Communications training: A survival tool for dairy farms

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As a dairy producer, I believe that telling dairy’s story to the public has become critical to the long-term success of our dairy business. Good public relations efforts are important in how we talk about our business, as well as how we present our farm and ourselves to others. It’s not just about self-promotion; it’s about self-preservation.

Last spring and summer, I joined about a dozen other Wisconsin dairy producers in a pair of day-long communications training sessions jointly sponsored by the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin and two producer checkoff organizations, the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board (WMMB) and Dairy Management Inc. (DMI). These workshops, which focused heavily on consumer media relations, taught me several important things:

  • How to develop my farm’s “story” in a way that is relevant and credible to consumers.
  • How to best tell that story to the public, using professional tips and techniques. We were advised on traps to watch out for when conducting interviews with the news media. And, the session on responding to “tough questions” was especially helpful.

Most of all, the training helped me gain confidence in telling dairy’s story to the public. DMI’s research showed that most consumers believe dairy producers to be highly credible, especially on issues relating to the environment, animal care and the use of animal medications. Knowing that, and realizing that no one else will tell my story,  encouraged me to stand up for dairy. Further, our trainers offered pointers for communicating farm practices in a way that consumers will understand and appreciate.

Speak up with confidence
What happens after the training? It all depends on your desire and ability to take advantage of opportunities that arise. For our part, over the past few months we have:

  • Conducted an interview with our local newspaper. Before we began the interview, I took the initiative and asked the reporter to tell me about where she was going with her article. When I learned she did not have an agricultural background and had never been on a dairy farm, I took extra time to show her around our operation. I also made sure to get in my key messages about the health benefits of milk, the economic benefits of local dairies to the community, and the fact that we enjoy dairy farming and intend to stay in it for a long time. I made sure to flag these points several times during the interview. The end result — success! All of my key messages came through in the article.
  • Participated in our town’s charity walk to raise money to help fight cancer. We sponsored our employees and family in the Relay For Life and decorated our campsite. We used that opportunity to create large styrofoam displays showing the health benefits of milk. We talked about those benefits to anyone who passed by, including the news media.
  • Persuaded our local bank to display WMMB’s Dairy Impact brochure in its lobby to educate customers about dairy’s positive economic impact on our community and our entire state.

Looking forward
We realize that as we contemplate a future expansion of our dairy farm business, we will need good communication skills more than ever. We plan to use our communications tools to help our farm reach its present and future business goals.

It’s a matter of survival.

Tammy and Roger Weiland milk 360 Holsteins near Columbus, Wis. Their operation, which features a rolling herd average of 29,500 pounds of milk, won their county’s Farm Family of the Year award in 2002.

How to Get involved

If you would like to participate in an upcoming check-off funded communications workshop contact DMI’s David Pelzer at (847) 627-3233. Or, send e-mail to: davidp@rosedmi.com



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