Thoughts Shared at Dairy Summit

Earlier this month I attended the Pennsylvania Dairy Summit in Lancaster, Pa. The event is hosted annually by the center and the Professional Dairy Managers of Pennsylvania, and it draws a mix of producers, farm employees and industry professionals. Despite the frustrations in the industry right now, people come to the Summit looking for positive reinforcement and insight on ways to strengthen their businesses.

This year’s Dairy Summit theme was “Following Your Compass,” and many of the discussions centered on ways to be more intentional and focused on the farm and in the industry. At the end of the Summit, I had the opportunity to close with some of the key points I heard during the event. Here is some of the advice shared during the two-day event.

  1. Figure Out What You’re Good At & Focus On It. The Young Professionals Reception is held the evening before the Dairy Summit opens, and it typically includes a panel of young people early in their careers sharing highlights of their journey with scholarship winners who are there. This year Ed Facer was part of the panel. Ed is the operations manager at Star Rock Dairy and discussed how that farm decided to focus on a high forage diet because they know they are good at growing high quality feed. It helped to lower their feed costs and improve their bottom line.
  2. It’s Not the Change, It’s the Wave. Haydn Shaw, who is known as the Leadership Guru, opened the Summit with his insight on how each person reacts differently to change. Some people embrace change, while others are more resistant. Some people are very thoughtful about change, while others act on pure emotion. The key point from his message is that change is necessary, but it’s important to understand everyone responds differently and to work to support the needs of the collective group.
  3. Put Your People First. Tom Wall, who has provided coaching to many dairies across the country, discussed how dairies need to stop thinking that the cows come first and realize that their people need to come first. A manager’s role is to support and encourage their people, or their employees, so that those employees will then support productivity of the cows. He described an inverted pyramid effect, where the boss is on the bottom supporting his employees on top of him, the cows on top of them, and the product markets on top of them.
  4. What Would McDonald’s Do? In his breakout, Tom spoke about using manufacturing best management practices to improve productivity on the farm. He explained that people don’t fail, systems do. Tom spends a good bit of time on the road and discussed how much he learns from watching how other companies set up their processes. He showed color- and size-coordinated scoops that Taco Bell uses and diagrams that McDonald’s uses to make processes fool-proof. He encouraged the farmers in the room to always be on the look out for that next big idea.
  5. Be a “Business Family.” Phil Clemens is the retired chairman and family ambassador of The Clemens Family Corporation, which owns Hatfield Meats. The business has been in their family for more than 100 years. However, Phil discussed how the company went through an intentional transition several years ago to become a “Business Family,” instead of a “Family Business.” “When you’re a family business, it is about entitlement,” he said. “In a Business Family, it’s about accountability. Everyone wears the employee hat, and nobody’s job is sacred.” He discussed how most family businesses have good intentions, but that direction, not Intention, determines a company’s destination.
  6. Be Your Own First Best Advocate. Pennsylvania Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding spoke to the group and discussed the many efforts happening at the state level to support dairy. He recognized how challenging it is right now on the farm but added that we all need to do our part in sharing our story with those outside the industry. “I’ll be your second best advocate,” he said. “But you have to be your first.”
  7. You Can Learn A Lot from Picking Each Other’s Brains and Seeing Other Operations. One of the breakout sessions was on discussion groups and how dairy farm managers and owners are participating in discussion groups to bring new ideas back to their dairy. Three facilitators of discussion groups led the panel discussion, sharing best practices that make discussion groups work effectively. Dr. Charlie Gardner, one of the facilitators, said people can learn a lot from picking each other’s brains and seeing other operations.
  8. Even Organic Produce Is Dependent on Animal Ag – How Else Would They Fertilize Organically. Another breakout session featured Dr. Frank Mitloehner of UC Davis who spoke about the correlation between livestock and climate change and whether it was fact or fiction. He says that it is simply not true that consuming less meat and dairy products will help stop climate change. Smarter farming practices will lead to less heat impacting the environment. Less meat and dairy production will just lead to more hungry people.

Next year’s Dairy Summit is planned for February 5 and 6 at the Penn Stater in State College, Pa. If you haven’t attended the Dairy Summit before, I would encourage you to consider attending next year’s event. We all know how challenging it is in the industry right now and how easy it is to focus on the negative. The Summit provides an opportunity to redirect your focus on the opportunities that exist and on the things that are within your control to change.

If you want to be added to the Dairy Summit mailing list, please contact us at the center by calling 717-346-0849 or by emailing

Editor’s Note: This column is written by Jayne Sebright, executive director for the Center for Dairy Excellence, and published monthly in the Lancaster Farming Dairy Reporter