DMI circles wagons around new ‘Net-Zero’ hire

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, Friday, August 7, 2020

BROWNSTOWN, Pa. – After last week’s Farmshine cover story, dairy producers across the country have been reaching out to DMI board members and staff seeking answers to questions posed about the Net Zero Initiative, direction of sustainability goals, and the newly hired Executive Director of Dairy Scale for Good, Caleb Harper. He was tapped in May to lead the effort to ‘scale up’ technologies for “U.S. Dairy” to meet its commitment, despite his history of involvement in cellular agriculture and other concerns.

DMI has not yet responded to the questions posed by Farmshine. However, producers are getting some responses. During Wednesday’s “open mic” call with DMI CEO Tom Gallagher, the topic was addressed at the top of the hour to indicate a future “open mic” would be devoted to this topic.

“We’ve been getting questions,” said DMI chairwoman Marilyn Hershey as she opened the call Wednesday. She referred the 350 people on the line — including 50 board members, 80 dairy farmers, along with media and staff — to her blog post at usdairy.com.

“The Net Zero Initiative has pathways for all size farms to be able to stand behind our sustainability goals,” she said.

“Our next ‘open mic’ will focus on sustainability because there is a lot going on in that arena. There is misinformation and good information, and we want to get the details and have National Milk and Newtrient — a company of dairy co-ops and people from the Innovation Center — on where we are going and why,” said Gallagher.

“The industry is focused on being net-zero, but profitable net-zero. That is something that will take time and hard work to get to. We are focused on all size farms — not just large, medium, or small — and on all regions,” he stated. “We know each region has different challenges.

“Most of the small farms are probably net-zero already,” he said.

Gallagher explained that DMI recently added several people in different parts of the organization. “One (new person) is Caleb Harper, and we are really glad to be able to attract him,” said Gallagher.

“We know Caleb is completely a dairy guy. Let’s face it,” said Gallagher. “Cell ag and other competitors are getting well-funded. Caleb is a smart guy, a guy who is pro dairy. He understands the playbook of the other team, so we are miles ahead.”

In the blog post callers were asked to read for answers, Hershey writes: “Caleb Harper joined our team in May to lead Dairy Scale for Good. Caleb is a former principal research scientist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and director of the Open Agriculture Initiative at the MIT Media Lab. He has a tremendous background of leading engineers, scientists and educators in the exploration and development of future food systems and technology.”

Hershey goes on to describe his responsibilities as “directing best practice and technology adoption and implementation on a handful of pilot farms. Harper will also develop third-party strategies to generate investments, partners and technologies that will keep farmers from bearing the entire commitment of this endeavor.”

Harper has already been visiting dairy farms in the Southwest and Upper Midwest after his first-ever dairy farm visit to Fair Oaks Farm.

Both in the blog post, and in other responses made in writing to producers from DMI staff, Harper is described as “coming from a family that raises horses and goats on a small ranch in Texas and crops and cows on a fifth-generation homestead in Kansas.”

What isn’t mentioned is that, according to a Sept. 2019  Chronicles of Higher Education story, Harper’s father, Steve Harper, was a grocery executive, actually Senior Vice-President of Marketing and Fresh Product Development, Procurement and Merchandising from 1993 to 2010 for the H-E-B supermarket chain in Texas and northern Mexico, among the largest supermarket chains in the U.S. in sales. He stayed on part-time through 2012 before retiring in 2015.

H-E-B was the first and longstanding partner of Mike and Sue McCloskey, when they were dairying in New Mexico and founded Select Milk Producers. They were working to get closer to the consumer, and the H-E-B alliance was instrumental, Sue explained in her presentation at the Pennsylvania Dairy Summit in February 2020, where she painted a picture of dairy’s future as seen by DMI’s Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, and its food industry partners.

In fact, according to the Houston Chronicle, the McCloskeys worked with H-E-B, supplying their milk and in 1996 to produce Mootopia ultrafiltered milk, an H-E-B brand. This was the pre-cursor to fairlife, the ultrafiltered milk beverage line in which DMI partnered with the McCloskeys, Select, and Coca Cola to market and R&D. (On Jan. 3, 2020, the Coca-Cola Company announced it was sole owner of fairlife LLC after acquiring the remaining stake from its joint venture partner Select Milk Producers.)

Both Caleb Harper and Mike McCloskey currently serve on WWF’s “Markets Institute” Thought Leadership Group.

Hershey writes of Caleb Harper’s involvement in several non-profit organizations, including World Wildlife Fund (WWF), World Economic Forum, as an explorer for National Geographic, and at New Harvest (www.new-harvest.org), a cellular agriculture research institute, which has provided research funding to such startups as Perfect Day.

Meanwhile WWF — the DMI sustainability partner — will stop at nothing in its quest for food transformation away from animal use. WWF is currently using the Coronavirus pandemic and “threat of zoonotic diseases jumping from animals to humans” as the angle for pushing food transformation, with a “stop the next pandemic” campaign at the WWF website stating: “The conversion of land for unsustainable agricultural and livestock use drives wildlife, domestic animals, and humans in closer contact.”

Both New Harvest and WWF support and advocate for rewilding of lands as farms and ranches fold under the pressure of low prices, rapid consolidation, misinformation used to position new plant-based and cellular ag products as future of food replacements for meat, eggs and dairy, using climate change, sustainability and now pandemic fears to prepare people to accept these bio-engineered versions grown in fermentation vats and bio-reactors instead of farms and ranches.

“While (New Harvest) goes against the essence of who we are as farmers, and Caleb no longer serves on its board, his knowledge and insights in this area will be an asset,” writes Hershey. “I am very excited about Caleb’s ability to open new doors for dairy. He brings an astounding depth of relationships with other scientists, organizations and companies.”

New Harvest is more than a “cellular agriculture research institute.” It’s mission is to replace cattle and other livestock by growing portions of animals, separating protein excrement from yeast, and other ‘genetically altered and digitized” methods of displacing farmers and ranchers from the land. In 2017 and 2018, Harper was one of five board members for New Harvest. In fact, though canceled due to Covid, the New Harvest 2020 Conference was scheduled for the M.I.T. Lab in Cambridge, Mass., where Harper was a lead researcher until April 30, 2020.

In her blog post, Hershey writes that, “Earlier this year, the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy set new environmental stewardship goals to further the progress and commitment that dairy farmers and the broader dairy community have to responsible production.”

She describes it as a “collective effort” expected to benefit all farms with a pathway for farms to voluntarily contribute. She writes that it will not be mandatory. Instead, she notes that it will provide opportunities for farms of all sizes to adopt technologies and practices and create revenue streams.

Stay tuned.

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