Monday, March 18th


Over the last 24 hours, members, industry guests and staff from across the United States have traveled to Kansas City, Mo., for our 21st Leadership Conference and Annual Meeting. First thing Monday morning, hundreds of DFA members gathered for two pre-conference workshops, followed by our members-only Leadership Conference. Throughout the day, farmer-owners heard from members of DFA’s senior leadership team, including President and Chief Executive Officer Rick Smith and Chairman of the Board Randy Mooney.

Pre-Conference Workshops

Expanded price risk management opportunities workshop

Our first pre-conference workshop, led by the DFA Risk Management team, provided members insight to the price risk management programs available to them to capture better margins and review current and future market conditions and trends.

President of DFA Risk Management Ed Gallagher moderated the workshop and gave a brief overview of the agenda and programs to be discussed. Topics included Dairy Revenue Protection (Dairy-RP), Dairy Margin Coverage (DMC) — formerly known as Margin Protection Program for Dairy — DFA forward contracting programs and a panel discussion.

After Ed provided an overview of changes and improvements with the markets and opportunities to capture better margins in the second half of the year, he introduced Director of DFA Risk Management Christine Brodeur. Christine provided details about Dairy-RP, steps to sign up and coverage levels, as well as resources available. She explained that the program is a milk price hedge — a minimum price that is paid on the covered milk you produce. The premium cost of the minimum price is highly subsidized by U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Federal Crop Insurance Corporation.

The workshop’s next topic was presented by DFA Risk Management Analyst Jake Vuilleman. He discussed DMC, and compared differences and similarities to the former MPP-Dairy, including the new margin level of $9.50 and the enrollment timeline. Sign-ups should begin for this new program mid-June and producers who also use the Livestock Gross Margin, Dairy-RP and DFA’s forward contracting programs should also be eligible for enrollment.

“One of the really nice things about this program,” Jake said, “is that no matter if you’re milking 300 cows or 3,000 cows, this program can provide some benefit to you.”

The last session was covered by Director of DFA Risk Management Morgan Rehberg. Morgan provided an overview of forward contracts and how they complement the other available programs. She also discussed estimated blend prices by region and the flexibility these customizable programs offer.

“You have more options than ever to combine these programs,” Morgan said. “And we’re dedicated to making you aware of all the opportunities available to you.”

Some of the points Morgan emphasized were that DFA Risk Management forward contracts can support consistent profitability and allow you to lock into favorable prices. For second-half 2019, Morgan said, members can lock into prices about the same or better than they received in 2017 and significantly better than 2018.

You have more options than ever to combine these programs,
— Morgan Rehberg, Director of DFA Risk Management

All the panelists explained that more information is available on the DFA Risk Management website,, and encouraged members to call them with questions.

Ed closed the workshop by moderating a question-and-answer session between the panelists and the audience, and encouraged all in attendance to call his team with any further questions or comments they may have.

Workforce development workshop

Our second workshop of the day, workforce development, kicked off with an overview of the evolution of farm practices and the importance of workforce development on your farms from Senior Vice President and Chief Strategy and Sustainability Officer David Darr. David provided an overview of some of the challenges our members are facing.

David invited President of Dairy Interactive and Language Links Tom Wall to the stage. Tom, otherwise known as the Dairy Coach, has a goal to help dairy producers make their teams more productive and accountable. He explained to the group that he strives to make dairy producers’ jobs easier and less stressful.

Tom opened his session by asking the question, “What’s it like working for you?” He admitted this is a tough question to answer, but said the success of your dairy really depends on the people who work for you.

“Your people make your cows, your people make your dairy,” he said. Tom’s takeway was that you must be present with your team to affect the culture you want on your dairy.

After Tom’s presentation, David moderated a panel of members who discussed how they manage workforce development on their operations.

Your people make your cows, your people make your dairy,
— Tom Wall, President of Dairy Interactive and Language Links

Opening the panel was Trevor Wayment, from Wayment Dairy in Ogden Utah. Trevor’s family employs three full-time people who they have been able to retain for years — two for more than 10 years and the other for three — despite strong and competitive labor markets.

“We really focus on cow comfort and cow health,” Trevor said. “Like Tom mentioned, that really comes back to those who are working for us.”

Additionally, he explained, they focus on training, including topics such as power takeoff, electrical, cattle handling and silage safety. “You have to create that atmosphere that makes people want to stay,” Trevor said.

The next panelist was Thomas Matthews from Noblehurst Farms in Linwood, N.Y. Thomas’ family employs 12 family members on the dairy and 57 hired employees. He explained that their development and retention efforts include retirement packages, healthcare benefits and creating a sense of community.

Some of this is accomplished by providing staff with enough autonomy and information to make productive decisions, Thomas said. “Trying to connect with people every morning … asking how their families are doing, helps people feel connected,” he explained.

Lee Holtmeier from Linn Willow Creek Dairy in Linn, Kan., was the final panelist. Lee’s dairy currently employs 24 full-time and nine part-time team members. Lee attributed their retention success in part to employee engagement and investing in the future.

“Having meals with employees is a great way to get to know them,” he said.

The workshop closed with a question-and-answer session, where the members, Tom and David discussed a variety of topics, including tracking time, health insurance and many other questions from attendees.