Covering Ag since 1981. The faces, places, markets and issues of dairy and livestock production. Hard-hitting topics, market updates and inspirational stories from the notebook of a veteran ag journalist. Contributing reporter for Farmshine since 1987; Editor of former Livestock Reporter 1981-1998; Before that I milked cows. @Agmoos on Twitter, @AgmoosInsight on FB #MilkMarketMoos
GORDONVILLE, Pa. — Empowerment. One word with power in it.
“I got to thinking about introducing this session and thought everyone knows what empowerment means, right? Give power. But then I looked up the opposite of empowerment,” said Kristine Ranger, a consultant in Michigan working with farms and writing and evaluates grants. She traveled to Gordonville, Pennsylvania with National Dairy Producers Organization board member Joe Arens to the farm of Mike Eby, NDPO chairman, for the ‘Empowering dairy farmers’ barn meeting Friday, April 23, 2021.
What is the opposite of empowerment?
“Here are the words in the dictionary,” said Ranger. “Disallow, forbid, hinder, inhibit, preclude, prevent and prohibit. Have any of you been experiencing any of that as you try to build a livelihood with your dairy farms?”
From there, the daylong barn meeting moved headlong into weighty topics, but stayed focus on the positive concept of encouraging producer involvement in seeking accountability and transparency in the systems that govern dairy.
Although the sunshine and spring planting kept in-person attendance low, the event was livestreamed on visual and audio with producers listening in from all over.
A thought that kept surfacing in this reporter’s mind listening to the panel of speakers was this: The longer something goes uninterrupted, the more vulnerable it is to become corrupted.
In fact, it tied in directly with Arens’ personal account following Gary Genske on the program. Arens urged producers to look at annual reports and ask questions. “That’s what NDPO is all about, to support your efforts to get to the cooperative boards of directors about what they should be doing at the co-op level,” said Arens, a member of the NDPO board for two years.
“Members own the milk. Members have the power, but the whole thing has been tipped upside down,” said Arens.
“If producers do not hold their co-ops accountable, then silence is your consent,” said Genske, a certified public accountant since 1974 based in California with a dairy in New Mexico.
He kicked things off at the barn meeting, presenting details about the roles and responsibilities of cooperatives, boards and members. He shared his insights into improving dairy farm milk prices.
Genske is a longtime member of the NDPO board. He highlighted the marketing concepts of 100% USA seal for milk and dairy products, returning to the true standards for fat and components in beverage milk that are still used today in California, and moving toward aligning milk production with profitable demand.
The Genske Mulder firm does the financial statements for 2500 dairy farms each year and 10,000 farm tax returns annually. He sees the numbers and knows the deal.
Walking attendees through the various aspects of USDA regulation and the Capper Volstead Act, Genske gave producers the tools and encouragement to accept their responsibilities as cooperative members.
In October, he had a successful lawsuit in Kansas City. After requesting documents from the cooperative in which he is a member, and being denied or provided documents that were mostly redacted, he took the issue to court.
After a two-day hearing, the judge ruled in Genske’s favor on his request for documents, as a cooperative member, with a stated purpose.
In short, Genske said, “We have to put people in the position of taking care of the members… We want to cull cows not dairy farmers.”
Bernie Morrissey, chairman of the Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee talked after lunch about the 97 Milk effort when farmers empowered themselves to market whole milk, since no one else was; and all kinds of prohibiting, hindering, forbidding, preventing and precluding had been going on regarding whole milk availability and promotion.
“It started with Nelson Troutman who painted the first round bale, just like that sign: Drink Whole Milk 97% Fat Free,” said Morrissey pointing to the large banners and holding up the Drink Whole Milk School Lunch Choice Citizens for Immune Boosting Nutrition yard signs.
With a joint effort underway now for a little over two years – working to educate lawmakers and consumers about whole milk, and pushing efforts to legalize whole milk choice in schools — Morrissey said “It’s working. Things are happening.”
