CEO Blog

Cynthia Haren’s blog discussing important issues and the essential contributions of dairy farms to communities and the important nutritional and economic value dairy foods provide to consumers daily.

A place at the table for dairy farmers

It’s time for those who produce food to have a say in food policy.

Recently, Natural Grocers, a U.S. food chain with stores in Colorado, Montana and Wyoming, announced they will sell dairy foods only from pasture-grazed cows. They will be requiring farm practices from their suppliers to include the requirement that cows must graze at pasture for at least 120 days a year and eat a primarily grass-based diet.

Setting policy? Talk to a farmer first

The announcement is part of a trend that has become commonplace in many communities, one I call “Food Policy in a Vacuum.” It takes place when the people who sell our food begin setting wide-ranging food policy without a thorough understanding of the issues and challenges faced by the hard-working folks who are producing the food we eat.

If the leaders at Natural Grocers had been willing to ask a few questions of our dairy farm families in any of the three states we serve, they might have received some important insights. While we certainly respect their right to sell products from any supplier they choose, we must point out that the weather in our region does not support 120 days of grass feeding a year. The grass in our microclimate grows very slowly, during a growing season of four months at the most. Further, the grass grown here is not nutritious enough, year round, for lactating cows (the ones who provide us with fluid milk).

Unworkable by any measure

And if the cows can’t thrive purely on pasture-based dairying, how about the health of the farmers’ land and business? Sadly, they would also suffer under this policy, since pasture-fed cows produce less milk that is often of lower quality. This factor alone means it would take additional cows to achieve the same milk quality and quantity we have today to meet consumer demand. This factor alone also would require more land, and even more acres to supply sufficient grass. Our dairy farm families know the importance of sustainability to land, water and resources.  Policies created in a vacuum cause an imbalance in sustainable use of such natural resources like water and irrigation for grassland.

So while they’ve received notoriety from their “only grass-fed” milk demand, I wonder if the folks at Natural Grocers might have done better by asking a few more long-range questions about the situation, or by taking up my offer of visiting one of our dairy farms and talking to our farmers to get a better understanding of the challenges faced by modern producers and the innovation our farmers are incorporating on their farms.

Our place at the table

Milk is one of the most affordable, available, naturally nutrient-rich foods (and protein sources) around. If we’re all going to have enough milk to meet demand and maintain health, then we must employ all the modern, scientific methods that have allowed us to feed ourselves, and many other parts of the world, for so many years. If you’re a dairy farmer, know a dairy farmer, or if you just enjoy drinking a glass of cold, nutritious milk whenever you like, then it’s time to stand up and insist that our dairy farmers have a place at the table when food policy decisions are made, and that those decisions are ones that all of us in agriculture can adhere to, in ways that keep our herds and our businesses as healthy as possible.

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Walking the walk

Every journey may begin with a single step, but it took me about 1.8 million of them to really appreciate the value of corporate wellness.

“How bad is it?” I went through the Anschutz Executive Health and Wellness assessment over a year ago. The assessment results reflected the past years of limited physical exercise, stress, and poor sleep and nutrition habits. It was obvious I needed to make some significant lifestyle changes.

1.8 million steps … and countingdec 2014 wellness blog

I had casually talked with Dr. Hill during a childhood health and wellness town hall where he told me about the executive assessments the Anschutz Health and Wellness Center was starting in Colorado. When I couldn’t finish the three-minute step test, I knew the results would not be good. And now, here I was in Dr. Holly Wyatt’s office, hearing the hard truth about what I already was beginning to realize: I had to make some big changes if I wanted to look better and have more energy to spend time with my husband, kids and grandkids. Since that fateful day February 27th, I have been challenged, tested and sometimes discouraged, but I’ve stayed true to my commitment to improve my health. As a result, I have more energy and vitality, 6 clothes sizes smaller and close to my fitness level of 18 years earlier. In fact, I’ve walked 1.8 million steps so far this year, and I’m not planning to stop anytime soon.

