ST. PAUL, Minn. (10/25/2010) —"Why do you have all these cows when you can buy milk at the supermarket?" sounds like a question no one should need to answer, but this is a real inquiry a dairy producer recently received from a young visitor.
Producers work hard every day of the year to produce a wholesome food packed full of nutrients for healthy living. They do it for the love of the land and the animals in their care in spite of the many years in which they have lost money on each cow. We need to do more to tell consumers that while animals are used for food production, this is done with love and care for the animals.
There are many ways to tell the positive story of the dairy industry to the public. It reassures me to see the increasing number of dairy producers who have websites or host farm events to tell their story to milk consumers of all ages. Many producers also use social media tools like Twitter, Facebook and blogs.
I recently attended a conference where Sherry Newell, Midwest Dairy Association communications director, talked about the worldwide impact of social media. She shared examples of producers using social media to provide information to the public, such as the dairyman on YouTube who sings about the importance of using manure as fertilizer to enrich the soil and recycle nutrients (visit www.youtube.com and search for "Gilmer Dairy Farm manure").
In mid-October, cooperative Extension held an informative webinar on the public perception of dairy farms. Topics included how to organize successful "Breakfast on the Farm" events, how to communicate with the public using social media, and how a producer in Idaho has reached out to the community and created a very beautiful heifer feedlot. To view the archived webinar, visit http://bit.ly/bK85A3.
Producers also have the option to participate in the National Milk Producers Federation's Dairy Farmers Assuring Responsible Management (FARM) program. FARM is a developing program that aims to assure retailers and consumers that dairy producers are using industry best practices to care for their cattle. The program includes on-farm evaluations by a second party (veterinarian or field coop personnel) and third-party verification by an independent company. For more information on FARM, visit www.nationaldairyfarm.com.
University of Minnesota Extension has delivered four educational seminars about FARM and will deliver more as FARM develops.
For useful educational information on other dairy production topics, check the Extension dairy website at www.extension.umn.edu/Dairy.