Unity abounds during these unprecedented days

Posted 03/25/2020 by Marilyn Hershey

I’d be hard-pressed to find a time when solidarity mattered more in my lifetime. Not just for our country, but for our dairy industry. We’ll only get through these challenging times if we stick together and support one another.

I experienced industry unity at its finest during a recent board of directors call of the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, an organization we created through our checkoff in 2008. The Innovation Center is a voluntary organization of farmers, cooperatives, processors, retailers and trade associations that works with leaders across the value chain to align on pre-competitive priorities, drive progress and speak with one voice.

Innovation Center for US Dairy

The call had a bit of a solemn undertone given the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic that’s impacting businesses and farm families across the value chain. But during that 90-minute meeting we heard leaders from different organizations speaking as colleagues, as “U.S. dairy.” 

The top leadership from the U.S. Dairy Export Council (Tom Vilsack), National Milk Producers Federation (Jim Mulhern) and International Dairy Foods Association (Michael Dykes), along with invited guest Tom Halverson from CoBank, shared insights and answered questions. The conversation was informative, candid and mostly necessary as we collectively seek a way through an unprecedented time of uncertainty.

It showed that even in the most difficult of days, we share a special bond across the industry and there is much more that unites us than divides us.

It also showed that if we didn’t have the Innovation Center already in place, we’d be frantically trying to put one together now. And I can assure you that a global crisis is not the time to create something of this magnitude.

Farmer connections
On the farm, our life continues as close to normal as we know it. We have 17 employees who we speak to frequently about available resources and steps they can take if they aren’t feeling well. So far, so good. 

I have gotten calls from many farmers, not just here in Pennsylvania but from across the country. Social media also allows us to connect and share ideas, or just our frustrations. But what I love most about my farmer peers is our attitude of resilience. The cows still need to be milked and a nation needs to be fed. Sure, our mood can change as we read news updates, but we remain focused and we get our work done.

We see the stories of the virus causing panic among consumers, who are stocking up at the grocery store. Dairy is in demand and the shelves are being emptied. It gives farmers faith to see Americans turn to the basics and great nutrition in a time of crisis.

But we need to be cautious about this moment, too. Some media stories claim that dairy, which contains a glycoprotein called lactoferrin, can help combat the virus. While some farmers have suggested to me that the checkoff should make the most of the moment, this is a time for us to remember that sound science and research should guide us. Our National Dairy Council (NDC) experts have reviewed these claims and express concern over perpetuating that human immunity benefits from dairy and lactoferrin. 

National Dairy Council Website

NDC states that studies have been limited and with mixed results. Human trials also have used pharmaceutical levels of lactoferrin that are larger than those obtained from the recommended three daily servings of dairy. 

More research is needed before a claim can be made. Our best approach is to continue talking about dairy’s unique and robust nutritional package that is critical anytime.

In the meantime, we’ll continue adapting to our new normal. My father soon turns 92 and because a family gathering would exceed CDC’s social distance recommendations, we are instead talking about celebrating via a video conference call. 

We’re all following CDC’s social distancing recommendations, though I do make runs to our local grocery store, a trip I now cherish more than ever. The other day, I thanked the woman who was bagging my food and she talked about the hard days at work, how they put in extra hours to keep the shelves stocked and how some employees fill in for those who feel safer staying at home. 

As farmers, we relate to the tough days. It’s part of our DNA. We know there is always a job to do and that is all the motivation we need to press onward, no matter how challenging the times may get.

If you want to talk about the Innovation Center and all the things your checkoff is doing during this crisis, I encourage you to reach out to me through talktomarilyn@dairy.org or leave a comment below.

If you’d like to join the Facebook conversation about the national dairy checkoff, ask to join the Dairy Checkoff Farmer Group

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