Dick Bylsma of National Farmers Organization (NFO) traveled from Indiana to brief producers on joint efforts between NFO, Farmers Union and Farm Bureau to empower dairy farmers by getting their individual votes back in Federal Order hearings. He traced the history of Federal Milk Marketing Orders, and the genesis of bloc voting at a time in history when there were hundreds of thousands of farmers and communication was slow.
“It’s time to end bloc voting,” said Bylsma, and he laid out some of the efforts underway around that proposition, also highlighting the purpose of the Federal Orders.
These are just some fast highlights from a day of deep learning. More from these speakers and additional speakers on co-op involvement, systems accountability, checkoff reforms and referendums, and other empowering topics — including more from Genske about ending the silence and exercising rights and responsibilities with communication tools that work for cooperative members — will be published in a future edition.
Similar in-person meetings recently encouraged producers in Michigan and northern Indiana, said Ranger.
For dairy producers who are interested in knowing more, want to get involved, but aren’t sure how, NDPO chairman Mike Eby suggests joining in on the NDPO weekly national Tuesday night call at 8:00 p.m. eastern time at 712-775-7035 Pin 330090#. Every dairy producer in America has a standing invitation.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: With proof of concept in place, the support of farmers and community running strong (see graphic), and the public response rewarding these efforts, there is something powerful here with the 97 Milk effort, and it is just the beginning.
By Sherry Bunting from Farmshine, October 23, 2019
RICHLAND, Pa. — One farmer. One roundbale. And six painted words — Drink Whole Milk 97% Fat Free.
The excitement of the 97 Milk effort is contagious. What started with Nelson Troutman’s first painted roundbale in Richland, Pa., has rapidly multiplied into community-wide and nation-wide milk education efforts aimed at consumers on one hand and policymakers on the other.
By February, retired agribusinessman Bernie Morrissey of Robesonia found five businesses to pay for the first 1000 magnetic 12” x 12” vehicle signs with the same message. Since then, more companies have joined in and some of the original businesses have printed more.
As legislators began to take notice, Morrissey and Troutman assembled a grassroots Pa. Dairy Advisory Committee of 10 farmers that meet monthly in person or by teleconference and interact with lawmakers, including the petition effort to bring whole milk back to schools. More agribusinesses joined in to help fund their expenses.
Then, 4’ x 6’ banners were created for places of high visibility and an effort to place them at stores is underway. A September Farmshine cover story helped spread the word. Morrissey reports the banners “are going like hotcakes” with additional businesses joining in to print more.
Another effort was underway simultaneously, when Rick Stehr invited a diverse group of farmers to a February meeting in Lancaster County to talk about milk education beyond the bale. Today, the joint efforts work together like two well-oiled machines comprised solely of volunteers.
Stehr recalls getting questions back in January. He invited Morrissey to talk about the milk baleboards at R&J Dairy Consulting’s winter dairy meeting. Noted expert Calvin Covington was the keynote speaker that day, and he told the 300 dairy farmers that promotion needs to focus on domestic demand, and that “we in the dairy industry need to talk about milkfat and not hide behind it not wanting things to change. Consumers want that taste, and we’re not talking about it,” he said.
Morrissey then told the crowd about Troutman’s “Drink Whole Milk 97% Fat Free” roundbales that were just starting to multiply at farms and businesses after a cover story appeared in Farmshine.
“As I talked with non-ag people, I realized many of them didn’t know quite what it meant,” says Stehr. “I thought the missing link is education. We needed to educate the public.”
Stehr’s daughter Jackie Behr has long believed milk sales suffer because milk education is missing. She has a marketing degree from Penn State and experience in non-ag positions before becoming R&J’s marketing manager.
Even Behr was surprised by her February focus group interviews with non-ag friends. “I was blown away by the obvious gap between dairy farms, milk nutrition and consumer perception,” she reports.
Behr shared the focus group responses at a February meeting of farmers that included Troutman. “It was an obvious eye-opener for everyone. These were educated women responding to my questions. How did we miss so much milk education all of these years?” Behr wondered.
