Dairy Strong conference empowers and inspires

By Mary Hookham for the Dairy Business Association

From robots and a secure milk supply to millennials and fighter pilots, this year’s Dairy Strong conference brought together a broad range of perspectives on things that affect the dairy community.

Some 550 farmers, agribusiness representatives and others gathered for the conference Jan. 22-23 in Madison, Wis. Attendance for the sixth annual event was up 10 percent from a year earlier, including 25 percent more farmers.

“Dairy Strong is really a celebration of what unites us in the dairy community,” said Tom Crave, president of the Dairy Business Association in Wisconsin, which originally developed the conference and is now a main sponsor. “We face many of the same challenges and we strive to find solutions, and we are reminded that we have a broader network of support than we might realize.”

“The panel discussions, keynote speakers, talks on the innovative stage and other aspects of the conference leave participants feeling empowered and inspired. We have a lot of fun, too,” Crave said.

Here’s a sampling of what the attendees heard and said:

“For almost all farmers, this is a period of tremendous uncertainty. Farmers always have to be thinking and planning, especially these days.”

— Brett Sciotto, president and CEO of Aimpoint Research

“Looking at the future of farming as opposed to just looking at what happened in the past is valuable for us as farmers. We will become more forward-thinking and more aware of the global economy, which is part of our planning process in the farm itself.”

— Lori Badtke, dairy farmer in Ripon, Wis.

“The type of intelligence we’re developing is different than human intelligence. We want to look for technologies that help people do a better job instead of just replacing humans.”
— Dr. Kate Darling, researcher in robot ethics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab

“Without a plan, you’re dead. We must begin to understand movement of animals and diseases in this country, if nothing else, for our trading partners. If we can’t prove our farms are clean, we’re not going to get our exports back.”

— Mike Starkey, Minnesota Department of Agriculture

“Farming has to be economically viable at the end of the day. We have to try to find strategic partners to make conservation practices economically viable.”

— Cody Carpenter, Redrock View Farms in southwestern Wisconsin

“Understanding the personalities and tendencies of farmers as well as learning to interact effectively with millennials in the workplace are crucial aspects of farming and operating agribusinesses. … This generation is thinking about work and adulthood differently, and that’s affecting everybody.”

— Michael Parrish DuDell, entrepreneur and best-selling author of the business books from ABC’s television show “Shark Tank”

“We know that sustainability is becoming more important to consumers in their purchase decisions, and sustainability will become an expectation for companies to offer consumers. Taste, price, convenience will always be important, but they will no longer be enough in the future.”

— Jen Walsh, vice president of insights and strategies at Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin

 “Some possible solutions to our supply and demand issues are to resolve the export issues immediately, do what we can to make Americans love dairy products more or reduce our cow numbers.”

— Marin Bozic, expert in dairy economics and assistant professor in the University of Minnesota’s Department of Applied Economics

“The runway behind you is always unusable, so all you have is what’s in front of you. So, learn to cultivate a new perspective and a high level of compassion.”

— Nicole Malachowski, retired U.S. Air Force officer and first female pilot selected to fly with the Thunderbirds

“Nicole’s (Malachowski) message isn’t just about surviving; it’s about resurgence and I never thought about it that way before.”

— Ruth Lainez, GLC Minerals, Green Bay, Wis. 

“My love for the industry is my way of giving back. I am very fortunate to be in the dairy industry and I love this industry; it’s treated me good over the years.”

֫— Jim Winn, dairy farmer in southwestern Wisconsin and winner of the DBA Dairy Advocate of the Year award

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