FarmFirst Dairy Cooperative Mark Ryan (left) presented the co-op’s Meritorious Service award to Jim Bird, in recognition of more than four decades of advocacy and policy reform in the dairy industry.
FarmFirst Dairy Cooperative Mark Ryan (left) presented the co-op’s Meritorious Service award to Jim Bird, in recognition of more than four decades of advocacy and policy reform in the dairy industry.

Collaboration and partnerships are key to keeping the dairy industry strong, FarmFirst Dairy Cooperative general manager David Cooper told members gathered for the co-op’s third annual meeting, Feb. 13-14, at Onalaska, Wis.

“There has always been a sense of partnership of working together to get the job done,” Cooper said of the co-op established in 2013. “The dairy industry has changed a lot over the years, and will continue to change a lot more in the years ahead, but how we work together doesn’t need to change if there is a commitment to dedication, hard work, honesty and integrity.”


Mulhern featured

National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) CEO and President, Jim Mulhern, updated the group on national and international policy issues, including geographical indicators, trade agreements and the status of the global dairy market. He singled out three of the Wisconsin’s members of Congress – U.S. Reps. Paul Ryan, Ron Kind and Reid Ribble – for their leadership efforts to improve trade opportunities for dairy farmers.

Ryan, a Republican, and Kind, a Demoocrat, both serve on the House Ways and Means Committee. Republican Ribble serves on the Foreign Affairs Committee and is co-chair of the House Dairy Farmer Caucus.

“Dairy farmers and processors here in Wisconsin and surrounding Midwest states have a great deal riding on the outcomes of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade negotiations,” Mulhern said. “As international trade becomes a larger and more important part of the U.S. dairy economy, we are fortunate to have three major champions for the state’s dairy sector heavily involved in influencing the outcome of the TPP free trade talks.”

Mulhern noted restrictive dairy tariffs employed by Japan and Canada were barriers to U.S. exports.

“We have made good progress on dairy issues in the negotiations with Japan, but we are still not yet at an acceptable final agreement,” he said. “While we recognize Japan will not eliminate all tariffs, they must provide more market access for our dairy products than they have been willing to do so far. Canada, on the other hand, should not be allowed to be part of this free trade agreement without providing significant new market access for U.S. dairy products.”

“Whether the challenge is high tariffs, unfounded quality assurance barriers, or the attempt to stop cheesemakers in Wisconsin from using common names such as parmesan, feta or havarti, we have to draw a clear line that free trade talks must expand international commerce, not erect new roadblocks,” Mulhern said.

Mulhern discussed NMPF’s National Farmer’s Reassuring Responsible Management (FARM) program, established to enhance consumer confidence regarding the animal welfare practices on dairy farms across the country.

“Consumers are genuinely concerned about animal care on farms, and expectations have risen across the food chain in recent years,” Mulhern said. “The FARM program was established to demonstrate the good care dairy farmers commit to providing their animals.”



The annual meeting also included Producer Discovery workshops.

Sandy Stuttgen,from UW-Extension in Taylor County, Wis. discussed the importance of maintaining quality meat when culling dairy cattle, and the considerations that should be made when evaluating their body conditioning.

Alan Levitt, vice-president of communications with the U.S. Dairy Export Council, gave a fresh perspective on global dairy exports, reminding producers of the dairy factors involved with the overall milk price, and how that may affect future month’s milk prices.

Carol Magurany-Brotski, from the National Farm Medicine Center, shared statistics regarding farm safety and how small oversights can cause major accidents, for family members and farm visitors.


Award recognition

Jim Bird was awarded the Meritorious Service award in recognition of his years and dedication to the cooperative and its predecessors. Bird retired from FarmFirst Dairy Cooperative this past year, marking more than four decades of advocacy and policy reform in the dairy industry.

The annual banquet also recognized three retiring board members, all from Wisconsin, including: Bernie Vander Heiden of Kaukauna; Randy Peterson of Wilson; and Francis Cherney of Milladore.


Young Cooperator Steering Committee meets

FarmFirst’s Young Cooperator Steering Committee held its inaugural meeting. This group will start several new initiatives and host events for other young members to get involved in the cooperative.

The business meeting included recognition of past year’s scholarship recipients; 30 individuals were awarded more than $26,000.

Based in Madison, Wis., FarmFirst serves nearly 5,000 farms in Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, Michigan, Iowa, Illinois and Indiana through policy bargaining, dairy marketing services, laboratory testing opportunities and industry promotion. Visit