Land O’Lakes member-owners and member relations support team recognize the deep importance of consumer education. Even today, when eaters are deeply concerned over the safety of America’s food supply during the pandemic, their trust in farmers remains high, signifying that farmers are key to influencing consumer education and building trust for our industry.
The National Dairy FARM (Farmers Assuring Responsible Management) program aims to do just that. The program works with dairy farmers to demonstrate and document how our industry tends to the care and comfort of cows, the environment and the end product, and how we support the people involved in cows’ care and management.
Land O’Lakes Inc. has a dedicated team of full-time FARM evaluators. In this role, they support member-owners to prepare for the FARM evaluations so that member-owners have everything they need to successfully complete this thorough, but ultimately worthwhile process.
In order to meet modern standards for animal care and management, a new version of FARM is developed every three years. The latest release, FARM version 4.0, includes several new mandatory standards, such as: a written herd health plan reviewed by the veterinarian of record, additional written protocols for pre-weaned calves, verification of protocols for non-ambulatory cows, and several new standards for continuing education for farmers and farm staff.
“Consumers have a lot of questions and very limited access to reliable information. FARM helps us tell farmers’ stories with facts,” says Amanda Waite, a FARM evaluator and animal care specialist with Land O’Lakes Inc.
Having grown up on a family dairy in Pennsylvania and having experience as a third-party animal welfare auditor, Amanda feels right at home with her day-to-day work and is often inspired by member-owners’ commitment to creating the conditions for a safe, sustainable and nutritious product.
Amanda and the rest of the FARM evaluation team are currently in the process of working with member-owners to update their documentation according to FARM 4.0 requirements. In prior versions, the team would send out reminders of the process one or two weeks in advance, which seemed to meet everyone’s needs. But now, FARM asks for many more written protocols that require veterinarian signatures, so Land O’Lakes has amped up its communications with members. Now, they send an email or postcard 60 to 90 days in advance. The email includes introductory information on how to prepare for the FARM evaluation, plus links for more resources.
Amanda adds, “Every region and producer handles things differently. Our goal is to give them the option to complete steps over the phone, or communicate over email or in-person, depending on what will work best for them. Most importantly, we aim to get ahead of the calendar — it gives folks enough time to contact their vet for a signature.”
We spoke to a couple individuals who are leading completion of the FARM initiative on behalf of their family farm for the first time this year. The consensus: the undertaking takes a lot of documentation, but the new communications help.
“Most of what the evaluation wants to see, we were already doing,” says Kate Kulp of Kulp Family Dairy LLC. “It was just a matter of documenting it. And working with Amanda and the Land O’Lakes team made it really easy.”
Kate says that she uses a variety of ways to stay in touch with the FARM evaluation team, adding, “A lot has been done through email with Amanda. She emailed me a checklist, which has website links you can visit to find all the forms and templates. And if I have questions, I can just call or text her. The FARM team’s done a good job in providing support to farmers if they have any questions or need anything.”
J.D. Spicher of Spicher Family Farms is also personally new to the FARM program process, which his father completed in years past. J.D. admits that the evaluation itself is very prescriptive, which can be off-putting, especially for those of us who “don’t always like to be told what to do, or exactly how to do it.”
But J.D. adds, “I found out that it is more focused on educating the consumer of our product about the things we have in place to make sure it’s properly managed. In most cases, we’re already doing it — it’s just a matter of documentation and getting the paperwork to certify it. In the end, it’s good to get the word out. And it’s not too painful of a process.”
Whether members are completing FARM for the first time, or if they’re working to understand the changes in the latest version, Land O’Lakes Inc. has the resources and the experts to help every member-owner meet the goals of the FARM 4.0 program. If you don’t feel like you can meet all the requirements right now, know that we have the resources to help.
The FARM evaluation team works to help simplify and clarify the process of completing FARM V4.0 through check-ins and checklists. Though, we know that means much more than another item on a to-do list. It’s one more way we work together to advocate on behalf of America’s dairy farmers, and to inform and educate eaters about farmers’ hard work every day to help ensure a safe and affordable food supply for the rest of the country.