The following post is the speech I gave at the National Junior Holstein Convention last weekend. I think it's a great message for dairy advocates of any age. Let me know what you think!
“Now something to think about the next time we all open the fridge and see the milk we all love,” announces Diane Sawyer on ABC News Nightline. “Brian Ross has undercover footage of what may be behind what we all see.”
In the past six months, two videos showing animals being abused by farm employees on separate dairy farms have been released to the media. The first video of a New York dairy operation, released in late January on ABC news, was introduced with the previous comment. Just last month, the second video, shot on an Ohio dairy farm, was released by an animal right’s group called Mercy for Animals. If you’ve seen the videos, you’re probably as angry as I am, but you may be wondering: what’s the response from consumers?
With more than 1000 comments on the first video similar to this one, one person responds, “This is such an inhumane way to treat another living thing; shame on the FDA and the dairy farmers who allow such cruelty. We should boycott buying milk for one week to send a strong message out to the dairy industry. I for one will never buy milk from this moment on.”
As a response to the second video, which ends with the words, “Ditch Cruelty. Ditch Dairy,” one person writes, “Having seen this video on cruelty to animals, I will dump the milk that I bought yesterday in the sink and will keep away from dairy until all abusers of animals are on a known list and all their replacements are known to be serene and not violent throughout the world.”
Is this the industry we are all apart of? Is this the way we treat the animals on our farms? Is this the image we leave with the people who step onto our farm? More importantly, is this the image we allow our customers in the dairy isles at the grocery stores to believe?
As the people responsible for providing consumers with milk and dairy foods, we are the most credible source to inform consumers about the dairy industry. They need to understand that the animal abuse videos they see on the internet and in the news are the exception, not the norm to the agricultural industry. Most of all, they need to know they can trust the American farmer to provide them with a safe, wholesome and nutritious product. How are they going to get the correct, complete answers? As Stan Erwine, vice president of producer relations at Dairy Management, Inc. explains, “You have to tell your story or someone will tell it for you.” So how do you get started telling your story? Here are a few tips from trusted sources designed to help you.
One way to communicate with your community that may take more time and planning than others is hosting a farm tour. If your neighbors are wondering about what happens on your farm, the best way for them to learn is by seeing it firsthand. Make sure you explain why you operate the farm the way you do. Be sure you talk about your dedication to the animals, stewardship of the land and commitment to a quality product. Most of all, discuss the key behavioral procedures and codes of conduct you implement on your farm to ensure animal abuse is not part of your operation.
DairyFarmingToday.org is a great resource for finding talking points to use while giving farm tours. Find a few key points on animal care, including healthy diets, comfortable housing and medical care. Also included on the website are tips about caring for the environment and quality and safety with dairy foods. These are great topics to cover when you’re walking a group of people around your farm.
Farm tours are a way to connect with your local community, but how do you reach the rest of your customers? This is where the internet becomes a useful tool for our industry. Nearly one billion people are expected to use social media by 2012. Why miss out on this huge opportunity to tell your story to a billion people? Several different types of social media are available, enabling you to choose the format that fits you the best.
Facebook, the most popular social media site, allows you to create a profile, a fan page or a group with your interests. You can start discussions to which others can respond, post your views on subjects for anyone to see, and connect with other dairy producers and industry representatives doing the same thing.
One college student from New York got the ball rolling at the end of January with a new group titled “I Support Dairy Farmers.” Within three days, the group grew to more than 5,000 members, and now stands at more than 22,000 members. Members are encouraged to post on the wall where they live and what breed of cow they own, upload pictures and videos, and participate in discussions on how to effectively communicate with the public. In fact, when the second video was released last month, a group member started a discussion on how to react to the video. Creator, Erin Jones posted her story in a blog on Progressive Dairyman’s Proud to Dairy website. She explained, “I created the group because I was tired of hearing so many bad things about an industry I love very much. I never expected the group to spread all over the world.”
Her story and many like it can be found on ProudtoDairy.com, which showcases many dairy-related stories from people all over the world. This is one of many places to view other blogs or start your own. A blog can vary from your daily routine on the farm to a response to a misleading article you found online that day. If you get stuck, use your resources. If someone asks you a question you’re not sure how to answer, try visiting dairyresponse.com. This particular website contains informative fact sheets, suggested responses and links to find more answers.
Remember, you’re not alone in promoting agriculture. Many producers are facing the same challenges you are, and they are searching for the same solutions. You have many resources to help you. In addition to those mentioned before, dairyinfo.com, dairycheckoff.com and dairyspot.com also provide tips on telling your story as well as links to other dairy websites that may provide further assistance.
However you decide to tell your story is up to you. The most important part is that you are the one telling it. Don’t wait for an article to be published on the advantages of a vegan or vegetarian diet, or for a video to be posted on the inhumane treatment of animals. When asked about the coverage of certain topics at the 2010 Pennsylvania Dairy Summit, Dan O’Donnel of WGAL-TV said that the reason fires are in the news so often is because they’re easy to find. His advice to dairy producers: “You need to put up some smoke.”
Get out there and put up some smoke about what you do every day to ensure a safe and nutritious product. Then, maybe the next documentary about the dairy industry will be about what’s really in the milk we all love: the hard work required to produce each drop, the dedication from dairy producers across the country, and the nutrients that make milk nature’s most nearly perfect food. If they would interview me, I know exactly what I would say.
On our farm in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, we make sure our animals have the best care possible. We use a variety of management practices to ensure safety for our cows, our family and you the consumer. We work hard day in and day out to produce the highest quality product for the American consumer. Our cows provide our own well-being, so a healthy cow is our first priority. Although we do need to make a profit to sustain our future, we are farming because it is our passion; it is what we love to do. While in school, I will take every opportunity I can to learn more about the agriculture industry so that one day, I can give back to the people and the businesses that have given me so much. That’s my story and I’ll be the one to tell it.