2/16/2013 7:00 AM
By Jennifer Merritt Virginia Correspondent
ROANOKE, Va. — The Virginia State Dairymen’s Association held its annual meeting and awards luncheon during the joint Virginia Beef Industry and State Dairymen’s Convention Feb. 1 at the Hotel Roanoke.
The convention is a joint effort of the Virginia Cattlemen’s Association and the Virginia State Dairymen’s Association.
Cheryl Hayn, from the Southeast United Dairy Industry Association, gave an accounting of the organization’s budget for the state. Virginia’s almost $1.5 million check-off program works to grow consumer sales through child nutrition and industry image programs.
“We are looking for every opportunity to reach children through schools,” said Hayn. “Every school district in Virginia has a program.”
SUDIA supports school districts in expanding breakfasts and through Fuel Up to Play 60, a wellness program where students pledge to make healthy food choices, including dairy.
“We can go into school districts where we know they are a little hesitant and say we know you have to have a wellness policy. It’s mandated; every school has to have one,” said Hayn. “Here’s a program that fits right in. That way we can get our foot in the door and really focus on other opportunities for dairy.”
Over three quarters of Virginia’s students have signed up.
“This is the biggest program that we can implement that will grow milk sales,” said Hayn.
While the economy has driven some school districts back to cartons, Virginia numbers have stayed the same. The state leads SUDIA in the number of students drinking out of plastic bottles.
“We know the kids love that plastic bottle,” said Hayn. “We know through studies that they drink more milk in plastic. It keeps milk colder.”
Coolers for Coaches is another way SUDIA promotes dairy in schools, by helping to place coolers with milk in athletic departments.
“It’s good to have an advocate for chocolate milk in the school. Some misguided folks — parents and others — think that children should not be drinking chocolate milk,” said Hayn. “We can rally our partners and physicians to advocate for flavored milk. It provides great nutrition for kids. They need the nutrients that chocolate milk provides, and one of the great advocates to have in the school is the coach or the athletic director.”
In addition to maintaining an active presence in schools, SUDIA uses corporate partnerships to maximize promotional money.
“It’s an opportunity to use the deep pockets of other companies and let them use their marketing dollars to advertise your product,” said Hayn. “For every dollar that you put in we make sure the partners are putting in much more than that — right now it’s at about $6.”
According to Hayn, these partnerships have led to the sale of about nine billion additional pounds of milk sold across the country over the last three years.
As in past years, Domino’s and McDonald’s featured heavily in SUDIA’s presentation. Quaker Oats is a new partner with its “Make It With Milk” campaign. Each 1 percent increase in servings of oatmeal made with milk instead of water equals 29 million incremental pounds of milk. Using its own marketing money, Quaker is starting a “Make It With Milk” retail advocacy program in stores.
“Dairy farmers often say to me, I don’t see where my promotion money is being spent,’ “ Hayn said. “What I say is, every time you see a billboard for McDonald’s advertising the McCafe or smoothies, that’s your money that helped put those billboards up.”
In addition to increasing dairy sales, SUDIA works to promote the image of the dairy industry. Started two years ago, “Dedicated to Dairy” is an ongoing, mostly online, image program.
“It’s a promote strategy because we know people are interested in connecting where their food comes from, finding out where it’s sourced and learning more about farmers and how they are producing the product,” Hayn said. “But also it’s a protect strategy, because we’re seeing more and more negative, incorrect information. (Consumers) were getting the incorrect impression on how well you take care of your cows.”
The program showcases dairy families and the products they produce, helping to educate consumers who are an average of four times removed from the farm.
“Telling your story in a positive, compassionate way makes the public feel good about consuming your product,” Hayn said.
Hayn was asked if SUDIA had considered a marketing campaign that, like its beer counterpart, encouraged consumers “not to drink it unless the label is blue.”
“Nothing’s better than a cold glass of milk or worse than a warm one,” said the farmer.
U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., picked up the theme, cautioning that many members of Congress represent constituents who “think that their milk comes from the back room at Kroger — cold or warm.”
Goodlatte spoke about Chesapeake Bay regulations, ethanol and immigration, all issues important to the state’s dairy industry. He spent most of his time explaining why he doesn’t support the Farm Bill in its current form and detailing why he believes a supply market program inhibits the growth of the dairy industry.
He went on to call the Chesapeake Bay a national and international treasure.
“It’s probably one of the most valuable estuaries. It should be protected, but we should not be protecting it with programs that are untested in terms of their cost,” said Goodlatte, citing the projected $16 billion cost to Virginia. “And yet no cost to benefit analysis has been done to deal with this.”
Goodlatte has introduced legislation he said he hopes will clarify the purpose of the Clean Water Act, but he is not optimistic that it will pass or be signed into law. He is more optimistic about being able to limit the negative impact of ethanol.
“I’m not opposed to ethanol production at all. If it sells itself in the marketplace — great. But when the government puts its heavy hand on one side of the scale between corn for food versus corn for fuel and comes down on the side of corn for fuel, it’s wrong,” he said. “Blenders are mandated to buy a certain amount of ethanol each year. No one is mandated to buy a certain number of head of cattle or buy a certain amount of milk at the grocery store. That is an unfair competitive advantage for the ethanol industry.”
Two bills have been introduced to limit the ethanol mandate and are gaining support from a diverse collection of special interest groups, including small machine manufacturers, hunger organizations, grocery manufacturers and even some environmental groups.
One of the bills removes the Renewable Fuel Standard that sets up the mandate, and the other establishes a trigger suspending the mandate when the corn supply drops.
Immigration and the guestworker program are important labor issues for all sectors of agriculture, but Goodlatte doesn’t see either party willing to take a firm stand.
“There is increasing interest in finding a way to find lawful status for (illegal aliens). I don’t know whether we can find that common ground,” Goodlatte said.
He warned about giving legal status to immigrants that would allow them to work in any field.
“We have to make sure we address the needs of agriculture,” Goodlatte said. “We need to have a good legal guestworker program that’s flexible enough not to just handle picking a crop during a season, but to handle dairy farms all the time. And flexible enough to handle processing plants for poultry industry. If you simply give legal status to everyone and say you can work anywhere, they’re leaving those poultry processing plants. They’re leaving those farms and going somewhere else.”
Also during the convention, Virginia American Dairy Association President Dan Meyers congratulated the new Virginia Dairy Princess, his granddaughter, Kristina Callender. Miss Virginia, Rosemary Willis, gave the milk toast.
James Cook received a certificate of appreciation from SUDIA and the Virginia ADA for his service to the dairy industry, including co-chairing the National Holstein Convention in 2011.<\c> Photo by Jennifer Merritt
Virginia American Dairy Association President Dan Meyers, right, presents a certificate of appreciation to James Cook for his many years of service to Virginia’s dairy industry during the dairymen’s convention in Roanoke, Va.