How are you viewed in your community?
Having an active presence in the community is important to the success of any business, and it is no different for dairies. It involves respecting your neighbors, being a steward of the land and participating in local functions.
During Dairy Today’s Elite Producer Business Conference this past November, Kevin Wulf of Riverview LLP in Morris, Minn., shared with dairy farmers what to do to shore up community relations.
"At Riverview, we call community relations our social licensing," Wulf says. It’s no small challenge for the dairy, which milks 48,000 cows on eight dairies, raising replacements, finishing 50,000 head of beef cattle and doing it over a geography spread up and down the I-29 corridor in Minnesota, the Dakotas and Nebraska.
Wulf explains the dairy’s social licensing has four focus areas: building community trust, maintaining that positive reputation, developing employees and being proactive for animal agriculture.
The first focus is on neighbor relations and building positive community trust. One way to do this is meeting with neighbors regularly in order to get to know them and understand their concerns.
Riverview works with neighbors to buy or sell feed and manure, which helps maintain those lines of communication.
"People want to trust producers, but we have to give them a reason to trust us. We need to keep visiting with them and reassuring them that we are doing what we are supposed to do," Wulf explains. "Part of building that trust is giving tours and letting people know what it is we do and how we are taking care of our people, our animals and our environment."
To maintain a positive reputation in the community, Wulf recommends paying bills on time, donating to local organizations, keeping the farm clean and starting scholarships or internships. Doing these types of activities help foster a good reputation for Riverview, but it also encompasses employee training.
"It really is about an ongoing effort to help our employees tell the same story that we are telling," Wulf says.
He adds that employees are trained at Riverview on the proper ways to interact outside of their work at the dairy, as well, because ultimately, every employee is the face of the company. Every time an employee goes to town, whether they are on a parts run or attending a school event, he or she is representing the dairy.
Language development is another segment of employee training. Both English and Spanish are taught to help employees bridge any language gaps that might exist.
"Every company has issues in communication, even when everyone speaks the same language, so it is very important that we are both learning and meeting in the middle so we can have better communication," Wulf says.
In addition, employees can supply candid feedback on a daily basis and during annual reviews to help make the dairy a better place to work.
"Finally, we spoke about being proactive for animal agriculture, which includes serving on boards such as Farm Bureau and FFA Alumni," Wulf says.
However, being a voice for the industry in other areas outside of typical agriculture groups is just as vital to the success of a farm.
"It might be an environmental group, it might be a human rights commission and it may be even as simple as the school board. Because of course in rural community, the school is affected by agriculture, and that’s where we can really make the biggest difference by being the voice that we ought to be," Wulf says.
In closing, Wulf shares that when thinking of implementing these changes, remember the Golden Rule: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."