NMPF Young Cooperators Conference

Visiting Nashville for the first time ever proved to be memorable beyond our wildest dreams! Darrin and I were fortunate to be selected MMPA’s OYDC for this year, which led us to Nashville, Tennessee for the joint NDB/NMPF/UDIA annual meeting at the end of October.

We attended the meeting with last year’s OYCDs, Shawn and Beth VanDrie, and this year’s runner-up David Tolan (we missed you Gretchen!) We learned so much during the NMPF Young Cooperator conference, and made new friendships with YC’s from around the country. As a bonus, and completely unrelated from the conference, we landed tickets to the CMA awards! Wow! That was amazing!

2016 OYDC Runner-up Dave Tolan, 2015 OYDC Shawn and Beth VanDrie, and 2016 OYDC Barbara and Darrin Siemen gathered in Nashville for the NMPF YC conference.

The conference began with a fun welcome event – bowling. We went to a nearby bowling alley and enjoyed refreshments and hors d’oeuvres while hitting the lanes. The next day, was jam-packed with speakers. We heard from Dr. Christopher Wolf, professor of agricultural economics from Michigan State University (go green!) He discussed ways to measure and manage risks on the farm. He provided the group with tools and strategies for examining trends and evaluating financial performance.

My favorite session featured Elaine Froese, a farm family business coach. Even though Darrin and I have already transitioned the farm from his parents to us, the information she provided the group was so superior to anything I have ever heard yet on this subject. Her presentation is interactive and fun, while being informative and tackling real issues. I highly recommend any family in a transition period to attend one of her sessions if possible, or at the very least, purchase her books for guidance on this sensitive subject.

After a delicious lunch and some mingling time, from the next speaker was Tom Wall, The Dairy Coach. He spoke to the Young Cooperators about turning employee obstacles into opportunities. He’s worked with dairies across the nation for over 16 years, helping them create systems for training and coaching employees.

Don Schindler and Jamie Vandermolen from DMI showed us how to create videos from our farm to share on social media. We practiced with Facebook Live and an app called VideoShow. We know how important it is for consumers to get the right information from the right people, and video is an excellent way to communicate our message.

Finally to wrap up this busy first day, we heard from Larry Kaagan, the President of Kaagan Research. His company conducts polling, trend analysis, and strategy consulting to assist us folks in the “ag world” with understanding what everyone else thinks about terms like “sustainable agriculture.” It’s easy to forget that everyone else doesn’t know what we know, or think like we think.

We ended the day with dinner, mingling, and a mechanical bull at a restaurant in downtown Nashville. All the day’s info was swimming in my head, so I took the bus back to the Opryland Resort to call it a night. Darrin stayed behind with some other YCs. The next morning I learned all about how a fried bologna sandwich led to a nice guy offering him tickets to the CMA awards!

The rest of the conference was so fun and informative too. We met so many people; board members, national staff, and other cooperative representatives. We mingled in the Dairy Bar, where we tasted new dairy products and relaxed between sessions. Another notable speaker was Nina Teicholz, author of The Big Fat Surprise, and she described her decade crusade to discover the truth about dairy fat and its health benefits.

We heard from so many individuals, it’s quite difficult to sum all of them into one article. However, we know without a shadow of a doubt that the future of dairy is in good hands. We have such strong convictions, as did everyone else at the conference, about protecting our industry, that we hope we can take this knowledge and build upon it, and use it, for many years to come.

Barbara Siemen and her husband, Darrin, were named the 2016 MMPA Outstanding Young Dairy Cooperators. They own Prime Land Farm in Harbor Beach, Michigan and Barbara runs The Chick Wire podcast and blog. This article originally appeared in the December 2016 issue of the Michigan Milk Messenger.