A popular management book challenges business people to "move with the cheese." The book's author, Spencer Johnson, maintains that change always happens and, if you get comfortable with the status quo, you'll be lost and bewildered when someone "moves the cheese."

Consumers of milk and cheese are constantly asking for more from milk producers. Through an amazing array of laws, regulations, demands and even threats, milk producers are being asked by consumers to follow them as they "move the cheese."

The dairy industry's response is a national dairy quality assurance program, known as DQA Five-Star, which tracks consumers' concerns and matches them with a management improvement program to increase income and reduce production cost.

A dairy can earn a three-, four- or five-star rating, just like a premiere restaurant or hotel, by implementing and following certain management practices.

For example, environmental regulations are constantly being changed and becoming more invasive. The voluntary Five-Star Quality Assurance Program recognizes dairy producers who implement approved environmental management practices.

Consumers are also "moving the cheese" in the animal-care arena. Milk consumption is under attack by groups claiming that typical milk production practices abuse animals. Sometimes, their claims are designed to pit small dairies against large dairies. Their attacks ignore the fact that all dairies, regardless of size, need each other to attract and support bottling plants, milk-processing facilities and marketing programs.

The DQA Quality Assurance Program includes a walk-through of the dairy to review animal care, manure management and other issues. These observations become a benchmark which makes it possible for a milk producer to know if he or she is "moving with the cheese" in order to keep up with consumer demand.

What are the benefits to the producer?

The DQA program attempts to match consumer demands with management changes that:

  • Improve milk quality.
  • Increase milk production.
  • Reduce feed cost.
  • Improve animal health.

These key profitability factors are supplemented by improved insurance coverage, input discounts and other immediate economic incentives for milk producer participation.

For more information about the DQA Five-Star program, please call (800) 553-2479 or send an e-mail to: dqa@dqacenter.org

Keith Carlson is executive director of the Dairy Quality Assurance Center in Stratford, Iowa.