Women Take the Helm Clauss and Williams break new ground

April 5, 2009 07:00 PM
 
Cattlemen's Beef Board chair Lucinda Williams (left) and National Dairy Board chair Kimberly Clauss meet with visitors at February's World Ag Expo in Tulare, Calif.

She's usually the tallest woman in the room. Add her blond hair and relative youthfulness, and Kimberly Clauss is hard to miss.

This year, Clauss will be even more visible. The Hilmar, Calif., dairy producer is the new chairwoman of the National Dairy Promotion and Research Board (NDB).

Joining her at the top of the national livestock scene is Lucinda Williams, a dairy producer from Hatfield, Mass., who chairs the Cattlemen's Beef Board (CBB).

The two are breaking new ground in national dairy and beef organizations—Clauss as the first woman to head the NDB, and Williams as the first dairy producer and officer from the Northeast to chair the CBB. Their leadership roles also come at a time when the dairy and beef industries are struggling with plunging market prices, high production costs and slumping demand.

Despite the timing, Clauss and Williams say they are eager to lead, excited by the prospects of boosting sales of dairy and beef products.

"I see big challenges ahead, but I believe in us as farmers and ranchers, dairymen and agriculturalists,” Williams says. "We are the lifeblood of our nation. I want to look forward, not back. I'm just excited to get to work.”

Elected chairwoman in January by fellow CBB members, Williams brings a dairy producer's perspective to the beef board. She and husband Darryl milk 100 cows and farm 250 acres in the heavily populated Northeast. She is one of 13 dairy producers on the CBB. Williams turned 47 the week she was elected chair.

"My beef industry experience is somewhat limited, but this also helps me bring a fresh set of eyes,” says Williams, who was first appointed to the beef board in 2004 by the USDA Secretary. "I evaluate things not because we've always done it this way, but [for] why we do it this way.”

Williams is determined to remind others that the dairy segment is an important part of the beef industry. That's because 20% of U.S. beef production is derived from dairy-breed cows and steers. Of the $79 million checkoff collection, dairy's contribution represents 14%.

With the CBB facing declining revenues as the U.S. beef herd shrinks and 2009 retail demand declines, Williams says the beef checkoff program will have to work smarter, not just harder.

"It just makes sense for the beef checkoff to work with industry partners,” she says. "We have so much in common with the dairy checkoff—with nutrient-rich foods, animal handling and quality assurance issues—that it's mutually beneficial to combine resources to work on these projects in the coming year.”

"Dairy farming is changing and, in some ways, I represent that,” says Clauss, 37.

Clauss is the daughter of Richard Clauss, one of the founders of Hilmar Cheese Company in 1984. Growing up in Hilmar in a family of three girls, Clauss says she was always involved in dairying. She earned a degree in agricultural business with an emphasis in agricultural policy from California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo. Today, she runs two dairies with her sister Karen Tate. Together, they milk 3,000 cows.

Initially appointed by the USDA Secretary, Clauss is now in her sixth year on the NDB, rising through the ranks to her current position. "Being chair is a huge honor,” she says. "I can't help but be excited.”

In particular, she points to the dairy industry's new sustainability initiative. The effort has drawn all segments of the industry to focus on shared interests.

"Consumers want to know the carbon footprint of milk,” she says. "It's going to take industrywide collaboration [to address the issue]. I see that as a sign of changing times.”

In addition, Clauss wants the 36-member NDB "to continue to educate dairy producers about what we're doing with checkoff dollars and working with other entities,” she says. "We want to be a common voice for the dairy industry and come together to share that common voice with consumers.

"Our goal is to provide nutrient-rich dairy products to consumers in a way that will benefit the industry, the consumer and the world economically, environmentally and socially, now and in the future,” Clauss adds.

Kimberly Clauss describes the dairy industry's new
sustainability initiative at World Ag Expo.
In both industries,
where men have traditionally dominated the leadership roles, Clauss and Williams have found strong support.

"There are a lot of friendly faces in the room at our board meetings,” Clauss says. "They all want to do what's best for the industry.”

Concerned about the ailing economy, the knowledge gap between producers and consumers and how to do more with less, Clauss and Williams have just one year to make some headway before their terms of office expire.

"We have our work cut out for us,” Williams acknowledges. "We had no way of foretelling…the economic struggles we're all faced with as producers and consumers. In spite of all this, we remain grounded and committed to making the best decisions we can to fund the right programs that have the potential to increase producer profitability along the way.

"We need to focus on the things we can have some impact on,” she adds. "We have to react to the economy, make wise program choices and therefore influence demand through our checkoff dollars.”



A CLOSER LOOK

National Dairy Promotion and Research Board (NDB)—Representing 13 regions in the U.S., NDB oversees the national dairy producer checkoff. In that role, it administers a coordinated program of promotion, research and nutrition education activities. Overseen by USDA, the program is financed by a mandatory 15¢/cwt. assessment on milk produced and marketed by U.S. dairy producers.

Cattlemen's Beef Board (CBB)—The 106-member CBB budgets and evaluates all national beef checkoff programs. These programs are funded by half of the assessment of $1 per head, collected each time a beef animal is sold during its lifetime. (The rest of the assessment remains with individual states.)

Bonus content:


MyBeefCheckoff.com

National Dairy Promotion and Research Board Current Members

Dairy Promotion Directors Elect 2009 Board Officers

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