Dairy Talk: Yes, Folks, We Have A Crisis

Dairy Talk: Yes, Folks, We Have A Crisis

We in the media are often accused of creating alarmist headlines and Armageddon-type crises to sell magazines and generate page views.

But this time, folks, we really do have a crisis in the dairy industry. It’s not one that will cause immediate carnage to thousands of dairy farms in the coming days or weeks.

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It will, however, erode consumer confidence in dairy products and farmers’ social license and trust within their communities to do business.

So what is this crisis? Consumer perception of how dairy farmers care for their animals. “We have a growing trust problem,” says David Pelzer, senior vice president of strategic communications, Dairy Management, Inc.

“Thirty-five percent of the  millennial generation now believes dairy farmers abuse their animals and that more than 50% of farms have a problem with animal care,” he says.

These consumer perceptions are alarming and cannot be ignored, Pelzer says,  

Millennials are the generation of consumers born between the early 1980s and early 2000s. There are more than 80 million of them in the U.S.—the largest cohort in history and more populous than baby boomers.

And oh, by the way, millennials are now raising the next generation of consumers.

Unlike baby boomers who get their news from network TV and newspapers, millennials are connected to the Internet and social media 24/7—right where animal activists, such as PETA, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and Mercy for Animals live and thrive. These groups’ common goal is to put an end to animal agriculture, Pelzer says.

Animal abuse videos, which are yesterday’s news on national networks and newspapers, never die on the Internet. From the consumer polling mentioned previously, they are having a dangerous, corrosive impact.

“Consumers who have never been on a dairy farm don’t know the difference between egregious animal abuse and accepted dairy management practices, when a video makes it all look bad,” Pelzer says.

What can you do? First, don’t assume such a video couldn’t be created on your farm.

Gary Conklin, a dairy cattle broker from Columbus, Ohio, buys close-up heifers, calves them on his farm and then sells them as freshened heifers to farmers. His operation was the subject of an abuse video in May 2010.
The incident cost him his milk market, community trust and even physical threats to him, his family and his business that required police protection. His advice:

  • Know your employees. Do thorough background checks on job applicants, difficult as that can be.
  • Have legally binding contracts with employees that specifically state no animal abuse will be tolerated.
  • Conduct third-party animal welfare audits of your operation to evaluate your animal care and handling practices. Involve employees so they know what is expected. “Audits should be done annually,” he says. “I think we’re to that point, not only for our own individual protection but for the protection of the industry as a whole.”

jim dickrell, editor

JIM DICKRELL is the editor of Dairy Today. You can contact him at:





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Spell Check

sherburne, NY
1/28/2015 01:26 PM

  So Jim were are the previous comments? There were at least 4 this morning. We have a major crisis in the dairy industry and it is a major brake down of leadership. When leadership finds it easier to blame the farmer than to defend the practices of farmers then people like you need to get out o the way. When 99.9% of farmers do the right thing and your solution is to throw them under the bus is doing the easy thing true leadership is standing up and doing the hard thing, either start defending the industry or go join your friends at the HSUS and peta take NMPF right along with you because they are no better. NMPF wants to defend the abusers by pushing to guaranty a market for their milk even after they have been caught red handed. If you are going to own cattle it is your responsibility to ensure the people who work for you are doing the right thing, if you can't handle that then don't own cattle. If you are too busy in the office or running around going to meetings to ensure the welfare of you animals than get out. And no Jim I don't think it is appropriate for you to delete comments just because you disagree with them.

sherburne, NY
1/29/2015 12:29 PM

  Thank you Jen for clarifying that. As an industry are we now going to be told how to farm? NMPF, DFA etc. are now demanding that farmers participate or loose their market, is this where the industry really wants to go, a bunch of thugs calling themselves board members(who exactly elected them?) telling other farmers how to farm? Where does it end? Just because you may disagree with a certain practice does not make it wrong. All hail the mighty NMPF either do things their way or stop farming. In many places there is no alternative. If you think things are going to get better just look at the clean water act. This will not end well for the industry. This country is about freedom, if a simple majority will now dictate what practices are allowed on a farm than I vote for every cow needs an acre of pasture and must be on pasture for at least 6 months out of the year. So Jim and Jen why not push for that? IDFA is now pushing for even more rules and regulations. Who would have thought that after the victory of making FARM mandatory they would just start pushing for more? No I don't expect a reply just like when dairy famers call NMPF.

Jen Russell, AgWeb editor
Parker, PA
1/29/2015 10:39 AM

  Steve, the four comments you are referring to were not deleted by anyone. They are on Jim's blog, not this column from the magazine. Jim covers the same topic in both places. You can view the other comments here: http://www.agweb.com/blog/Dairy_Talk_199/a_dairy_crisis_in_the_making/ Thank you for reading!


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