2016 YC Planning Committee, from left: 2014 Runners Up Ken and Kristen Sparks, 2015 OYDC Shawn and Beth VanDrie, 2014 OYDC Carrie and Brian Preston, and 2015 OYDC Runners-Up Darren and Regina Coffey.

With fluctuating milk prices, an increasingly visible world on social media and tough decisions regarding farm succession, the next generation of dairy farmers must navigate through an evolving world.

The 2016 Young Cooperator (YC) Conference on April 15 in Mt. Pleasant tackled some of these issues at the annual meeting of MMPA’s younger members.  The morning session was led by MMPA President Ken Nobis, MMPA General Manager Joe Diglio and United Dairy Industry of Michigan (UDIM) CEO Sharon Toth. The leaders provided updates on the cooperative, the dairy industry and UDIM initiatives to promote dairy.

In the afternoon, Michigan State University Extension Educator Roger Betz rounded out the presentations with an overview of farm succession planning before the YCs headed out on a tour of member farm, Vanderploeg Holsteins.

Also in the afternoon, UDIM Director of Industry Relations Jolene Griffin led a presentation and panel on social media and communication with two MMPA members. As consumer demands continue to shape requirements of on-farm practices, social media may be an avenue to amplify consumer concerns, but also an opportunity for dairy farmers to share their own story. Griffin addressed the 60 YCs in attendance with an interactive presentation geared toward dairy promotion through social media.

“How can you connect with consumers?” Griffin asked. “Tell them about the great things you’re doing on your farm and your own personal dairy story. Every conversation matters.”

Griffin introduced MMPA members Katelyn Horning and Ashley Kennedy who are active in agriculture promotion through social media and blogging. Horning runs a Facebook page for her family’s farm, Horning Farms, and Kennedy runs a personal blog, Messy Kennedy, with integration on multiple social media channels.

Kennedy promotes agriculture in her blog by focusing on topics consumers relate to. “I aim for an audience. My goal is to reach millennial moms by blogging about more than just agriculture. There’s more to me than just the farm,” she explained.  “One third of my posts are about the farm and I hit tough topics like antibiotics and hormones. The other stuff is about things I enjoy, and I use it to draw in that target audience.”

Horning’s page highlights the daily activities on the farm. “Social media is an outlet to promote a positive image of agriculture. It can create a larger group that’s on your side,” she relayed.

Yet Horning said she has faced negative responses on social media, advising the YCs to use those opportunities to positively address their concerns: “You may not change that person’s mind, but you need to stay positive for other people who may read your conversation online. Stay professional and positive.”

Griffin rounded out the session noting the importance of positive interactions online and relating on a personal level with consumers. Though she recognized social media is not for everyone, it is important to know the right messages to convey because conversations about agriculture and dairy can start anywhere.

“Every conversation matters. Avoid acronyms, put your terms into words that make sense to consumers. Storytelling is key,” Griffin said. “Share stories with people and connect on those levels, finding a shared value resonates with consumers.”


The YC Conference is a component of the MMPA Outstanding Young Dairy Cooperator (OYDC) program, established in 1950.

Purpose of the OYDC Program:

  • Strengthen leadership abilities in young farmers
  • Broaden young farmer’s knowledge of milk marketing and MMPA
  • Recognize the abilities and stewardship of young dairy farmers

On August 18-19, MMPA will host a two-day conference for the Top 10 OYDCs in Novi to select the 2016 OYDC representative and runners-up. The Top 10 OYDCs will be selected in the coming weeks. For more information, contact Jessica Welch at or 248-474-6672.

Learn More About the YC Program