Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Competing in a global industry while facing local challenges

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The head of the United States Dairy Export Council takes a worldwide view of the sector’s opportunities and threats.
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Dairy farmers worldwide face similar challenges, whether it’s hand-milking two or three cows in Africa or the rise of larger dairy farms in the United States and China.

To beat these obstacles, farmers are embracing innovative solutions and opportunities on a global scale, United States Dairy Export Council CEO and president Krysta Harden says, speaking to Dairy Farmer on the sidelines of the World Dairy Summit in Chicago.

“They may be farming in different ways, different sizes of farms, different locations [but] they have much more similarities than differences.

“These farmers encounter numerous common challenges, such as grappling with labour shortages, navigating environmental concerns, adapting to changing climatic conditions, contending with urban encroachment, and managing financial constraints.

“Ensuring they maintain adequate profit margins to sustain their farms and pass them on to the next generation is an enduring concern that arises frequently, irrespective of their location in the world.”

She highlights the vulnerabilities that the pandemic has exposed in the supply chain, noting the challenges faced by the US in transporting goods to and from Asia, as well as the domestic struggles with land freight logistics.

“Farmers encounter a multitude of logistical hurdles, regardless of their geographical location, while also striving to foster global consumer understanding and appreciation for farming practices and the origins of their food.”

She identifies the shifting climate as one of the foremost challenges confronting farmers, who are having to adapt how they manage.

“In the United States, we are witnessing increasingly severe and erratic weather patterns, a trend mirrored across the globe. There’s such an instability of weather and farmers are trying to figure out how to deal with it.

“We are actively investing in scientific research and technologies to aid farmers in adapting to and mitigating these challenges, thereby playing a proactive role in the resolution process.”

She sees farmers adopting diverse seed varieties, contemplating alternative practices, and actively seeking solutions to mitigate the challenges at hand.

Energy-saving possibilities are being explored more frequently, with many farmers investing in electricity-saving technologies. For example, solar energy is being used for well operations across Africa.

The prevalence of methane digesters is on the rise globally, and Harden anticipates a heightened emphasis on addressing water-related challenges in future.

Despite the challenges, she sees immense opportunities for dairy, and the nutritional benefits were a clear message that came through at the International Dairy Federation’s 2023 World Dairy Summit in Chicago in October.

“I believe we need to establish more effective means of connecting with our consumers. We seem to have assumed they understand that there’s no direct substitute for dairy in terms of calorie-to-calorie nutrition. 

“We need to find a way to meet them where they are and listen to learn from them and make sure we are approachable as an industry.”

She gives the example of famous YouTuber MrBeast working in collaboration with the US dairy industry’s National Dairy Checkoff to build awareness of dairy.

In the Undeniably Dairy campaign, he is helping to reach Gen Z audiences. 

In one video, MrBeast highlights dairy facts and challenges viewers to have a photo shoot on a dairy farm.

“Examples like MrBeast are innovative ways to connect with consumers and raise dairy’s profile, in a good way,” Harden says.

“There are also great examples of connecting with emerging chefs in culinary schools around the world,

making sure they know how to use dairy and see it as a valuable ingredient.”

Harden has seen a lot of change throughout her career, particularly in the US, which is maintaining cow

numbers but increasing production and reducing the number of farms. 

Concepts such as the National Dairy Farmers Assuring Responsible Management programme, known as FARM in the US, give consumers assurance about of how milk is being produced.

“Animal care is critical irrespective of the size of the farm. Farmers care about their cows first, recognising their animals as essential to their livelihood.

“I strongly believe that the sector should collaborate in seeking solutions that equip farmers with more tools, advocating for incentive-based systems over regulatory frameworks to provide comprehensive support for both farmers and the industry as a whole.”

This article first appeared in the December edition of our sister publication, Dairy Farmer. Samantha Tennent attended the event with support from WelFarm and the International Dairy Federation.