Communication is Key

Last week I had the pleasure of traveling to Pennsylvania to visit two of our board members and their farms. Bill Itle of Vale Woods Farms, joined the Pennsylvania DHIA Board of Directors in 1986 and became a Dairy One board member when Pennsylvania DHIA joined Dairy One in 2001. I had the opportunity to sit down with his daughter, Carissa, and chat about the 200 cows they milk, their milk and dairy processing, the farm store, and their milk delivery service. Vale Wood Farms has been delivering milk to their Cresson, PA community since 1933. Not only can you buy their milk at some local stores and on the farm, but they also deliver milk and other dairy products to several thousand homes each week.

The second stop on my Pennsylvania farm trip was to meet our newest board member, Diane Hartman, at Scattered Acres Farm. Diane’s sons are the 6th generation to work on their 1,000 cow farm, which has 2 milking facilities and multiple heifer locations. Diane is very active in the dairy and agriculture industries, having just arrived home from an FSA (Farm Service Agency) meeting when we sat down to talk. She’s also an active member of the PDMP (Professional Dairy Managers of Pennsylvania).

“I used to believe it was okay to let others talk for us, but people who aren’t from a farm don’t always represent dairy as it should be. It’s time for dairy farmers to step up and represent ourselves.”

Diane HArtman, Scattered Acres, Inc.

A common topic that was brought up in both of my conversations was communication. Both of these women are tremendous advocates for the dairy industry and active members of their local communities. Unprompted, both listed communication on their farms, with other dairy farmers, and with consumers as a challenge facing their farm and the industry. Carissa explained how important it is for the milk that comes from Vale Wood farms to be fresh and delicious, so that people will continue to make milk their drink of choice. “It’s hard to be a consumer,” Carissa said. “There’s so much information that its confusing.” Vale Wood hosts a variety of events that invite consumers and the community on to the farm to see how cows are cared for and how their milk and dairy products are processed. Carissa has fielded many questions from concerned consumers who don’t understand the difference between organic milk and the milk in the fridge at the Vale Wood Farm Store, or are fearful of the terms “anti-biotics” and “hormones”. Carissa explained that Vale Wood has always had a close connection with consumers and takes pride in the responsibility of providing them with the facts and answering their questions.

Communication is exactly the reason Diane has become so involved in the dairy industry. “I used to believe it was okay to let others talk for us,” Diane said. “But people who aren’t from a farm don’t always represent dairy as it should be. It’s time for dairy farmers to step up and represent ourselves.” Diane explained how important it is for dairy farmers to communicate with each other, saying it was much easier to work towards one goal together then many smaller goals as individuals. Being involved with different organizations has allowed her to better understand and anticipate the challenges facing the industry, as well as talk about these things with her community. Diane shared a story with me about when her kids were in high school and taking an environmental science class. “My daughter came home crying one day because her teacher told her that the farm was polluting the creeks and harming the environment.” When it came time for Diane’s son to take the same class, he invited his teacher and fellow students out to the farm, where they took soil and water samples and discovered that the farm was not in fact causing any harm to its surroundings. “The teacher apologized and has brought his classes back every year,” Diane said. “All it took was a conversation and a little effort.”

And of course, both farms use a variety of Dairy One services including DHIA Records services and herd management software. Carissa and Diane both talked about the important role records and herd management software play in their reproductive programs, culling decisions, and feed management. Given the challenges facing the dairy industry, these farms rely on the information Dairy One services provide them to make cost effective and strategic decisions for their businesses. Working with Dairy One also allows them to effectively manage employees, provide excellent care for their cows, and be sure they are producing a high quality product for consumers. Be sure to check out upcoming Improver Pages and the Dairy One Spring Newsletter to learn more about Valewood and Scattered Acres and how they use Dairy One services!