BUHL, Idaho — Like virtually every other dairyman, John Brubaker is proud of his family operation and the lengths he, his sons and their employees go to care for their animals and bring a wholesome product to the table.
But also like virtually every other dairyman, he’s an independent thinker and until recently just wanted to be left alone to run his dairy and produce quality milk.
During a media tour of the family’s Knott Run Dairy on Sept. 3., Brubaker said dairymen think the quality of their product should speak for itself, but we’re seeing that doesn’t work when it comes to consumer confidence.
Embracing the idea that transparency is a better route to consumer trust has been a learning curve for the fourth-generation dairyman.
He now operates with a different mind-set — “Open up the facility; we’ve got nothing to hide,” he said.
He led the tour through every aspect of his operation, explaining everything from animal health, nutrition and reproductive cycles to milking, refrigeration and monitoring technology.
He invited members of the media to go wherever they wanted and photograph whatever they wanted.
His intention, he said, was to show people who might not have an ag background how his operation produces a wholesome product that’s as fresh as you can get anywhere in the world.
His milk is picked up every morning, year round, maybe an hour after the milking is finished, trucked to Glanbia Foods and is a block of cheese by afternoon, he said.
“You can’t get any fresher than that,” he said.
He and his sons, their veterinarian and nutritionist all responded comfortably to a battery of questions, including those on genetically modified feed and rBST.
Cindy Miller, senior director of consumer confidence for United Dairymen of Idaho, said the dairy industry wants people to come out to the farm to understand the quality measures dairymen have in place and dispel some of the myths about milk production and animal care.
“A lot of people are really interested in where their food comes from. We can’t invite whole cities,” but UDI holds media and group tours “to help people understand the products on the shelf start on family farms,” she said.
There are 514 dairy farms in Idaho, and all of them are family farms, some smaller, some larger than Brubaker’s operation, which milks about 300 cows. The same holds true across the U.S., where 97 percent of the nation’s dairy farms are family owned, according to USDA.
UDI encourages people to learn more about dairy production. Tours of farms happen all the time, especially with school groups, and people can request tours through UDI or their local dairymen, Miller said.
Personal contact and hands-on experience are powerful tools for educating consumers and promoting the wholesomeness of U.S. dairy, Brubaker said.
Active in industry groups, Brubaker recently went on a trade mission to Vietnam with U.S. Dairy Export Council. USDEC had made videos of his dairy operation as well as three other dairymen on the trade mission.
Traders from Southeast Asia had the perception that American dairies were industrialized operations that didn’t take care of the cows. But they learned through that personal contact that U.S. dairies are far different then their perception and they were eager for U.S. product, Brubaker said.
That one day accounted for sales of 65 million metric tons of U.S. dairy product, he said.
“It’s all about telling your story. We really need to be more transparent so people know where cheese (and other dairy products) comes from,” he said.