“Why aren’t cows able to go outside? Why do you take the babies away from their mamas? What is the FARM program?”
These are just a few of the questions dairy farmers often receive. For Land O’Lakes, Inc. and our member-owners, educating consumers is a common practice (visit our advocacy section for more information). And following a recent phone call from a concerned consumer, the co-op once again jumped into action.
In rural Pennsylvania, a local consumer drives past dairy farms daily and noticed that many of the cows were not leaving the barn. After spotting a Land O’Lakes member-farm sign, she called the corporate office to ask just why the cows weren’t outside.
This call provided a perfect opportunity for Land O’Lakes’ Farmers Assuring Responsible Management (FARM) team to educate a consumer and share common modern agriculture practices. After speaking with the consumer and the herdsman of the farm Audrey Breneman, Land O’Lakes FARM program specialist Amanda Waite set up a time for the consumer to visit the dairy.
“With the FARM program and everything we are devoted to with animal care, we want to try to be as transparent as possible and not hide from the consumer,” Amanda says. “Ultimately, we wanted to leave a better impression on the consumer.”
To help prepare for conversations such as this with consumers, Amanda and co-worker Brittni Treichler, attended the Young Dairy Leaders Institute hosted by the Holstein Foundation. The institute is a leadership and communications skill development program open to industry partners and producers.
Using those skills, Amanda and Brittni met with Audrey to discuss activities for the tour and how to interact with consumers in a positive way. Just a few minutes later, the consumer arrived on the farm with her husband, who happened to be a local chef.
“Before we had even barely finished introductions, the consumer began asking questions,” Amanda says. “We moved to answer the questions by saying ‘Let’s walk into the barn and we’ll show you.’”
Prepared to answer questions and share her dairy story, Audrey showed the consumer and her husband around the barn, explaining how the cows have mattresses, sprinkler systems and access to food and water at all times.
As the group walked through the barn, milking parlor, birthing area and calf pens, the consumer continued to ask questions and was met with science-based explanations. As for why the cows weren’t out of the barn much, with modern agriculture, producers create a safe, stable and enjoyable environment for the cows inside.
When it came to calves, the team explained how calves are separated from their mothers to provide them with a sterile, clean environment and to give mothers an environment where they can relax after the stressful process of giving birth.
After finishing in the barns, the group visited the calf pens, where the consumer had the chance to feed a calf milk out of a bottle.
“She was feeding the calf and got to see my son play with the calf and not be afraid of it,” Audrey says. “It pulled everything together. I think she enjoyed it and had a better understanding of how things go on the farm.”
To put an exclamation point on the tour, the consumer walked away with a Hershey’s chocolate bar and coupon for Land O’Lakes butter. Why those two products? Because the milk from Audrey’s cows go into the production of both and Audrey was happy to “share a little good.”
“I welcome consumers on my farm because, if we don’t have the consumer, we don't have a market,” Audrey says. “When we have opportunities to show off our farms or educate them, we should.”
Land O’Lakes works to educate consumers, legislators, regulators and anyone else interested in learning about agriculture. A little time on a farm with a producer provides great insight into the life of farmers and, hopefully, helps create new advocates of the industry.
“This is something we need to be doing more of,” says Amanda. “There is a lot of folks that have questions because they don’t have the family member or the grandparent who has farmland like it used to be. People are more urban and removed from farms, generation after generation and they have questions. I think the best way to answer questions is to get them on the farm and let them answer those questions.”