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Dairy Group Working to Attract Processors

by Jerry Goshert

Published: Friday, November 16, 2012

After humble beginnings with an all-volunteer staff, the Indiana Dairy Producers organization now has its eyes set on some ambitious goals. During the past three years, the group has hired an executive director, increased membership and welcomed industry sponsors. Its leaders want to continue that growth, while also working to increase profit opportunities for its dairy producer members.

One idea, discussed last Friday at IPD's annual "Partners in Success" luncheon in Indianapolis, is to attract a new dairy processor to Indiana.

"We've already had our first meeting," said Doug Leman, IDP executive director. "We've got more meetings scheduled. We're going to meet with, basically, anyone who is willing to talk to us."

Leman said more processing capacity will be needed as world population continues to grow, bringing with it an increased demand for food. Having more dairy processors, Leman said, would also help the industry deal with excess milk supply. Last spring, when supply exceeded demand, Leman said many milk cooperatives had trouble finding buyers.

"When milk goes really, really cheap, that money is coming out of somebody's pocket," he said.

Leman, a former dairy farmer from Francesville, joined IDP as executive director in the spring of 2011. His hiring fulfilled a longtime goal of IDP, which was to have a full-time staff person handle the day-to-day duties of the organization. Before his hiring, the dairy group, which was originally known as the Indiana Professional Dairy Producers (IPDP), relied solely on volunteers.

Mike Yoder of Middlebury served as the group's first president. The keynote speaker at last Friday's meeting, Yoder looked back on the "good old days" of the organization, which was created in 1999.

Three individuals—Kelly Heckaman, Mike Schutz and Tim Johnson, all with Purdue University, organized a meeting of interested farmers, according to Yoder. He and fellow dairyman Dave Forgey of Logansport were among the farmers attending that first meeting.

Yoder said he volunteered to be president and Forgey agreed to be the secretary.

"One of the things that was important to us at that particular time . . . (was) there was no voice for Indiana dairy farmers," Yoder recalled. "We were relying on volunteers to show up for meetings, where we needed an executive director or staff person. Because all the other livestock groups had that. That's what we were missing at that particular time—an organized voice for dairy."

As the group's first president, Yoder said he was once asked by Sen. Richard Lugar's office to testify at a Senate subcommittee hearing on dairy policy. As a full-time farmer who milked three times a day, Yoder said he traveled to Washington to deliver his testimony, but he was able to fly back in time to haul manure that same day.

Other witnesses read testimony prepared by staff members. Yoder wrote his own speech.

That's what life was like in the early days of Indiana's first dairy organization, Yoder said. Volunteers were stretched thin while handling their full-time jobs as dairy farmers and while helping to represent the fledgling dairy organization.

Yoder said one of the goals identified by the first board of directors was to hire a full-time staff person. However, the organization wasn't able to get that done in the early going. He praised the current leadership for finding the right person for the job.

In its first year, Yoder said the IPDP board also set the goal of having 50 percent of the state's dairy cattle represented by IPDP members. As of Nov. 1, 2012, the organization, which recently dropped the word "professional" from its name, for simplicity sake, has 67 percent—or two out of every three—dairy cattle represented by its membership. Leman said 4,000 cows have been added in the past six months.

One approach that is different today is how the organization funds its activities. In the early days, Yoder said the group strived to fund educational tours and other expenses through membership dues. Now, the dairy organization gets its financial support from industry partners, many of whom were recognized at last Friday's luncheon.

This year, IDP created a new level of sponsorship at the $7,500 level. Last Friday, three "Diamond" sponsors (highest level) were announced. They include Milk Promotion Services of Indiana, the Indiana Corn Marketing Council and the Indiana Soybean Alliance.

LuAnn Troxel, IDP president, outlined the various activities that create value for members. The group plans to hold five regional dairy meetings this year, one more than last year. Meetings will be held next February and March in Rockville, Warrenton, Columbus, Shipshewana, Goshen and Decatur. The group's annual meeting will be held on Feb. 11 at the JW Marriott hotel in downtown Indianapolis.

IDP also is reaching out to college students, offering free memberships for Purdue Dairy Club members.

This year, the dairy organization led two tours, one in southwestern Michigan and another in Kentucky. The tours are designed to be educational. This year's "Kentuckiana" tour will be in northwestern Indiana, Troxel said.

Other outreach efforts include coordinating drought response meetings at the Indiana State Fair.

As in the early days, Indiana Dairy Producers also handles policy and regulatory issues that come its way. But now it has a full-time executive director who can respond quickly.

Troxel said the No. 1 issue facing the industry is profitability. She said IDP can help producers be more profitable through education and other efforts.

Other issues include labor and regulations, Troxel said.

"We have more regulations than we used to, and if we want to be in the business, we have to know what they are," she said. "We have to be compliant, or if we have a reason why they need to be changed, then we need to do something about it."

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