As 2021 comes to a close and farmers are wrapping up harvest, I am reminded of FarmFirst Dairy Cooperative’s accomplishments and the challenges that made the year memorable in a number of ways. This annual report provides a glimpse at many of those accomplishments and the issues we will need to address on your behalf.
One outcome from the past year is the greater appreciation for things we take for granted after our experiences in 2020. My list of things I have come to appreciate is quite extensive, but there are a few important ones I believe you would agree with.
Consumers became more appreciative of dairy products and the nutritional package they provide. Initially, gallons of milk disappeared from grocery store shelves, as consumers flocked to products, they were familiar with and found comfort in. As a highly nutritious food, milk was a popular choice and the demand for dairy foods dramatically increased. More than 18 months later, demand for dairy continues to be strong. Last year, the average American consumed 655 pounds of dairy in milk, cheese, yogurt, ice cream, butter, and other dairy foods, demonstrating a resilient and growing love for all things dairy, an increase of 3 pounds per person over the previous year according to the USDA.
Empty grocery store shelves in 2020 reminded consumers of the vital role of farmers in ensuring quality food is available for them and their families.
More dairy farmers found a greater appreciation for milk haulers and their milk plant. As we went into 2021, we all had high expectations that things would return to a sense of normalcy. What we’re experiencing certainly isn’t normal. In fact, maybe there is no such thing as normal as everything seems to change just at different speeds.
Business is experiencing supply change challenges, which for dairy farmers means empty equipment lots, a shortage of replacement parts, delays in receiving needed products and materials, and sky high prices when we do get what we need.
It is not a secret that the labor shortage is one of the main reasons for our supply chain challenges. We are experiencing it on our farms, with our processors, our support businesses, and within our transportation system.
Due to a shortage of employees, some processors have had to reduce the number of days they make product, which isn’t ideal for dairy farmers whose cows are producing milk every day.
The labor shortage has affected both our milk haulers and our processors, who are struggling to find enough drivers. In fact, according to the American Trucking Association (ATA), economists predict a shortage of more than 100,000 drivers nationwide by 2023.
More dairy farmers came to appreciate those working alongside them. As the owner and manager of my own multi-generational farm, I have countless times mentioned in my columns and speeches my appreciation of the work of my family on the farm. Whether it’s keeping us fed so we can stay out in the field, getting repairs done or sharing the workload, I am incredibly grateful for them and their diligence. During challenging times, in addition to family it is often a local business, neighbor or friends who extend a helping hand to ensure that everything gets done.
All of these issues – maintaining consumer confidence, addressing supply chain challenges, labor shortages, and providing dairy farmers with sufficient resources and support within our legislative and regulatory issue advocacy efforts are just part of what FarmFirst Dairy Cooperative is focused on, every day. Fortunately, our cooperative has the resources, partnerships and people to get the job done.
As I close, I encourage you to thoroughly read the annual report to see what we’ve done and what we’re working on. Most importantly, on behalf of the board of directors and the staff at FarmFirst Dairy Cooperative, we appreciate you and your dedication to being a part of the dairy industry and this cooperative.