One hundred years. A century. Transforming from one millennium to the next.
This time span can encompass several generations and engulf iconic changes in a civilization.
From 1916 to 2016 that’s exactly what happened. Generations passed, a new century was turned and changes in the landscape of the dairy industry went from slow and steady to quick and intense.
On one end, dairymen were milking ten cows by hand. On the other end, thousands of cows are being milked by robots. In the beginning, milk was lucky to make it from farm to creamery with reasonable quality. Today, milk is extracted from the cow and put into a bottle, churned into butter or processed into a dairy product within hours. Automation has changed the industry from farm to table and every step of the process in between.
As technological developments have driven the change of an entire industry and made it more streamline and convenient, one cog in this wheel has stayed as slow and steady as the dairy cow itself: the dairy farmer.
MMPA is embarking on a year of celebration as the entire cooperative from members to leadership take a moment to enjoy 100 years of existence. MMPA pioneered the milk cooperative movement in Michigan out of sheer desire for dairymen to make a profit.
In an article from the August 1919 issue of the Michigan Milk Messenger, editor R.C. Reed writes:
“The Michigan Milk Producers Association is a corporate body under the laws of the State of Michigan. The purpose expressed: To promote in all legal ways the interests of the milk producers of Michigan by mutual co-operation in producing, buying, selling and marketing all milk and dairy products within the State of Michigan.”
In short, MMPA existed for dairymen and women to sell their milk for a profit, envisioning they would be better, together.
MMPA was birthed in Livingston County with early members ringing familiar names like Munsell, Bamber, McPherson, Nixon, Wrigglesworth and Carr. Influential men in their communities, they started down the untraveled road of a milk cooperative formation and laid a firm foundation from which to build decade after decade of success.
As the first ones through the brick wall, they found themselves, bloodied, tested and tried but took their position seriously as cooperators and providers of a wholesome food to a hungry nation.
“A different spirit than ever before pervades the social, moral and commercial interests of the world. In fact, we think that mankind is being dominated by higher and holier impulses than in any other decade in the world’s history. This spirit is pervading every part of our body politic. The peace table across the water is possibly the highest attainment and the nearest to the idea of all the efforts that have been made for raising the level of common humanity up to a constructive basis upon which to build the great structure for the common brotherhood of man.
This principle so manifest in the establishment of the League of Nations is the same as dominated the officers of the Michigan Milk Producers Association in their effort to do the most conscientious, careful, and constructive work for the stabilizing of this great industry upon which depends so much of the moral, mental and physical being of the people of this nation in the years to come.
We feel the responsibility of the obligation we are assuming most keenly. We must not be derelict of duty nor recreant to the trust imposed in the opportunity given us to help to mold and fashion the thought and purpose of the food producers of this great commonwealth. As feeble as it may be, we must do our best. And we invite your cooperation.” –R.C. Reed, Michigan Milk Messenger
In 1915, the average price of milk paid to the producer in the Detroit market was $1.60 per hundredweight. In 1916, a group of men met on the campus of Michigan Agricultural College and forged the framework of MMPA. In 1917, the average price of milk paid to the producer was $2.24. Month after month, year after year, from 1916 to 2016, the price that producers were paid for their milk was and still is the most important result of all activities of the MMPA.
Put aside all the advances in technology, the promotion explosion and number and variety of dairy products that have been developed in 100 years and zero in on what has driven the longevity of MMPA: the integrity and dedication of its leadership to the members.
From the very first president, N.P. Hull to today’s leader, Ken Nobis, and every president in between, these leaders were dairymen willing to dedicate their time and offer their abilities to guide and direct a membership of independent thinking dairy producers from Michigan’s coast to coast. Along the way they faced opposition and questioning, collaborated with national agricultural leaders and had the ear of those inside the beltway including several U.S. Presidents.
The leadership has been unparalleled, the dedication has been unequaled and the result has been a century of trust, commitment and strength.
It’s now 2016 and the year of celebration of the 100th anniversary begins. As MMPA celebrates their long history they will continue to work together toward tomorrow.
This article originally appeared in the January 2016 issue of the Michigan Milk Messenger.