One of my favorite sayings at California Dairies Inc. (CDI) is that we’re stronger together.
Truthfully, that saying applies to the entire industry, particularly when it comes to the U.S. Dairy Stewardship Commitment. There is no one individual or organization that can make the progress we need without working together.
If we are to succeed, it’s going to take all of us.
The Commitment was launched in 2018 by the checkoff-founded Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, with participation of co-operatives and processors. It’s our pledge to consumers, customers and each other that we’ll take specific actions demonstrating social responsibility in key areas, including:
- Animal care
- Contributions to our communities
- Food safety
- Engagement across the whole chain
The work is partly based on the premise that if we aren’t measuring and reporting progress, it’s tough to know when we’re getting better. Our industry agreed on the best metrics to reflect our priorities. We’ll use those metrics and report to the Innovation Center, which will regularly announce the aggregated findings. The first report will be issued later this year.
Progress has been made
To be clear, dairy has made tremendous progress in this space for a long time. We just haven’t been very good at communicating it and measuring it in quantitative ways to people outside of our industry.
That’s why I consider the Commitment to be a business imperative. We need to show real, measurable improvements, or we simply won’t have a place to sell our products. Our customers are responding to their consumer base. Those who aren’t willing to embrace this are going to have a difficult time remaining viable.
As I begin my tenure of Stewardship Commitment Task Force Chair, I do so with much gratitude to my predecessor Mike Durkin, President and CEO of Leprino Foods. Mike did a lot of heavy lifting to get the Commitment off the ground and selling in the concept of unity. He also led efforts around measurement and setting common baselines with common processes, so that every company doesn’t have different guidelines in what and how they measure. That’s critical if we want to report out in an aggregated way on behalf of the whole industry. There were a lot of administrative pieces that had to be built and Mike’s leadership got the job done.
I’m also grateful to Mike Haddad, chairman of the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, and Barbara O’Brien, president of the organization, as well as the Innovation Center board of directors. Creating this program doesn’t happen overnight. There’s a lot of trust that had to be built with processors, co-ops and farmers to say we’re in this for the common good. We understand not everyone is starting at the same place on this journey. It’s been critical to be sensitive to that fact, while balancing it with the immediacy of the need.
I firmly believe the Commitment is the right plan at the right time. If we wait for the perfect storm to happen where this becomes easy, we’ll still be talking about it five years from now and the global marketplace will have left us behind. Urgency is the key and I tell our farmers and others that this is about preserving our livelihood.
Tools for farmers, processors
We know our industry has a wide range of farmers, from small to large. When you think about that spectrum, it means they’re resourced very differently. We need to make sure everyone has access internally or to third-party experts to help them understand how they can make real progress. We want to make sure they have operations that are going to be relevant not just for tomorrow but 10 years from now.
On the processor side, our adopting companies supplied funding to support a tool that collects and aggregates metric information, including on greenhouse gas emissions, water recycling and community engagement, to contribute to the Commitment reporting effort.
I’m excited about my new role. It aligns with what I believe in as an individual and what we believe in at CDI. I look forward to helping my peers and finding ways we can tackle this opportunity collectively with a sense of urgency that’s real. And I welcome capturing the interest and investment of our full value chain and stakeholders that will be needed for near term transformation toward a healthy and economically viable future.
Had we maybe had these same discussions a few years back, I’m not sure the industry would have been unified like we are now. But I sense a true spirit of camaraderie that’s very refreshing.
We are showing that together, we really are a stronger industry.