With my own personal health journey as an inspiration, I was determined to help my staff here at Western Dairy Association start living their healthiest lives, too. I did some research and found that employee health and wellness programs can make a big difference. According to a U.S. Department of Labor study, “workplace wellness programs can help contain the current epidemic of lifestyle-related diseases, the main driver of premature morbidity and mortality in the United States.” As the leader of an organization that proudly sponsors Fuel Up to Play 60, a program empowering students to lead healthier lives, it’s important to me that all of us at WDA are wellness role models for kids in our community.

Climb every mountain

With the help of the Anschutz Health and Wellness Center, and the eager support of the team, we rolled out our first-ever employee health and wellness program in May. The first phase of the program ran for 16 weeks, and included several sessions with Anschutz staff: Strengths Finder, Mental Muscle Building, Goal Setting, Setting Boundaries and more. Our team also took a field trip to the campus at the University of Colorado for individual health and wellness assessments, a POUND group exercise class and a healthy cooking demonstration. Everyone got FitBit fitness tracking devices to help increase healthy habits and movement during the work day. To motivate everyone, we decided to tackle the “Flat 14ers Club,” which flattens each of Colorado’s 14,000 foot peaks and measures how many steps would be needed to “climb” each one. Then, as each week passed, we counted how many of the mountains we had virtually scaled.

Looking forward to the New Year

In just 16 weeks of tracking, our staff climbed 41 mountains and walked 15,106,000 steps. We’re all so pleased with the results that we’ll be kicking off a new phase in 2015. If you’re ever out in Denver and stop by our offices, you’ll be greeted by our health-conscious and energetic team. And who knows? We just might talk you into taking a walk with us over the lunch hour, as we complete even more steps on our own health journeys as we kick off the New Year.

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Can we share that entree, please?

At the grocery store, in restaurants, and in our own kitchens, we can all take action to reduce food waste.

Yes, I share, and I don’t care who knows it. Because I often find myself eating at restaurants during the week, I never hesitate to ask my dining companions, “Can we share a dish?” Even though my request sometimes is met with a confused look, usually people will tell me, “Yes! I can never finish these huge restaurant portions, and I don’t want to waste food!”

Sharing meals is a small step, but it’s a mindful one in the battle against food waste. As a leader in the food production industry, I’m very concerned about this issue. While I was already aware of the fact that we waste 40 percent of our food in the United States, I just returned from a conference that helped me learn more about the situation that contributes to that staggering statistic, and to start reflecting on what more can be done.

Wasting 273 pounds, per person, each year

The topics of food waste and sustainability were front and center at the gathering of the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy Sustainability Council, which is comprised of more than 200 members representing businesses across the food chain, as well as NGOs. During our meeting in Seattle, we had time for exploration and learning (ask me sometime about how cool it was to visit Starbucks’ headquarters!), and we also learned some sobering facts about the food waste.

For example, I found out that each person in our country wastes an average of 273 pounds of food each year, and that more than 96 percent of the food we throw away ends up in landfills. Once in landfills, food breaks down to produce methane, a potent greenhouse gas, which contributes to climate change.

Dairy farms step up to the challenge

Many in the dairy industry are taking positive steps in response to this issue. In fact, compared with the farms of 60 years ago, our modern dairy farms use 95 percent less land and 65 percent less water, while producing 76 percent less manure. And, instead of the 26 million cows living on farms in 1944, we produce all that nutritious food with only 9 million cows. We’re also aware of the global implications of our work. While we’ll soon be able to meet U.S. food demand with only 8 million cows, the global demand will be for an additional 1.5 million, making dairy exports a vital link to global food sustainability.

Modeling recycled energy in Seattle

During the meeting in Seattle, the Sustainability Council visited the Werkhoven Dairy, which accepts pre-consumer food waste, combines it with manure in their digester, and produces electricity for as many as 300 homes. The benefits are significant, since they are keeping the air and water clean, protecting salmon streams, keeping the dairy operating and creating Grade A compost. It was heartening to see our industry held up as one that is doing many things right in this area. And we’re also doing more to make sure our products end up with those who need them most. I personally am gratified by our participation in The Great American Milk Drive, which works to get milk on the shelves in community food banks.

How to take action now

If you’d like to find out how to take action against food waste, I recommend learning more about the Environmental Protection Agency’s Food Recovery Challenge, which has a toolkit to help you get started. During a presentation to the council, EPA representatives told us an average family can save $1,600 a year by reducing food waste.

Even with the progress I learned about during this meeting, I am very aware there is still more to do. Dairy farmers are dedicated to producing such a highly nutritious food, so we all need to work harder to keep excess food out of landfills and get it to the children and families who need it most.

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How thankful am I? Very!

I continue to be grateful for the opportunity to represent so many genuine, hard-working families in the dairy farming businesses.

Flying over Colorado early this morning, I was looking over the fresh blanket of sparkling snow that covered our beautiful state, relaxing and listening to my favorite tunes by Sade. After a work week best described as “complicated,” I had a moment to pause and reflect on how thankful I am for my life, family and career.

As the leader of an organization that is a trusted partner of family dairy farms, I feel a special sense of gratitude that I’m allowed to do the work I do every day. I am honored to be a representative for so many genuine, hard-working family businesses. I’m supported in that work by a group of fine men and women on our board of directors and a talented, dedicated staff. I am beyond grateful for all they do to further our mission here at Western Dairy Association.

I’ve had much to be thankful for this year. I’ve held dialogues and town hall meetings with inspiring people, including Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, USDA official Audrey Rowe, former CNN news anchor and GENYOUth CEO Alexis Glick, Broncos safety and Fuel Up To Play 60 spokesperson David Bruton, and former U.S. Surgeon General and promoter of eliminating childhood obesity Dr. David Satcher.

I had a chance to befriend Florence Ozor, a founder of Nigeria’s Bring Back Our Girls campaign, and escorted her on a tour of a local dairy farm. With her, I experienced the palpable feeling of contentment of in a place where animals are so well cared for. And I met with Dr. Kenneth Cooper, called the Father of Fitness, who pioneered the aerobic exercise movement in the United States. I told him that, because of a University certification requirement, I hadn’t been allowed to graduate from college until I could run an 11-minute mile. I could have been on the “family” plan for college!  He “shared my pain” and we laughed together about how hard I had worked to reach that daunting goal!

As I gather with family and friends around the Thanksgiving table next week, I will know I have so much to give thanks for – my husband, wonderful kids and grandchildren, and work in agricultural food production that fulfills and sustains me. I can only look forward with great anticipation to the new challenges and opportunities that await me, and our association, in the year ahead.

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The Small Cup: Touring Prado Dairy with Florence Ozor

A family dairy farm can be a restorative place to visit, as I learned while walking through the barns with a brave and caring woman from Nigeria.

Florence Ozor had never seen such big cows. As we walked past the beautiful Holsteins in Prado dairy barn, she told me cows back home in Nigeria are much smaller, and different looking. But then, as I found out during the time I spent with this remarkable woman, many things in Nigeria are different than here in the United States. 2014-10-19 10.42.43

If you’ve been following the news, perhaps you’ll remember Florence’s name. A Government Relations officer, Rahamaniyya Oil and Gas Ltd, a subsidiary of Rahamaniyya Group of Nigeria, she has gained worldwide attention as one of the leaders of the Bring Back Our Girls Campaign, formed last spring in response to the kidnapping of a group of Nigerian schoolgirls by the terrorist organization Boko Haram. Florence is one of the campaign’s leaders, protesting and advocating for the girls’ safe return.

And now, on a beautiful autumn afternoon, she was happily touring Prado Dairy Farm, asking questions, observing how content the cows were, and remarking on what a blessing it was to spend some time in such a place. She clearly felt at home there, displaying curiosity about how we bed the cows, and expressing disappointment that the animals were between milkings (she really wanted to try her hand-milking skills).

Even as Florence shared more about the horrific situation back in her native land, it became clear that she was able to relax a little bit and enjoy her time around the animals. And no wonder, I reflected: Prado’s family farm is a truly calm and gentle place to be. Care and concern for the animals, along with loving dedication to a way of life, shine through in everything they do. I thought about what I had heard during Florence’s presentation at Life Bridge Church earlier that morning. “What we fail to realize as humans is that our world may be large, but we’re all just in a small cup,” Florence said. “What affects one person affects every single one of us – loving humanity.”

2014-10-19 13.52.40As we walked and talked, I thought of all we have to be grateful for in this country. Florence has witnessed attacks on education, rights for girls, and basic human freedom at a level that’s hard for many of us to comprehend. In speaking out for the missing girls, she knows her life and the lives of those she works with may be in danger, but she feels a “moral responsibility” to bring them home. She is working tirelessly on their behalf, so I was grateful – and, I’ll admit, more than just a little bit proud — that I could offer a place of rest and peace to this incredibly courageous woman.

If you’d like to know more about the Bring Back Our Girls Campaign, visit the group’s website or follow #bringbackourgirls on Twitter.

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A Great Day at the Dairy Farm

Collaborative conversations and a shared purpose were highlights of my visit 

For me, there is something truly wonderful about the opportunity to visit a working dairy farm. I am so grateful for a chance to experience the sense of common purpose, boundless energy and rugged perseverance that makes a dairy farm like no other place on earth.

I recently had the privilege to visit La Luna Dairy family farm, spending time with the owners who are thriving shane sitter photography-4407contributors to the local food scene. I shared the experience with several distinguished guests, including Audrey Rowe, U.S.D.A. Administrator for Food and Nutrition Services. Audrey is a passionate and well-informed individual, but she had never before had a chance to visit a dairy farm, so this was a very special day for her, too. In addition to a number of industry, government and school nutrition officials, we were especially pleased to welcome Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, who has been a tireless advocate for agriculture and food production in our state.

We took a tour of the property, then gathered for an in-depth exploration about our common purpose — keeping kids healthy and well nourished. Audrey was especially positive and encouraging about the key role dairy plays in good school nutrition, and she clearly understands that dairy foods help kids do their best in the classroom and on the athletic field.

As we sat around the table and shared our thoughts, we discussed several important issues, including how to increase demand for fluid milk, from after school activities and summer nutrition programs, ways to maintain adequate supply, and pricing. Many of those who spoke expressed their gratitude just to be in the room and be part of a vital collective conversation about their passion for ensuring that dairy remains a mainstay on school menus.

Audrey told us, “I have a new appreciation when I look at a container of milk and how that milk got there, and what it takes to manage a dairy farm. We want to have dairy in our schools for our children.”

The Governor added, “Dairy is the ultimate nutritious quick and easy food. There’s a new emerging industry of higher quality, fast-casual chains, and two-thirds of those companies have corporate offices right in Denver. Colorado is uniquely positioned, with so many food and industry leaders, and they’re ready to step up to use and support dairy products.”

As often happens when I meet with these colleagues, I came away from the session with a renewed sense of optimism about the future of our industry and the important role it plays in the lives of so many people. And for those dairy farm families reading this blog in between chores at your own dairy farm, please accept my lasting thanks for all you do to keep us all going strong, physically and economically.

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Activists for Ag

What really matters about being a woman in agriculture? Here’s what I recently shared with a group of female FFA members.

I spent many years of my early life looking up to role models. I admired my father for his strong patriotic beliefs, which grew from serving his country in the Navy. I admired my mother for her courage and unwavering Christian beliefs. Later in my life, I met several dairy farmers who mentored me and showed me the way to a new and exciting career opportunity.

So it was especially thrilling to me to be asked to speak at the “Aspire to Grow” Agrium Women’s Leadership Conference, an event held for young women interested in agriculture. Sponsored by Agrium Women’s Leadership Group and Colorado FFA Foundation, the conference attracted more than 300 attendees, which meant that I had a chance to meet and talk with many of Colorado’s future agriculture leaders. They were an impressive group of young women, and I appreciated their interest, openness and curiosity.

Cultivating Balance and the “D” Word

After many years working in a business I love, it’s heartening to be in a position where I can now be a role model for young women who are seeking ways to make a difference in the world. I told the group that cultivating balance in your life really is about the “D” word, discipline! Living with passion and peak performance is exhausting, and it will require discipline in all aspects of your life. It all begins with the discipline to create personal health and wellness. As I shared with the group, junk food plus no physical exercise equals low motivation and low output.

Write it down, then live it

Writing your goals in specific detail and placing those goals where you see them daily is also an important part of the success equation. Having written goals means you have taken the time to really study “you” and have decided where you want to go with your personal and professional life. I have learned from experience that these simple steps can accelerate good things happening in your life.

While you might be thinking that this sounds like the standard talk the girls hear from parents and teachers every day, I backed up my advice with my own real-life example: I went back to school to earn my MBA when I was 42 years old and my two daughters were still teenagers. To achieve that goal, I needed to drive 100 miles – each way! – to attend classes three days a week, which I did for the three years it took me to earn my degree. I’d get up at 6 a.m., drive to school, and get back home in the late evening. I’d take a break with the family, study until 2 a.m., then get up the next day and start all over again.

“Thanks a lot, Mom!”

I got a laugh from the group when I told them that my youngest daughter was a freshman at Denver University when I was finishing up the last year of my graduate studies. She always knew she could find me studying at the Starbucks (a treat we didn’t have in our rural town), and would stop by sometimes, just to say “hi.” One day, she approached with a sarcastic, “Thanks a lot, Mom!” It turns out a couple professors in her undergraduate classes had recently been my teachers in graduate seminars, and they had told her, “Your mom set the bar very high, young lady!” It must have felt a little intimidating (or annoying!) for her, but I also know that she was very proud to have a mother who was working so hard, and was a role model for her in her own life (even if she didn’t tell me at the time!).

Ag activists first

Many of the questions that the audience posed were about the challenges of being a woman in a male-predominated field. The girls didn’t get much sympathy from me about that, I have to admit. My daily reality is that I’m often one of the few women leading board meetings, or other ag-related meetings. Often I arrive at meetings with a junior male colleague, the press inevitably starts talking with him, assuming he’s the CEO, not me. I told these young women they need to put the focus on their education and their communications skills, and not worry about being the only female in the room, the farm, or within five miles.

Just worry about becoming the smartest person in the room showing confidence and courage, I told them, and the one who is most passionate about the importance of our industry in feeding the world, today and tomorrow. If we can encourage our young people to be activists for Ag, no matter what their gender, we’ll be creating a new generation that can tackle the problem of food security for everyone on the planet, and that’s what really matters most for all of us.

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When the City Meets the Country

A governor, lieutenant governor, a farmer and the Western Dairy Association CEO walk into a party …

Governor Hickenlooper was having a truly enjoyable evening, and he didn’t want to go home. Neither did his fellowptp1 singer Keith Bath, and he was home. Keith was hosting 300 city and agricultural friends at his beautiful Fort Morgan farm. Our festivities were kicking off the Pedal The Plains race, which would begin the next day. Sitting in the audience, watching the Governor and Keith sing back-up for “Woodie and the Snowy River Band,” I was ready to take stage and sing along. My hold back? I “lip sync” in church – not a great voice!

It was a long and wonderful journey for Western Dairy Association to reach this proud and contented moment. Three years ago, the Governor and Dean Singleton, publisher of The Denver Post, approached me to ask for Western Dairy Association’s sponsorship of the first-ever Pedal the Plains event. Both men have a passion for promoting and showcasing the incredible agriculture of Colorado, and they had developed the idea for a three-day bike race to highlight our beautiful state and its food production bounty. They asked for dairy farm families help to support the event, gathering city and country in a new friendship, and honoring one of the best things our great state does – agriculture.

Sponsoring the event and emceeing the evening represented a chance to stand up for something I passionately believe in – honoring agricultural and rural folks.

ptp1Why was I so committed to Pedal The Plains? Because this event is unlike any in which I’ve ever been involved. I’m energized by the way our governor and fellow citizens have championed local agriculture, and I want to make sure that Western Dairy Association is along for the ride (pun intended). This event is the perfect meeting of city and country, and a way for us to bring our hearts and stories together in celebration of agriculture.

Over the weekend, WDA staffers were at key points along the race route, cheering on our own WDA team (clad in Holstein-spotted jerseys), helping with dairy farm tours and distributing “Refuel with Milk” chocolate milk to participants. People cycled, cheered, saw new places, and had a chance to realize how much we country folk and city folk have to appreciate about one another.

During the kickoff dinner at Keith’s farm, the Governor presented me with an official letter of gratitude and a Colorado state flag.  I have to confess – it brought tears to my eyes.ptp3

 

Later, as Keith, the Governor and I walked to our cars, we shared a hope that the weather for the first leg of the race would be sunny and clear – the perfect frame for the masterpiece of our agricultural bounty. As the men thanked me once again for dairy farm families’ sponsorship, I thanked them for being such important members of “Team Ag,” a team that all of us need to support and nurture in our everyday lives. And then, I have to admit, I drove straight home, glad I wasn’t going to be racing that first leg in the morning, but aspiring to a day when I will. Evenings like that one have a way of bringing out the optimist in me, I suppose.

Congratulations to all the racers, thanks to the sponsors and heartfelt thanks to the governor’s staff and the Western Dairy Association staff. A big Western Dairy Association hug to Governor Hickenlooper and Dean Singleton, who had the vision to get this whole thing started.

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Hunger in America – How We Are Helping

“My stomach hurts.”

That was how my student would greet me in class every morning. Back then, I was teaching and coaching at Akron K-12 School in Akron, Colorado. Our school had its fair share of students who were living in poverty, and this little girl, I knew, had a family going through some tough times. It didn’t take me long to realize that the “hurt” in her stomach came from emptiness. This little girl was hungry, and she started every school day with her fuel tank well below zero.

Taking breakfast into my own hands

I knew that no student could learn well without proper nutrition, so I worked with our school principal to initiate our school’s first-ever breakfast program. I could tell right away what a difference a good breakfast made in that little girl’s readiness to learn. And I began a lifelong connectedness with the basics of good, solid nutrition, a journey that has led me here, to my current position as President and CEO of the Western Dairy Association.

A big part of great American meals

We live in a country where 17 million kids go to bed hungry every night. Just as I knew as a classroom teacher, I still know that nourishing milk can be part of the answer to the nutrition gap in our country. With 8 grams of protein and nine essential nutrients in every 8-ounce glass, milk is a wholesome part of many great American meals. That’s why I’m so proud of the new program to provide more milk for food banks, called The Great American Milk Drive. It’s supported by Colorado dairy farm families, and it gives consumers a simple way to donate a gallon of milk when they buy a gallon at their local market.

Most requested, least donated – until now

While milk is the most requested food item by food banks, 95% of them report that they don’t receive enough milk to meet client demand. Now our dairy farm families are stepping up to help, and you can join them to help, too. Click here to donate a gallon of milk to your local food bank. Western Dairy Association will match donations made before September 30, up to $5,000. And, if more than 600 gallons of milk are donated this month, we’ll also donate a refrigerated cooler to the Colorado food bank with the most donated gallons.

Together, we can make a difference in the lives of families in need, and make sure that every child who enters a classroom this fall is well-nourished and ready to learn.

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Colorado Floods Bring Turmoil to State & Dairy Farm Families, WDA Crisis Team Responds

Below is the last in a 10-week thought leadership series by Western Dairy Association’s President and CEO Cindy Haren, discussing the challenges facing the dairy industry and how the dairy checkoff is working to remain a leader in developing solutions and creating innovation.

The dairy checkoff’s role is one of critical importance when a crisis strikes – this has been especially evident with the recent historical flooding in Colorado.

The devastation Colorado families are enduring is heartbreaking, and we continue to pray for our fellow Coloradoans who have been impacted, particularly for those families and loved ones of the precious individuals lost in the torrential waters. The financial losses – expected by CDOT to exceed $2 billion – encompasses infrastructure and personal losses – property and possessions. An estimated 18,000 buildings and homes destroyed, 17,800 families displaced, 1,000 people still unaccounted for, 8 deaths – all this across 17 Colorado counties encompassing 4,500 square miles, nearly equal to the size of Connecticut.  Thirty bridges have been destroyed and another 1,500 need safety inspections, not to mention the miles of roads that have been washed away or severely damaged.  Prime acres of agricultural lands and crops that followed the rivers are now underwater or are so saturated by the monumental rains that we are all very concerned about the near future access to, and cost of, livestock feed, vegetables, crops, forage and much more.

Flying over Colorado yesterday, I viewed the massive lakes of water, brown from the environment and contamination.  Numerous communities, restaurants and businesses are still under restrictions preventing them from drinking or serving their town’s water. Damage to an energy company’s electricity grid is expected to be in the tens of millions of dollars.  More than 20 miles of natural gas pipelines are damaged and an estimated 5,250 gallons of oil have spilled into the South Platte River.

Described by climatologists as being “biblical in nature,” the storm front produced 18 inches of rain within just a few days, and has been called by some a “1,000 year” flood, among the worst floods ever in the United States resulting in the largest number of airlift rescues since Hurricane Katrina in 2005.  As communities thought they were out of the path of flooding, quickly realized they were in direct path of the flooding.  Some have described the flooding water as 1,000 times heavier than air, a force worse than a powerful tornado.

No doubt our state has been in a state of crisis since last week. And for several of our dairy farm families, that crisis has also been their reality.

In 2000, dairy farmers across the United States began funding for a checkoff-led state-of-the-art crisis preparedness program. The purpose of this nationwide collaboration is to help maintain public confidence in dairy products, dairy farmers and the dairy industry in the event of an industry-wide crisis.  The program engages partners in collaborative trainings about a variety of topics from animal disease to food safety, with partners like the Central Intelligence Bureau (CIA), Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and major partner/companies as Leprino Foods, Starbucks and Wal-Mart.  When a true dairy crisis occurs, the public site http://www.latestdairynews.com exists to provide a place for consumers to go to for trusted information.

It is because of this crisis preparedness program that all of the 17 dairy state and regional associations are ready to lead when a dairy crisis occurs. For Western Dairy Association, our crisis preparedness collaboration includes working with the Governor’s office, Colorado Department of Agriculture, Colorado State Veterinarian, county and  city/town personnel, law enforcement, Colorado State University, local processors and food companies, grocery stores, agribusiness partners, and of course, our dairy farm families.

When news of local flooding began from Boulder to Fort Collins, our focus was on determining the safety of our dairy farm families and our communities.  Our crisis team began monitoring the news reports of flooding and the path of the waters round the clock.  We began communications with our dairy farm families and with personnel of Dairy Farmers of America (DFA), the milk marketing cooperative.

Staying up-to-date and aware of the minute-by-minute communications from government officials and law enforcement was critical. Roads were blocked, bridges were washed away and services were cutoff throughout the northern and eastern parts of our state. Even some of our own WDA staff were housebound due to road closures. Because the WDA team is equipped with laptops and company phones, communications with staff were never interrupted.

Thanks to my team’s regular communication with DFA, the state’s crisis center and all the technology we have available, we were able to track farms being flooded and in need of help.  Four of our farms experienced 4-5 feet of active flooding across their farmland and fields.  Large debris is prevalent, out structures ruined and tons of baled hay is saturated by the water.  On many of our farms employees had difficulty traveling the roads, getting to work and in some cases, even lost their own homes.

Fortunately for our dairy farm families, no lives were endangered and they were able to continuously provide high-quality care for their livestock. Tankers were still able to reach farms and pickup milk, ensuring a consistent supply in grocery stores.

The past week has been a whirlwind of emotions and uncertainty. Now that the rain has stopped, and the skies have cleared, the assessment of all that has been lost can begin. While it will be some time before we will truly have a grasp on the severity of the damage, what I can say for sure is that Coloradoans are very caring and giving people.

We are resilient, we are strong in character…and we will help each other rebuild.

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