They not only had zero knowledge of milk’s nutrition — other than calcium — their minds were full of information that was just plain false.
They said they drank organic milk because they ‘didn’t want to drink all those hormones.’ Or they chose almond beverage ‘because there are no antibiotics in it.’
“The biggest misconception is how much fat they thought was in whole milk. Just like Nelson’s been saying. And when you tell them whole milk is standardized to 3.25% fat, their response is ‘Oh, wow!’ That alone is big,” says Behr.
Her marketing savvy kicked in. Ideas for a website were kicked around with obvious choices already taken.
Then one attendee said: “How about 97 Milk?”
It fit. And it captured attention. By the second meeting, they were ready to establish 97 Milk LLC and chose a volunteer board of Lancaster County farmers Mahlon Stoltzfus, Lois Beyer, Jordan Zimmerman and Behr, with GN Hursh serving as chairman.
The website was up and running by the end of February with a Facebook page (@97Milk) that has gained more than 8,500 followers in less than eight months and a weekly average reach of over 150,000. Individual posts have reached up to 1.2 million through thousands of shares and hundreds of interactions. Twitter (@97Milk1) and Instagram (@97Milk) are also active.
Behr says it all stems from what Troutman started, and he was happy to add 97milk.com to the bales with Morrissey making sure the website appears on signs and banners.
“To get someone to change their mind, you have to get the facts in front of them,” Behr observes. “We’ve got three seconds in front of their eyes to leave information that plants a seed.”
With some content help from others, Behr comes up with ideas, designs and coordinates Facebook posts six days a week.
The result? “People are shocked and come back and say, ‘I had no idea,’” Behr explains. “I am in the industry, and even I have learned so much about milk that I didn’t know before.”
“Now that 97 Milk has become a tool used by dairy farmers to educate the public about our product, the conversations that are happening are only the beginning,” Stehr observes. “We could have 97 Milk boards across the nation.”
As interest builds, 97 Milk LLC is looking into how different geographies could have their own chapters, with the website and materials providing some continuity.
“That’s where the power is, with the producers in each community or state,” says Stehr.
He credits Troutman and Morrissey for getting everyone’s attention and believes what they are doing creates the opportunity for the ‘beyond-the-bale’ education piece carried by 97 Milk LLC.
“The word milk has been used liberally, and the understanding of what it is has been diluted,” says Stehr. “We let that happen over the past 30 years and did nothing about it. We let them bash our product. Now we are educating people that the fat in milk is not bad, that there’s not 10% or 50% fat in whole milk, but 3.25%, that there is complete protein in milk and all of these other good things.”
From the baleboards, vehicle signs, banners and communications of the grassroots Pa. Dairy Advisory Committee, to the website, social media and educational events of 97 Milk LLC, a common bond unites these efforts — Troutman’s practical courage when he painted the first roundbale because he was frustrated and had had enough.
“We have lost market share, why? Because people don’t know what milk is and they don’t know what it tastes like,” says Troutman. “By promoting whole milk, we are opening their eyes and their tastebuds.”
While national co-ops think it’s “innovative” to develop a low-fat milk and nut juice blend, those involved in 97 Milk believe the response they see from diverse consumers tells a different story.
“People want to feel good about the products they are buying. The goal of 97 Milk is to share education, to share the dairy farmers’ stories,” says Behr. “You don’t pick up health magazines and see the benefits of milk. People need to see that positive information because they don’t know what milk provides.”
The Dairy Question Desk at the website fields a steady stream of five questions per week and when social media is included, 97 Milk fields 5 to 20 questions a day.
Every one of Behr’s original focus group have switched to whole dairy milk. The experience so far shows her consumers know very little about milk and have a real willingness to learn.
“All of our messages are simple. One fact. An infographic that’s simple to understand and that people can relate to,” says Behr. “Even if we have their eyes for just three seconds scrolling through, that little seed is huge.”
