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Dairy industry makes progress in 2020 amid pandemic

Photo by Anna Hastert

Despite the challenges producers faced in 2020 stemming from the coronavirus pandemic, the US dairy industry found ways to adapt and make progress.

COVID-19 was definitely at the top of the list for US dairy farmers when it came to challenges impacting their business last year, however, data shows producers were able to protect – and even grow – demand for milk and dairy products. Dairy farmer Marilyn Hershey is Chair of Dairy Management, Inc. She recently gave credit to the national, state, and regional Dairy Checkoff Teams that successfully pivoted to the pandemic’s impacts.

“You know, the 2020 plan wasn’t sufficient for the circumstances we had,” Hershey said. “We had to redirect and move milk in other ways. Partnerships and relationships were critical. It was a great coming together, there was a lot of work that was being done, to you know fast and furiously to move more milk.”

Tom Gallagher is CEO of Dairy Management, Inc. He says partnerships with retail food outlets, as well as Feeding America, helped domestic and export dairy sales gain 1.2 percent growth through the month of September.

“I think if anyone would have placed a bet on that last March, the people with the 1.2 percent would have won that bet,” Gallagher said. “People were never going to guess we’d be at that level.”

The dairy industry was also able to advance sustainability goals, according to Barb O’Brien, President of the Innovation Center for US Dairy.

“We unveiled a field to farm gate plan – it’s called the Net Zero Initiative,” O’Brien said. “It is aimed at breaking down barriers to make new technologies and practices more accessible and more affordable to farms of all sizes. You know, this is so critical for farmers because ultimately for us to be successful we have got to earn consumer trust. By being proactive they’re putting themselves at the table and able to define their future in this area and it’s a strategy that frankly, that worked.”

Iowa nationally ranks 12th in total milk production and 8th in milk production per cow. Iowa’s milk production represents 2.45 percent of the total U.S. milk production.

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