Charging ahead to 2017 at the MMPA Leaders’ Conference

Before the local meetings and district meetings and even the Annual State Delegate meeting, MMPA members in leadership roles gather every fall for the MMPA Leaders’ Conference. On Nov. 21, 2016, these leaders—including local officers, district officers, dairy communicators and OYDCs—met in East Lansing, Michigan to begin the next few months of member gatherings.

This year’s conference gave attendees an update on the various changes in the dairy industry, political landscape, university and MMPA.

What’s going on at the university?

Starting off the morning program, MMPA members heard from two new leaders in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) at Michigan State University (MSU).

First, Dr. Ron Hendrick, the new dean of CANR, described his vision for the college. One goal mentioned was the need to increase accessibility for more potential students, even as the college is growing near a 40-year high in enrollment.

“We are currently placing over 90 percent of our graduates into jobs or advanced study,” Hendrick stated. “We have high employability, but we need to improve affordability and accessibility for more students.”

Hendrick also called attention to the relationship between the college and MMPA. “Our century-long partnership with MMPA is meaningful and durable. We’re looking forward to century number two,” Hendrick concluded.

MSU Extension Executive Director Dr. Jeff Dwyer, who assumed this position in early 2016, followed Hendrick, going into greater detail about the programs and mission of Extension. Dwyer reflected on the importance of their 4-H and youth programs.

MSU Extension is also asserting its need to be active in communities to respond quickly when there is a crisis. According to Dwyer, their presence in communities enabled MSU Extension to be a “rapid response” force for issues such as Bovine Tuberculosis, foreclosure prevention and the Flint Water Crisis.

Throughout 2016, MMPA received three awards from MSU Extension. Dwyer noted the Key Partner award MMPA received recently: “This award reflects that we couldn’t ask for more out of an organization, a partner or a friend.”

What’s going on with national ag policy?

Chuck Conner, president and CEO of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, offered an update on food and agricultural policy. He highlighted the need to be active in national policy to ensure the needs of farmers are addressed.

“In ag, we’re about the long-term,” Conner described. “We are long term investors in land and livestock, so we need to be long-term investors in Washington, D.C. as well.”

Conner, a former Deputy Secretary for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, explored five key issues expected to be impacted by the incoming administration: immigration, infrastructure, tax reform, the Affordable Care Act, regulatory reform and trade.

Conner recognized immigration was a hot topic during the 2016 presidential election, even as many farmers rely on labor from immigrant workers and the agriculture industry has unique challenges related to this issue. Further, Conner noted in regards to infrastructure improvements, a challenge will be to “ensure rural America receives its fair share of any new initiative.”

Conner concluded by drawing attention to the 2018 Farm Bill: “The farm bill is within our grasp and we have reason for optimism moving forward.”

What’s going on at MMPA?

In the afternoon, members focused on what’s going on with their cooperative. First, MMPA General Manager Joe Diglio spoke frankly with the group and explored the results of the 2016 fiscal year.

The year—spanning Oct. 1, 2015 to Sept. 30, 2016—was characterized by “headwinds and tailwinds” which included the massive milk flush which resulted in depressed milk and commodity prices. However, Diglio emphasized how MMPA found growth and new sales opportunities, capitalized on butter and cream sales, and collaborated with other dairy cooperatives to achieve goals.

Diglio also noted some of MMPA’s accomplishments including reaching $5.8 million net savings and paying out more than $25 million to members in producer incentive premiums.

Diglio then introduced Greg Soehnlen from Superior Dairy, an MMPA customer based out of Canton, Ohio. Soehnlen gave MMPA members an overview of their company and its drive make changes through innovation.

MMPA President Ken Nobis was the last speaker of the day. He addressed national and global issues such as worldwide milk production, Cooperatives Working Together (CWT) and the dairy Margin Protection Program (MPP). Nobis relayed the need for program improvements on MPP and noted some members of Congress are currently looking to change or modify the program.

Nobis continued his discussion with a closer look at MMPA and the co-op’s ongoing examination of feasible expansion opportunities.

“We are well positioned for the future,” Nobis asserted. “We have processed record volumes through our plants, we have an expanding customer base and we have a strong employee team.”

Following Nobis’ presentation, Diglio and Soehnlen returned to the stage for a question and answer session to allow members to learn a little more. After another challenging year, the Leaders’ Conference prepped MMPA leaders for the following months of local, regional, district and the 101st Annual State Delegate Meeting.

This article originally appeared in the January 2017 issue of the Michigan Milk Messenger.