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Guest Columns

Perspective:
Industry Issues

My 100-day plan for IDFA

Michael Dykes, D.V.M.

Michael Dykes, D.V.M., is president and CEO of the International Dairy Foods Association. He contributes this column exclusively for Cheese Market News®.

I am writing my very first column for Cheese Market News since I was selected earlier this year to replace Connie Tipton as the president and CEO of IDFA. I am thoroughly enjoying the new role at IDFA and have been busy completing all the items outlined in my 100-day plan presented to the selection committee.

For those who may not know me, I’d like to start by sharing a bit about my background. I grew up on a small dairy and tobacco farm in Kentucky and earned a bachelor’s degree in animal science and a master’s in agricultural economics from the University of Kentucky and a doctorate in veterinary medicine from Auburn University. After working six years as a practicing veterinarian in Illinois, I spent the balance of my career in industry, leading and executing strategies to shape agricultural policies. Clearly agriculture has always been my passion, and I look forward to working closely with all members of the dairy industry.

In fact, my 100-day plan focuses on three key groups: the IDFA team, our IDFA members and external stakeholders who are partners or may become partners in future collaborative efforts.

Meeting with people on the IDFA team was my first priority. Having worked with both Connie and Tip Tipton for nearly 20 years while in my previous position, I was already aware of the respect IDFA has earned over the years with people in Washington and across the food and agriculture chain. I wanted the IDFA team members to know that I respect their many accomplishments and want their perspective on ways to build on past successes to make the association even stronger and more effective in the future. To me, IDFA’s success starts with having the “A” team on the field with a clear vision and each member of the team focused on delivering outcomes to our members. This is one thing I am committed to delivering for our members.

The second priority focuses on our IDFA members and the value they derive from IDFA membership. IDFA has a very diverse membership of 550 organizations that represent all aspects of dairy processing, from cheese manufacturing to fluid milk, yogurt and ice cream processing, as well as numerous food retailers, suppliers and companies that offer infant formula and a wide variety of milk ingredients. Our members are privately owned companies, farmer-owned cooperatives, publicly traded companies and dairy-related associations.

As part of my plan, I’ve been traveling the country to meet with board officers and, when time permits, visit their facilities. This listening-and-learning tour is an important first step in the broad member survey we’re undertaking to make sure we’re providing excellent value to all our members. We need to know their priorities and expectations for their trade association. If you haven’t been contacted about the survey, be sure to let us know. We want to hear from each of you.

In these conversations with members, I’ve heard some recurring comments, including accolades for the professional expertise of the IDFA staff and concerns about challenge areas that will need concentrated effort from IDFA going forward. The issues rising to the top are food safety regulations, exports and international trade, school milk offerings and the farm bill, so we’ll be drilling down on these and others in the future.

I’ve also heard a nearly universal request for continued and increased industry collaboration, which dovetails perfectly with the focus of the third priority in my plan. We need to build closer relationships and expand joint efforts with external stakeholders and coalition partners to accomplish our goals. Our efforts will include building relationships with policy makers in the new Congress and the new administration.

I also want to ensure we have excellent working relationships with the broader dairy industry. I firmly believe we will be more effective and have a stronger voice to shape policy supporting our industry if we focus on our shared interests. We will be strongest when we work together.

As an invited speaker at the recent board meeting of Dairy Management Inc., I told the producer leaders, “If rational people that trust each other sit down and talk about their problems, they will find solutions.”

Fortunately, Lucas Lentsch, CEO of Midwest Dairy Association, was in the audience and tweeted my statement to a broader audience beyond the walls of that meeting. I truly believe what I said and look forward to sitting down with others in the new year.

Until then, I invite you to follow me on Twitter @michaeldykesdc to watch my progress on the 100-day plan and the continuation of my tour.

It won’t be long before I’ll draw upon the learnings from these one-on-one meetings with the IDFA team and our IDFA officers, along with the results from the broader member survey, to present a new vision and priorities for IDFA.

In fact, there are two opportunities for you to learn more about IDFA’s future plans and how we expect to collaborate with industry stakeholders. Join us at Dairy Forum 2017, Jan. 29-Feb. 1 in Orlando, and ProFood Tech, the new trade show and conference program for the beverage and food processing industry, April 4-6 in Chicago. Each event will offer new insight into IDFA, along with the results of fresh research, innovative ideas for products and operations and, as always, exceptional networking.

Of course, there will be many other opportunities for learning and working together in the new year and beyond. I feel blessed to be in this role and to work with so many wonderful people. I’m very appreciative to Connie for her friendship and gracious support during the transition, and I look forward to enhancing and enriching the value we provide our members, as well as the industry overall.

CMN

The views expressed by CMN’s guest columnists are their own opinions and do not necessarily reflect those of Cheese Market News®.

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