Idaho dairy group prepares future leaders

of United Dairymen of Idaho The first participants in United Dairymen of Idaho's new dairy ambassadors program pose for a photo during their first session in Boise on March 2. Left to right are Pete Doornenbal of Caldwell; Ted VanderSchaaf of Kuna; Craig Vanderham of Wendell; Clint Jackson Meridian; and Josh Webb of Declo.

United Dairymen of Idaho is helping the newest generation of dairy leaders to be informed, prepared and effective in representing their industry and keeping it on a sustainable course.

The organization is breathing new life into its Ambassador Program, adding structured leadership training and industry speakers to its board-member shadowing program.

“We’re really excited about making this a benefit for the future leaders of the dairy industry,” said Cindy Miller, UDI senior director of producer relations and consumer confidence.

The program focuses on providing information and training to build leadership and communication skills and knowledge of the dairy industry, she said.

“It’s a unique opportunity for dairy farmers,” she said.

Ambassadors’ sessions are held quarterly over a year and include programming to inspire, challenge, engage and equip participants to take on leadership roles, according to the program’s mission.

In addition to leadership training and communication skills, the sessions are devoted to understanding the current business environment and future trends affecting consumer demand in the U.S. and worldwide. It will also include sessions on the dairy checkoff, program initiatives and strategies.

“Many (farmers) are focused on the dairy industry on a micro level — things affecting their own operations. What we are doing is giving dairy farmers interested in taking a leadership role a broader perspective and access to national leaders to present big ideas as to what is happening on the global stage,” Miller said.

“Much of our milk in Idaho gets sent outside of our boarders, so understanding exports and the global market is very important to our farmers and our industry partners,” she added.

The program kicked off last week with the first five ambassadors meeting in Boise to get a deeper understanding of UDI and hear presentations from national speakers. They also participated in a UDI board meeting.

Marin Bozic, ag economist with the University of Minnesota, spoke on domestic and global economies as they relate to dairy, exports and global production. Jim Mulhern, president and CEO of National Milk Producers Association, gave a broad view of the industry and the issues the organization is addressing — such as milk pricing, labor, environmental issues, food safety and nutrition, animal health, product standards, labeling and trade policy.

This year’s ambassadors are Pete Doornenbal of Caldwell, Ted VanderSchaaf of Kuna, Craig Vanderham of Wendell, Clint Jackson Meridian and Josh Webb of Declo.

Webb, 33 — who milks 1,700-1,800 cows as part of his family’s diversified Heglar Creek Group — said the program positions dairymen to be the industry’s representatives.

With each generation of the public becoming more distant from the farm, the industry is going to need those representatives more than ever to address misconceptions, particularly about animal care, he said.

He’s eager to host youngsters and teachers on the family operation, he said, adding that it’s important to teach children where their food comes from now so they’ll have that knowledge when they grow up and the industry will have fewer battles with misconceptions, he said.

He also wants to learn more about how the industry markets dairy products and how global factors affect what he does on the farm, he said.

Doornenbal, 35, who milks 600 cows in conjunction with his brother’s 600-cow operation, also emphasizes informing the public about the source of its food.

“That takes leadership. It can be an eye-opener for those people,” he said.

“I’m involved (in the ambassador program) because I want to get a good feel for what it feels like to be in a leadership position, get my feet wet. It’s a great way to see what it’s all about,” he said.

He also wants to find out how the industry is led at the state and national levels, find out how his checkoff dollars are spent and learn about marketing, economics of the industry and what affects markets, he said.

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