Minneapolis dairy case managers, many for the first time, get an upfront look at milking on a commercial dairy farm.
Dairy Academy offers intense training
The men, in their 30s, 40s and 50s, crowd into the double-16 parlor at Joe and Vern Becker’s dairy, a 1,000-cow commercial operation just north of Litchfield in central Minnesota.
Most of the men have been front-line dairy case managers selling milk, cheese and ice cream at big-box grocery stores in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metroplex for years, some for decades. But only a few have ever stood at the business end of a working dairy cow.
John Fetrow, a University of Minnesota veterinarian, pulls one of the milker units into the pit so the visitors can insert a finger into the teat cup. A look of amazement spreads across each face as the gentle pulsations squeeze the men’s fingers.
Welcome to the Midwest Dairy Association’s Dairy Academy for Retail Excellence.
The daylong event starts at 7 a.m. with three hours of classroom PowerPoint presentations, con-tinues with a tour of a modern cheese plant and a lunch with dairy farmers, and culminates with a tour of a commercial dairy farm.
"Retailers are the first line of communication with shoppers, and they have the opportunity to communicate milk’s message, taking it from the farm to the fridge," says Cindy Sorensen, vice president of strategic information and relationship management for the Midwest Dairy Association.
Front-line retail workers often get questions about animal care, sustainability, on-farm practices and differentiation between products, she says, but few have actual on-farm or in-plant
experience. The Dairy Academy gives them the opportunity to see, touch, and yes, even smell, during in-person visits, Sorensen says.
The information they gain can be transforming. "Most of my colleagues had no idea of all the regulations and oversight farmers have to go through," says David Reed, dairy and frozen food manager for County Market in North Branch, Minn.
"Many of them thought there would be ways around the regulations, especially when it comes to antibiotics. But when we learned of the testing required and that farmers have to pay for the whole load of milk if a residue happens, [we realized] farmers are going to make sure they’re providing good-quality milk," he adds.
To emphasize that point on the Litchfield dairy tour, Fetrow asked one of the herd owners, Vern Becker, how many cows were being treated with antibiotics. "Today, we have three cows in the hospital pen, waiting for the antibiotics to clear," was the response.
"Three out of 1,000," Fetrow repeats, adding: "There’s probably more of us on this tour today on antibiotics than the cows here. It’s just not true that dairies are awash in antibiotics."
Myth busters like this are the core reason Midwest Dairy offers these academies for retailers. The one held in Litchfield in late April was the seventh event that the group has conducted.
The event hosted nearly three dozen dairy department managers from Jerry’s Enterprises, which operates CUB Foods, County Market and Jerry’s Foods stores in the Upper Midwest and Florida.
- June/July 2012