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Dairy farmers and industry leaders from across Minnesota came together Monday (February 9, 2015) to rally around a new effort to help the state’s dairy industry grow and thrive. Under the theme of “Stronger Together,” the gathering bearing the title of Minnesota Dairy Growth Summit reflected the involvement of the University of Minnesota, Midwest Dairy Association and the Minnesota Milk Producers Association.

8:35am The meeting was called to order and facilitated by Mr. Gene Hugoson, Community Outreach Liaison at the University of Minnesota and former Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.

8:40am The Summit was opened by the University of Minnesota President Dr. Eric W. Kaler:

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“Complacency means ignoring change in the world around us and expecting the world to change for us, rather than expecting ourselves to adapt to the world’s needs. But by rejecting all that — by rejecting complacency — we mean that we’re going to refuse to accept the status quo.

If we reject complacency, once a problem has been identified, we don’t simply live with it. Rejection of complacency gives an individual power but also responsibility. It takes greater courage to intentionally reject complacency than to rest on one’s laurels, than to be simply Minnesota nice. It takes a certain entrepreneurial spirit.

I know the title of this Summit declares that as a dairy community we are “Stronger Together,” and I pledge to you the University’s commitment to that increased strength, today and for the years to come.”

You can read the full remarks here and hear the speech here.

9:00am Congressman Tom Emmer welcomed the audience.

“The agriculture industry in Minnesota is the quiet driver in our economy, and in large part that is because of people in this room. Congressional district I represent includes Stearns County, one of the leading dairy producing counties in the nation.

Now that we have a Farm Bill, all eyes are on the potential free trade agreements that are currently being negotiated. My office is going to continue to push for better market access for Minnesota dairy farmers in places like Canada and Japan.

You can hear the full speech here.

9:10am Mike Kruger, CEO of Midwest Dairy Association made the case for concerted efforts on dairy development:

“For our part, the Midwest Dairy Association commissioned Blimling and Associates to compile this report, A Path Forward, Challenges and Opportunities for the Midwest Dairy Industry. As you can see the report is extensive, covering over 200 pages of background and insights on the dairy industry in other parts of the world, other areas of the US, and specifically the Upper Midwest.

So does Minnesota have the capacity to milk more cows, process more milk, and sell more dairy products? You bet we do. We’ve already done it. Look at our production levels and cow numbers back in 1990. And, the beauty of it is that dairy farmers…the whole community…the entire state…will benefit.”

You can read the remarks here, download the slides here, and listen to Mike Kruger’ speech here.

9:30am To illustrate the benefits dairy growth brings to communities around the state, the organizers prepared a short video:

The filming of this video continued at the Summit, and many participants were interviewed in the studio set up in the adjacent room.

9:40am Dr. Marin Bozic, Associate Director of the Midwest Dairy Foods Research Center reviewed the trends in the Minnesota dairy sector.

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Download slides here, and listen to Dr. Bozic’s speech here.

10:10am University of Minnesota Leader Panel with Dr. Brian Buhr, Dean of the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences, Dr. Trevor Ames, Dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine, and Dr. Mike Schmitt, Associate Dean – University of Minnesota Extension.

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Listen to the panel here and Q&A here. Download slides: Dr. Buhr, Dr. Ames, Dr. Schmitt.

10:40am Lieutenant Governor Tina Smith addressed the audience:

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“If you think about it, Minnesota is a state made for dairy. … And unlike other states, Minnesota is made for sustainable growth. We are blessed with the natural resources dairies need to be successful. Resources that are available right outside the back doors of Minnesota’s farms. And these dairy farms are delivering economic diversity to Minnesota’s ag economy and Minnesota’s rural landscape, both with the pasture land and the alfalfa feed that is a part of the industry. So I think we have a big competitive advantage over other dairy producing states like California for example, where they need to pump in water and truck in feed in order to support what are really unsustainable levels of milk production. In Minnesota, we can be a top dairy producing state and provide dairy products to the nation and the world and also be good stewards of our environment. To this end,  I want to say that the Governor and I understand that there has been some understandable frustration within the dairy industry about this complex overlapping of city, county, state and federal environmental rules and regulations. Regulations that make your business more complex to operate and and more costly to operate. … The Governor and I also understand we got more work to do here. So today I offer to work with you on making improvements to our permitting process. I am really eager to do this with you, and I look forward to finding ways that we can keep on making progress, because I think it is so important. ”

Hear the full speech from Lt. Gov. Tina Smith here.

11:00am Minnesota State Leader Panel with Commissioner John Linc Stine, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Assistant Commissioner Charlie Poster, Minnesota Department of Agriculture and Harlan Madsen, county commissioner, Kandiyohi County.

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Responding to a question regarding the Citizens’ Board involvement with Baker Dairy, Comm. Stine stated: “I favored the idea we give the company more time to go back and talk to the township officials and spend a little more gathering information and building the record for us to make a different decision.  That wasn’t the way the board went.  And the board has that authority under the law.  What I’d like to see happen going forward … is this challenge of aligning decisions at the local government level up to the state decision making authority.  And that’s a tricky needle to thread sometimes.  Because as you know folks get excited about a variety of different things … and what I’d like to see happen is that our staff and local government staff and companies have a more thorough and effective opportunity to talk about local decision making.  We’ve seen a number of large dairies permitted we’ve seen a number of smaller dairy operations that don’t need environmental review come forward and move ahead.  But I think it happens when local people, local governments and the experts in the industry in this state work together in a collaborative way to get things aligned. Harlan used the word harmonize earlier, maybe that is a good way of thinking about it.”

Listen to remarks by Comm. Stine, Asst. Comm. Poster and Cty. Comm. Madsen (slides). Hear the Q&A discussion on Baker Dairy and other topics here.

11:45am Marin Bozic’s second talk centered on goals and actions for reinvigorating Minnesota’s dairy sector (slides).

12:00-1:15pm The Summit participants formed 14 groups and discussed proposed goals and actions. Trained facilitators led the discussion, and everyone was asked to identify which actions they can take in the next 30 and 90 days. The results are currently being processed and will be reported back to the group in the next few weeks.

1:15pm Adam Hinckley, 2014 Minnesota Producer of the Year (video), gave the closing address (audio):
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“Updated milking center, new technology and more technology coming are some of the main things that attracted me back to dairy farming. Beside those, the sense of pride knowing that I can teach my children how to be stewards of the land, our animals, and all the resources that we have been blessed with.

As Minnesota looks forward to being a part in feeding this growing economy, we will need to put our heads together, collaborate with the main street businesses, government officials, our general society, and continue to do things like breakfast on the farm, opening up our farms to the general public, showing the generation that has been removed from the farm what it is all about. How we take care of our cows, how technology allows us to operate the way we do, and how we as farmers contribute to main street success.

Once society has been brought up to speed with our friendly means of operating, how we contribute to society, and how farming today is not just squeezing teats and pitch forking hay. Then we can move to growing our farms to the next level, adding more levels of technology, transitioning the operations to the next generation via growth, and proving once again that we are people of society by continuing to be a part of our local organizations from church to school and everywhere in between.

Ladies and gentlemen, we indeed have some work to do, however the work that we have done up to today has began the path. Now looking to the Path Forward, together we can grow this industry, and show Minnesota once again that our strong dairy industry becoming stronger, supports our local towns and business. Thank you all for wanting to grow the industry. I see a future in the industry and today’s event proves to me that there are many working to achieve prosperity for our industry. I pledge to do our part and I hope you do the same.”

To learn more background about this meeting, and how you can join the effort, please review this Stronger Together handout.

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