KUNA, Idaho — A dairy family here took members of the media on an extensive tour of its operation Sept. 30, answering dozens of questions and allowing photos and video footage to be shot unhindered.
Liberty Ranch owner John Wind, Jr. told representatives of six media organizations that he did nothing special for their visit and what they were seeing was how the 2,500-cow dairy is run 365 days a year.
“This is not a show,” he said. “I have nothing to hide.”
The media tour was sponsored by the United Dairymen of Idaho and Wind said he saw it as his responsibility to provide the media and thus consumers a close-up view of a dairy operation.
“Our consumers have to have trust in what we do,” said Wind, who handed out his phone number and promised further access if requested. “Any questions you have in the future, just ask me.”
Cindy Miller, senior director of consumer confidence for UDI, said the industry wanted to host an event that would allow them to talk about the accountability and quality assurance standards in place at dairies and allow media members to ask any questions they liked.
“There is a lot in place to ensure food safety and food quality and we wanted to tell that story,” she said.
UDI was criticized recently for a letter it sent to hundreds of its members that some groups interpreted as a suggestion to deny media access to their operations.
The Idaho industry has also come under fire from some groups for a law passed this year that would make it a crime to secretly film agricultural operations in Idaho.
Miller said UDI welcomes anyone to visit a dairy and see what it’s like, but they want the visits to be done in a coordinated way because of food safety issues and the liability inherent in visiting a place with tractors and machinery.
“We’re happy to take any of those requests and make it happen,” she said. “We welcome the opportunity to showcase our dairy farmers.”
Liberty Ranch, a fourth-generation dairy that has been in business for more than 60 years, sells about 200,000 pounds of milk per day to the Sorrento Lactalis facility in Nampa, which turns it into mozzarella cheese.
Wind said ensuring the operation’s cows are well fed and properly cared for and treated is a top priority for the dairy. All of his 24 employees have to sign a pledge to abide by strict animal welfare and husbandry standards.
Boyd Phillips, milk procurement manager for Sorrento Lactalis, said all of the dairies that supply the company are required to adhere to a voluntary nationwide program that verifies animals are treated well.
“The program is voluntary for (Wind), but if he wants to ship to us, we require him to participate,” Phillips said.