Collaboration Creates Impact
Dairy farmers created the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy 10 years ago as a forum to bring together leaders from across the value chain. Today, the Innovation Center has grown to include hundreds of representatives from dairy companies and organizations that work together to discuss, collaborate and align on pre-competitive topics impacting the dairy community.
The Innovation Center enables farmers’ priorities and voices to be represented while ensuring an economically viable and socially responsible dairy community, from farm to table. Each member brings forth perspectives and resources to advance dairy’s responsible practices and contributions to society with a focus on environmental stewardship, animal care and food safety, as well as community and economic impact.
There have been diverse lines of work and many wins to celebrate over these last 10 years, but here are some that have been especially impactful:
Creation of the Sustainability Alliance (formerly Sustainability Council). In its first year, the Innovation Center convened a multi-stakeholder group to gather knowledge and diverse perspectives from subject matter experts on sustainability issues affecting the industry at large. Through this effort, an aggressive goal was set to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 25% by 2020 and projects were initiated to support the industry in working toward that goal. Ten years later, the Dairy Sustainability Alliance has grown to include more than 40 farmers and 100 dairy companies and organizations, academics and NGOs, committed to working collaboratively to support responsible practices and initiatives that accelerate U.S. dairy’s progress toward common goals.
Raising the bar in food safety. The Innovation Center has helped to assure dairy food safety by providing resources and training in all dairy categories. More than 3,000 industry employees have participated in trainings that are conducted and funded by companies to control pathogens in dairy plants and artisan/farmstead operations. In addition, the Innovation Center made improving traceability a priority in 2009 because of the important role it plays in dairy trade. Now, more than 80% of the U.S. milk supply is covered by these voluntary traceability guidelines, thanks to the pledge of 26 dairy processors.
Third-party validation for animal care program. The Farmers Assuring Responsible Management (FARM) animal care program, which is administered by National Milk Producers Federation and supported with farmers’ checkoff dollars, achieved certification from the International Organization for Standardization. This is the first animal care program in the world to achieve this status. The Innovation Center endorses and builds industry alignment around FARM to ensure the U.S. has a single robust animal care program. FARM’s international status builds credibility of U.S. dairy with customers and global organizations as well as in trade negotiations.
A unifying campaign for the dairy community. With progress made against key priorities and the formalization of a new strategic plan in 2016, Innovation Center leadership recognized that the time had come for the dairy community to be more united and proactive in building trust with consumers. A multi-year campaign – Undeniably Dairy – was launched to reintroduce people to dairy. To date, more than 200 dairy companies and organizations are activating Undeniably Dairy in their own voice, extending our story in creative and compelling ways to consumers who have questions about dairy and the role it can play in their lives.
Global leadership is a longtime priority. Globalization has been a priority since 2009 when Innovation Center leaders commissioned a Bain & Company study that identified how the U.S. dairy industry was uniquely positioned to capitalize on unmet demand. Seven strategies were pursued and are now embedded in the strategic plan of the U.S. Dairy Export Council.
With a growing global focus on sustainability, the United Nations and other government and non-government organizations are rallying the world toward sustainable development goals. This touches virtually every aspect of our business and it’s an expectation for operating in a global marketplace.
The global dairy community comes together through the Dairy Sustainability Framework and the Innovation Center is recognized as the U.S. regional program. Through work with Global Dairy Platform, companies that participate in the programs of the Innovation Center and meet certain criteria are recognized as a member of the global framework.
There is much to celebrate about the past 10 years as together, we have put U.S. dairy in a powerful position. As we look ahead, it’s time to recommit to our shared vision and move from alignment to strategic commitment to scale the positive impact we can make. We must define for ourselves best and next practices and continue to report our progress. Demonstrating this unity, commitment and results will advance U.S. dairy’s global leadership position for the next decade and beyond.
*Barbara O'Brien is President, Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy