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HERd Management: Maybe it’s not all as bad as it seems

Tara Vander Dussen for Progressive Dairyman Published on 31 May 2019

When you look online at articles, blogs and comments, it can feel like the whole world is against animal agriculture. Just this year, we have seen the EAT-Lancet Commission report and the Green New Deal.

And it feels like people are attacking us from all sides: animal welfare, nutritional benefits of dairy, greenhouse gas emissions, water conversation. It’s enough to overwhelm anyone. I know I feel this way often.

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I recently wrote a blog (Cow farts and BS: Why do we continue to attack the American farmer) about just that. When writing that blog, I was frustrated and angry. We as an industry have been improving our dairies across the board in all areas. But it feels like no one is noticing.

Following that blog, I received some great comments and had some helpful discussions with allied industry and fellow farmers. And I was reminded that maybe it’s not all as bad as it seems.

The loudest voice online is often the one that gets heard the most. But that doesn’t mean it speaks for everyone or even most of the people.

Yes, the activists are loud. Yes, they have a lot of money to spend funding these “reports” and “research.” And yes, the techniques they use grab attention, but they definitely don’t speak for most of the population.

Think about milk – we have 90 percent market penetration. Meaning 90 percent of homes in America have dairy products in their fridge. What other product can say that besides maybe water? And I am not ignoring the fact that fluid milk sales are down and milk prices are terrible. But what I am talking about is the fact that people, 90 percent of them, are choosing our products.

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Look at any menu at almost any restaurant. They not only serve dairy, but there are usually multiple products. Milk, butter, cheese, yogurt, ice cream, half and half, buttermilk, etc. – all used in a variety of ways from improving taste to creating a healthier meal.

Our products are everywhere. And we are finally seeing new innovative dairy products that are appealing to the next generation of consumers, like fairlife and Darigold Fit.

That being said, I don’t think we can ignore the activists. We have to keep an eye on what they are doing and their agendas. With money and celebrity endorsements, they get their message out there.

But many times, the activists are only talking to themselves and their community unless we draw more attention to them. When we engage with them, we make their conversation bigger.

As farmers, we have to continue sharing the science behind the health benefits of dairy in our diets and our on-farm practices from animal welfare to sustainability. Otherwise, activists will grab more of a foothold.

But right now vegans only represent 7 percent of the population. And many vegans end up converting back to a healthier, better-rounded diet.

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So when we talk to consumers, we need to keep in mind the 90 percent who are choosing dairy, not the 7 percent who are not. And if we are focusing our efforts combating anti-agriculture messages, we don’t get our positive story across to consumers.

Instead of playing into activists’ scare tactics and coming down to their level, we need to rise above. By sharing our own story, not playing into theirs, we can have a positive impact on consumers and their buying decisions.

And remember, when activists take it too far, it usually backfires on them – like in February when they attacked Steve Irwin. People came out in mass numbers to defend the Irwin family. It was pretty awesome.

And with the online dairy accounts that have been attacked recently, as horrible as that has been, it has been amazing to see the way their online communities have come to their defense and to offer support.

These are the things I think we need to keep in mind with our conversations with consumers online. Stay positive and share to consumers who are buying our products.

And the next time I start stressing about anti-ag activists and the push of their agendas, I am going to remember most people love pizza and ice cream, and I don’t think that’s going to change anytime soon.  end mark

Follow Tara at her blog, New Mexico Milkmaid.

Tara Vander Dussen
  • Tara Vander Dussen

  • Environmental Scientist – Glorieta Geoscience
  • Dairy Producer – Clovis, New Mexico
  • Email Tara Vander Dussens

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