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  • Four farmers talk about their trip to the Middle East as ambassadors of U.S. dairy exports

    By Mark O'Keefe January 24, 2022

    On a Hoard’s Dairyman webinar, farmers recounted highlights of a USDEC-organized trip to Dubai, where they answered questions and fostered relationships. 

    Click triangular arrow above to hear farmers tell their stories.  


    Four U.S. dairy farmers are enthusiastic about export growth prospects in the Middle East following their USDEC-organized trade mission to Dubai last November. 

    That enthusiasm was apparent in a Jan. 19 Hoard's DairyLivestream webinar involving USDEC chairman and Texas dairy farmer Larry Hancock, Pennsylvania dairy farmer and DMI chair Marilyn Hershey, Missouri dairyman and USDEC vice chair Alex Peterson and Wisconsin dairy farmer and National Dairy Board member Becky Levzow. 

    The mission sought to help build relationships and reinforce U.S. commitment to serving the Middle East-North Africa region, as well as U.S. dairy’s world-leading sustainability and environmental-stewardship efforts. 

    Strong interest in sustainability

    Throughout the visit, the farmers were able to emphasize U.S. dairy's strong commitment to sustainability and caring for the environment. 

    In meeting with media representatives, "the top subject that we talked about was sustainability," Hershey said. “Every single publication was talking about sustainability and asking us about our sustainability goals. We had a chance to talk about what we are doing as the U.S. dairy industry with our sustainability and carbon goals and the FARM (Farmers Assuring Responsible Management) program.”

    Hancock was asked about sustainability while visiting with Middle East farmers over dinner one night.

    "It was really fun to talk with them because they wanted to know sustainability clear down to the farm level," he said. 

    While participating in a social media cooking event featuring U.S. cheeses, Levzow was able to talk about her farm and what she and other U.S. dairy farmers are doing to raise healthy cows and protect the environment. 

    "They were asking us questions and we talked about how we feed our cows. I was able to explain about the FARM program and how a majority of our milk is through that program," Levzow said. 

    Building relationships

    Conversations and dialogue were hallmarks of the trip, including when the mission sat in on a 22-student graduation at USDEC's International Centre for Culinary Arts—the USA Cheese Guild's regional partner for the USA Cheese Specialist™ Certification Program.

    “For over an hour, we just answered (the culinary students') questions about our farms, about dairy in general about environmental standards and practices, you name it,” said Peterson. “They asked incredibly good questions.”

    It appeared to be important for Middle Eastern groups—whether student chefs, social media influencers or food importers—to hear from the U.S. farmers themselves. 

    They got to hear "the real story from the real people that do it," Levzow said. 

    Building relationships is especially important when selling a food product, says Andy Novakovic, professor of agricultural economics emeritus at Cornell University who participated in the Hoard's DairyLivestream with the four farmers. 

    Buying a food product is different than buying a box of nails, he said. With nails, "you don't agonize over which box of nails is better than some other box of nails or whether this company is a better nail-maker than someone else," he added. With food, it is different. Customers want to taste the product and know about the people they are buying from.  

    "The Middle East and North Africa is the birthplace of the global dairy industry going back some 8,000 to 10,000 years," Novakovic said. "The dairy culture in this part of the world is very strong. It's also quite different," he adds. "We have to realize that what sells in Minneapolis or Atlanta isn't necessarily what's going to sell in Tripoli or Dubai."

    Trade missions like the one the four farmers went on in November help increase understanding on both sides of the equation. 

    Relationships fueled by great products and great service 

    USDEC President and CEO Krysta Harden and Chief Operating Officer Martha Scott Poindexter, along with Hancock, led the mission, showcasing U.S. dairy ingredient and cheese activities in the region.

    The group was accompanied by Hoard's Dairyman managing editor Corey Geiger.

    In the following video, Geiger recounts standing in a grocery store in Dubai and seeing the wide variety of U.S. cheese and dairy products on display. It reminded him, once again, how U.S. dairy farmers are delivering a great service to people all over the world. 

     

    Mark O'Keefe is vice president of editorial services at the U.S. Dairy Export Council.

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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.  

    Middle East Middle East/North Africa
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