Story by Ryan Curtis

What should we do when we are confronted with a bad news story or negative perception of the industry or milk prices are rock bottom (or under the rock that marks rock bottom)?

Bad news happens. Unfortunately, the New York Times ran a water pollution story that really wasn’t more than a couple paragraphs along with a few pictures of people. The paragraphs portrayed the dairy industry as a villain that is destroying the water we drink and harming innocent people everywhere. Sensationalistic journalism at its prime. What do you say to someone that comes up to your dairy because they heard about what dairy farms do to our underground water? eh ... no comment? NO! That is not a time to clam up and try to look busy.

There are many opinions I am sure, but one thing that must be conveyed is that you are human and you care about their concern, no matter how misguided their “facts” may be. Ask them to explain what it is that is bothering them, where they got their information and any other information that can help you understand their side. By genuinely wanting to understand them they will see that you aren’t a monster that is money hungry, you are a human being like them. It’s a bridge that will help close the gap between your worlds.

Then after you understand their side. Start explaining the truth. Don’t just give them shovels full of memorized facts. Facts are good, but quoting studies won’t win their confidence. Explain what you do, why you do it that way and most of all explain how careful you are to do your best to protect the water system, because you drink it too.

One more thing not to do, don’t go bad mouthing Joe farmer on the other side of the county. It will only add validity to the fears they came to you with. We need to stand united. Organic, conventional, natural, whatever, we need to be united so that we can be trusted. As more and more people grow up never knowing how milk gets on the store shelf, they will be more and more unlikely to relate or trust a segmented industry. The ones throwing mud get mud on themselves in the process.

Milk prices have really given the dairy industry a challenge. I am not qualified to discuss solutions, but producers are. On page 28, we are featuring an argument by a California dairy producer that isn’t asking for the government to give her money, but simply give the same oversight to distributors and cold storage facilities that they require of dairymen. She has tried to gather support by blogging about it and talking to friends, but a handful of producers will find it difficult to get legislation moving. If hundreds of producers are calling their congressmen, then something will happen. Finding a way to be united will not only add strength the dairy industry, but it will give it power to make the changes it wants. You can give someone money to lobby for you, but you can lobby for yourself too by sending a letter to your congressman or woman. Even if this doesn’t solve the problem, it will fix something that is definitely wrong. Listen to your fellow producers.

Proud to dairy is excited that producers are talking and trying to find solutions. We are also excited that our membership has passed 200. Wisconsin made a valiant push to take the lead in number of members from their state with 31, but Pennsylvania maintained the lead with 34. Idaho also solidified it’s third place rank by adding three more to make an even 20.

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