to help us advance and invest in our ability to produce new products?” Higgins said.
If there are things the state or legislators can do to make Ohio competitive, those recommendations will be brought to them.
Otherwise, the ODPA has been busy tackling statewide issues like water quality, environmental stewardship and livestock welfare. Phosphorus runoff from farmland was named by scientists to be the major cause of harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie. You probably know that. Maybe you didn’t realize that ODPA is part of the group that’s working to fix this problem.
The association helped form the Ohio Agriculture Conservation Initiative, a collaborative effort between other ag commodity groups and conservation and environmental groups that’s working to improve water quality. The initiative is a partner in Gov. Mike DeWine’s H2Ohio plan, which is investing money in proven conservation practices for farmers to help with the runoff problem. 2
In all these issues, from water quality to animal welfare, the ODPA is making sure the dairy farmers have a voice. It’s there to show regulators and legislators what farmers are doing right; to protect farmers from burdensome regulations; and to make improvements when necessary, Higgins said.
Don’t stop believin’
The American Dairy Association Mideast is the checkoff program that represents Ohio and West Virginia farmers. Its goal is to increase sales and demand for U.S. dairy products.
How does it do this? A bunch of ways. Partnerships with national food franchises, like McDonald’s and Pizza Hut, and school nutrition and wellness programs like Fuel Up to Play 60. 3
Many of these things happen through the national checkoff program, Dairy Management Inc., and the benefits trickle down to Ohio farmers, Higgins said. An ADA Mideast handout pointed to a 2.2% increase in total dairy sales in 2018, compared with the previous year. 4 The same handout also states milk company partners invested more than $700 million in new and upgraded plants to offer new products.
Storytelling has been the answer to many of the issues the Ohio dairy industry has faced. When the Humane Society of the United States came to Ohio over a decade ago, looking to make changes to animal agriculture like it had successfully done in other states, ADA Mideast took action. 5
“When HSUS came to Ohio and wanted to change the narrative, we said ‘you’re not going to do that.’ We’re going to define ourselves first,” Higgins said. “So I reached out to farmers and asked if we could bring cameras on to their farms and let them tell their stories.”
The checkoff released profiles of dozens of dairy farmers on its website, letting the farmers tell their stories through interviews and videos. Social media has made it even easier to share the stories.
“It’s all about public trust,” Higgins said. “[Consumers] vote at the checkout. We’ve been successful in being able to communicate with consumers.”