February 3, 2017

Vilsack Calls for Collaboration, Communication and Cooperation

 |  By: Mike Opperman

Outgoing Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is optimistic about the current state of the industry because of the great products produced by U.S. dairy farmers. To make the dairy industry even stronger will take collaboration, communication and cooperation, he says. His remarks were given the recent Dairy Forum put on by the International Dairy Foods Association.

In his speech Vilsack, the new president and CEO of the U.S. Dairy Export Council, laid out his three priorities for improving export market opportunities: securing market access, increasing demand and facilitating better sales opportunities. He says it will take collaboration with companies outside of agriculture who have relationships with our trading partners, especially Mexico.

“We all collectively have a responsibility to strengthen relationships with customers in Mexico,” Vilsack says. “We need to continue to remind them that we are open for business and that we value their business and relationships.” He says that this direct-to-customer effort can move beyond the rhetoric coming from Washington D.C. that threatens to hamper trade relationships.

Communicating our benefits will also help secure stronger markets abroad, Vilsack says. “We need to talk about our strengths,” he says. “The safety, stability and quality of our products gives us a unique opportunity to brand U.S. products and strengthen relationships with our customers.”

The conversation needs to happen around the larger importance of trade, especially to the dairy industry, Vilsack says. “It’s essential for farmers and processors to have a unified message about the importance of trade,” he says. “Many jobs, especially on farms and in processing facilities, are trade related that people aren’t aware of. The variety of products people have to choose from is related to trade.”

Unity of message will come through cooperation across agriculture. “We need unity in dairy, we can’t have division,” Vilsack says. “We need a unified voice in ag about trade. And we need a unified conversation with consumers so we don’t have production impacts. If we don’t have these conversations it will cause a vacuum that will eventually be filled by others.”