The posts fill other gaps. Behr believes people want to see that dairy farmers love their cows, that they care. The baleboard sightings and “cow kisses” have poured in for posting from several states.
The posts also help consumers fulfill a desire to be connected to their food, to buy local, and to support family-owned small businesses. “The simple fact that 97% of dairy farms are family-owned is a post that generated a lot of activity,” says Behr.
While she sees the environmental discussion as being big right now, she attributes this to the vegan activists driving it. By contrast, the 97 Milk facebook data and demographics reveal that 90% of consumers really want to hear about the health benefits, according to Behr.
She gives the example of the popular “yummy yogurt” infographic posted last week. It was visually attractive and simply listed a few health benefits.
“We get a few facts out on an infographic, and if you’re kind of hungry — or a mother like me trying to find healthy snacks for my kids — it hits,” says Behr. “It’s the simple things that get milk back in and help people feel good about buying milk products.”
The support from the agriculture community, and others, has been overwhelming.
“When someone calls, who you’re not even working with, to complement the work Jackie is doing, that’s rewarding,” says Stehr.
“When you see the response of a person in your community finding out they can drink whole milk and they really like it, that’s rewarding,” says Troutman.
“When legislators hold up a sign, or want their picture taken with a baleboard and say ‘this is the best thing going in dairy right now’, that’s rewarding,” says Morrissey.
“When people write into the Dairy Desk and we can answer their questions, that’s rewarding,” says Behr. “But most rewarding is hearing the excitement, seeing dairy farmers wanting to be involved, understanding the importance of marketing and seeing the results of getting involved. Receiving a simple note thanking us for positive messages, that’s rewarding.”
97 Milk LLC raised funds from more than 20 local and national businesses (see graphic) to cover expenses for the website and printed materials, and they’ve worked with Allied Milk Producers to have milk and dairy products available for parades, corn mazes, and other venues.
Meanwhile, individuals and communities take it upon themselves to paint bales, print bumper stickers, make signs, incorporate the message into corn maze designs, hometown parades, create farm tour handouts, initiate milk tents at athletic events, and more.
Young people are enthusiastic: FFA chapters, 4-H clubs and county dairy maids are printing their own banners and carrying the message at diverse public events. They love participating because it is real milk education, sharing the truth about milk and the life and work of America’s dairy farming families.
Morrissey and Troutman get calls from other states for banners and car magnets, and they’ve sent to these states at cost. Locally, the businesses paying for printing these items are giving them away (see graphic).
Behr has also designed items with the 97 Milk website logo, cows and farm scenes. These files are on the download area at 97milk.com and can be used to make banners, yard signs, license plates, bumper stickers, educational handouts, and more.
Troutman has added new baleboards for community events, including one that reads: Ask for Whole Milk in School. He and Behr recently did a television interview with a local PBS station.
Both the grassroots Pa. Dairy Advisory Committee and the 97 Milk LLC are running on shoestring budgets from donations (see graphic) with all volunteer effort, and the grassroots are blooming where planted to multiply the impact in ways too numerous to mention.
As a glimmer of hope, fluid milk sales nationally were up 0.2% in July, the first year-over-year increase in decades, with whole milk up 3.6% and flavored whole up 10.4%. Stores surveyed in southeastern Pennsylvania, where 97 Milk began, say whole milk sales are up significantly since January. It is also notable that many stores don’t seem to be able to keep enough whole milk on the shelves — a nationally obvious phenomenon.
Also being promoted is the petition to bring whole milk back to schools. This week, the online petition ( https://www.change.org/p/bring-whole-milk-back-to-schools ) topped 8000 signatures, plus 4000 were mailed in envelopes for a first-batch delivery in Washington Oct. 24, with a second batch goal to double that by January.
Reflecting on the past 10 months, Troutman says, “I thought if they’re not going to do it, someone has to, and here I am.”
And he’s happy. “Really, I’m thankful, thankful for so many who are helping make this work.”
To contact the grassroots Pa. Dairy Advisory Committee about banners, magnetic vehicle signs and baleboards, call Bernie Morrissey at 610.693.6471 or Nelson Troutman at 717.821.1484.
To contact 97 Milk LLC about spreading the milk education to other communities, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call Jackie Behr at 717.203.6777 or write to 97 Milk LLC, PO Box 87, Bird in Hand, PA 17505, and visit www.97milk.com, of course.
SHINGLEHOUSE, Pa. — Educating the public has long been a passion of the Hoffman family at Hoffman Farms in Potter County, Pennsylvania. The school and home communities of the two generations (five families) involved in the 1000-cow dairy are on both sides of the Pennsylvania / New York boundary.
In fact, Tricia (Hoffman) Adams gave a presentation back in 2006 on how they set up the learning components of their school tours at a Women in Dairy Conference that year. Attendees were inspired to find ways to invite the community in, and the family was later recognized with a Pa. Pacesetter Award in part because of progressive operations on the farm and in part because of their commitment to educating the community about milk and dairy farms.
Today, with tours, community events, a facebook page and the next generation so involved in school clubs and sports activities — in addition to showing dairy animals and market steers and pigs — the family has become a recognized source for their community to ask questions about dairy, livestock and agriculture, in general.
Earlier this year, the Hoffmans were among the many farms painting round bales and placing them in visible areas with the Drink Whole Milk 97% Fat Free message. They have always served whole milk, along with other dairy treats, when schools and community groups tour the farm. The Baleboards drew attention and gave Tricia an opening to answer questions people didn’t even know they had!
She reports that the schoolchildren on tours last spring loved the ‘milk baleboards’ and wanted their pictures taken with the “cool” roundbales.
In fact, the 97 Milk effort has revitalized Tricia’s educational resources, she says. She and her father Dale Hoffman are also both serving on the grassroots Pennsylvania Dairy Advisory Committee.
In September, Tricia worked with two vendors — Dan Rosicka of Progressive Dairy Solutions and Country Crossroads Feed and Seed to help share the good news about whole milk. Each vendor purchased 50 of the 12-inch x 12-inch magnetic vehicle signs with the 97 Milk message and website to make available in the community.
Tricia also acquired a 4-foot x 6-foot banner as well as other materials with the 97 Milk message and milk education information.
And then she added her own flare. She had been thinking about it and working on it on-and-off since summer. The farm was hosting a multi-school championship cross-country meet in October, and she was providing the “recovery” beverages – whole milk and whole chocolate milk — and other goodies.
“I’m not one to sit around and wait for help,” says Tricia. Like other dairy producers she is frustrated with the negativity surrounding milk and meat. “I am upset that our children have to suffer in their school diets, with the lack of milk choice and the meatless days. I decided our farm will do what we can to promote the ag industry through ag education, ag awareness and ag positivity!”
Each time Hoffman Farms is asked to donate money to a school club or a team sport, they donate dairy products instead — “with a side of education,” says Tricia.
For the North Tier League Championship Cross-Country Meet on October 15 at Hoffman Farms, Tricia set up two tents and tables. In addition to the 97 Milk banner, she had a Chocolate Milk Refuel and Recovery banner. For the “side of education,” she created a large cutout cow and numerous ‘spots’ with questions and answers.
As a farm that buys their own materials for these events and tours, Tricia feels strongly that whole milk products should be served and serves them when the events are after school or at the farm so that the schools are not jeopardized in any way due to the flawed diet rules they have to live by during school hours.
She reports that the young people (and adults) say they look forward to having “the good milk.”
“Whole chocolate milk as a recovery drink after a race, whole milk cheese sticks or toasted cheese sandwich supplies to add to a sports concession stand — whatever helps our industry and our future generation of students is what we are going to focus on,” Tricia explains.
She’ll admit that some days, “It feels like an uphill battle, but we have had many clubs, organizations and businesses wanting to help as well,” says Trica.
“At the end of the day, I’m not sure how many people will benefit or even how much I can change, but I would rather try by doing something constructive.”