The U.S. Dairy Exporter Blog: Market Analysis, Research & News
  • Farmers Take Dairy Checkoff Program's Global Vision to Japan, Hong Kong

    By Marilyn Hershey November 2, 2018

    Four U.S. dairy farmers, myself included, embark today on a week-long mission to bring our industry's export vision to two Asian markets. We also plan to deliver  much-needed hope to financially struggling fellow farmers back home.

    The trip is orchestrated by the checkoff-funded U.S. Dairy Export Council. It will include jam-packed, multi-day stops in Japan and Hong Kong to learn more about the checkoff's investment in exports. As ambassadors of U.S. dairy, we will meet many people on the ground, including chefs, nutritionists, dairy buyers and consumers.


    I am proud to be a dairy farmer and look forward to sharing my passion for farming with chefs, nutritionists, dairy buyers and customers in Japan and Hong Kong.

    We will also meet representatives from two USDEC global offices, as well as USDEC staff based in Arlington and employees of USDEC member companies who take our milk and find markets for it overseas. 

    On a personal note, I hope to find a break in the action to buy a present for my husband. He deserves it. Duane will be back home in Cochranville, Pennsylvania, making sure our 800-plus cows are milked and cared for. If you have any ideas what I should buy a man who thinks he has everything, let me know.

    My email address is at the bottom of this article.

    Responsibility as farmer-funders   

    Duane supports this trip because he knows that as chair of Dairy Management Inc. I have a responsibility to assess with my own eyes and ears the checkoff's ongoing investment in exports. So do the three DMI board members accompanying me.

    DMI President and CEO Tom Gallagher often points out that more than 95 percent of  the world’s population lives outside the United States. Investing in exports is not an option. It's a necessity.

    Here is another statistic relevant to our trip: More than half of the world’s population lives in a circle within Asia that encompasses China, India, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Japan and 14 other countries.

    See the map below and an article from The Washington Post.Population Circle3

    More than half of the world’s population lives in a circle within Asia that encompasses China, India, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Japan and 14 other countries.  People in many of these countries need more dairy than their own countries can provide. Fortunately, the United States has the capacity and commitment to export what they need. Graphic: USDEC.

    Reporting back in real time

    USDEC has been taking farmers to global markets for more than 10 years. In the not-so-ancient past, farmers would come back to report what we saw and learned to the DMI board along with state and regional organizations.

    This year, we plan to report to you as our trip unfolds, using social media. 

    We created a “hashtag” for easy searches: #USdairyExports. More information on where to find us online is below. I don't want this to be one-way communication. As we travel to Tokyo, then Hong Kong, I look forward to hearing the thoughts of fellow farmers and others through social media. 

    The big picture

    Many countries can’t produce enough dairy to meet their domestic needs.

    Fortunately, the dairy checkoff program saw this opportunity for dairy farmers 23 years ago by launching the U.S. Dairy Export Council. USDEC is a unique organization because it brings farmers and processors together for a common cause: sell more dairy products to customers beyond our borders.

    The investment has paid off. Exports have more than quintupled, from less than $1 billion in 2000 to $5.48 billion in 2017.

    But I believe the best is yet to come, especially in Asia.

    Most of the countries in this circle don’t have enough cows, milk and dairy products to feed their own people. They must import.

    Japan illustrates a trend

    Take, for example, Japan.

    Japan’s dairy farm sector has been declining for years. Since 2000, milk output is down 14 percent . Dairy cow numbers are contracting, with many small and mid-size farms exiting the sector as farmers retire without successors to take over the business. A series of natural disasters—most recently an earthquake on Hokkaido (the center of milk production in Japan)—has further hindered growth.

    The decline has resulted in periodic dairy shortages alleviated by increased imports. At the same time, dairy consumption—particularly cheese—continues to rise, supporting further import demand.

    Here in the United States, we have an oversupply of milk, one of many factors keeping milk prices low.

    Exports provide hope for farmers

    It’s easy to see the opportunity. Asia doesn’t have enough milk. We have too much. This could be an arranged marriage mutually beneficial to all concerned.

    With leadership of the checkoff-funded U.S. Dairy Export Council and the ambitious global vision of its  President and CEO Tom Vilsack, exports have been a bright spot this year. We started 2018 by setting a half-year record, exporting 16.8 percent of U.S. milk solids production during the period. That is the highest percentage in history for the first half of the year, topping the 16.4 percent shipped over the first six months of 2014.

    Put another way, more than one out of seven milk tankers leaving American farms end up in products and ingredients sold in other countries.

    Despite new retaliatory tariffs on our dairy products exported to Mexico and China, we are on pace to set a one-year volume and value record.   

    Mission of hope

    So what do I mean by "hope?"

    Many things, including:

    • Hope that the amazing advances in nutrition and animal care that have helped raise the production of the average U.S. cow 26 percent between 2000 and 2017 will help us meet growing demand for the future instead of hurting us by contributing to the current oversupply.
    • Hope that our industry will continue to support nearly 3 million U.S. jobs, from the farmers who milk the cows to the truck drivers that transport it to the plant workers that process it to the people in retail who sell it and beyond. Learn more at
    • Hope that your farm will still be around for your children and grandchildren if they choose to follow in your footsteps milking cows seven days a week, 52 weeks per year, including holidays.

    It's all about relationships

    I have been asked how us farmers can do our part to help increase exports on this trip.

    Again, I have a one-word answer: Relationships.

    If we can secure and build stronger relationships in both Tokyo and Hong Kong then we will have accomplished what we set out to do. We need to work at our global relationships. We need to show people in other countries that the United States is serious about being their consistent supplier.

    The fact that we are bringing four dairy farmers to these markets shows people that it is more than just talk. 

    Here are the dairy farmers on the USDEC-organized trip:

    If you have any questions you would like answered on this trip, feel free to email us or reach out to us on social media.  Follow our journey on several social media platforms by searching for the hashtag #USdairyExports.

    Marilyn Hershey is chair of Dairy Management Inc., which manages the national dairy checkoff program.  

    Learn more:

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    The U.S. Dairy Export Council fosters collaborative industry partnerships with processors, trading companies and others to enhance global demand for U.S. dairy products and ingredients. USDEC is primarily supported by Dairy Management Inc. through the dairy farmer checkoff. How to republish this post.   

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