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Dairying isn't what it used to be. About 25 marketing specialists eager to milk continued sales out of those changes got an education in modern production practices during a tour sponsored by Vance Publishing's Dairy Herd Management.

Participants learned that the largest 3 percent of U.S. dairies, milking 500 cows or more daily, now produce 40 percent of the country's fluid milk. The implications of these trends were witnessed firsthand on a bus trip from Vance Publishing's home base in Lenexa, Kan., west to Garden City and Colby, with a stop at Kansas State University's Manhattan campus along the way.

The group visited four dairies, each milking from 1,700 to 8,500 cows daily. The dairies all sell milk to the Dairy Farmers of America cooperative but vary widely in management style and business approach.

Tour participants pause for a photo op during their visit to the McCarty Dairy near Rexford, Kan.
That was one of the points that made the strongest impression, says Stan Erwine, associate publisher of Dairy Herd Management. "The feedback was tremendous," he says. "The biggest thing for people was the chance to personally experience the changes that are happening and to have the chance to talk one-on-one with owners and managers who have experienced those changes. Not all of the dairies are the same, nor should they be. And they didn't realize how many people are now involved in influencing product sales."

One tip that was emphasized to marketers at every stop: call ahead and make an appointment if you expect to visit even briefly with a busy manager.


The nation's traditional breadbasket was the appropriate place to get a view of the changing landscape of dairying. Kansas's milk production climbed almost 25 percent last year and 56.4 percent over the past five years. Like hog production, milk production is becoming increasingly geographically concentrated. Fourteen U.S. counties now account for a quarter of the nation's milk supply.

Stan Erwine, Dairy Herd Management associate publisher, (right) introduces dairy owner Judy McCarty to the group of agrimarketers.
Cows and dairies both have a shorter life span under the intensified production systems. The industry's average annual cow cull rate is about 33 percent, meaning a large dairy will have to grow its herd by 60 percent every 10 years, observes Monte Hemenover, a marketing consultant with Avenues for Change, St. Louis. And site selection is increasingly important. "We are in the real estate business. The magic of these new dairies is that in 20 years we sell them," Hemenover says.

He presented a broad industry overview that was packed with solid advice and lots of practical tips.

Marketers appreciated getting a panoramic yet personal view of the changing marketplace. Rob Costello, a technical specialist with Merricks, noted changes in the size of dairies but was also reminded of the importance of practical dairy knowledge. "A lot of what I learned 25 years ago still applies," he says.

Particularly impressive was Tim and Pat Dewey's Cimarron dairy, a technologically sophisticated, climate-controlled confinement operation with artificial lighting and tunnel ventilation, designed to improve on the outdoors, an example of what several of the dairy managers referred to as a focus on "cow comfort."

"I came out here without any expectations whatsoever," says Charlie Galley, a creative designer with Rhea & Kaiser Marketing Communications, which manages a promotional account for Pfizer. "The mission today was to learn the culture and find out who these people are. The thing that occurs to me is these are very ambitious decision makers. There's a lot of family investment.

"I've tried to use empathic listening to understand their belief dynamic," Galley says. "Now when I go back to our creative team, I'll have more suggestions about the tone and manner to use in our promotional campaigns." AM

Candace Krebs is a freelance writer based in Enid, Okla.

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