Learning from farmers around the globe at the IDF World Dairy Summit

07 November 2023

A photo of representatives from the Dairy industry standing together at the World Dairy Summit.

Representatives from the Dairy industry across the world, including NFU Dairy Adviser Gabby Emery.

The NFU dairy team and National Dairy Board Chairman Michael Oakes recently joined almost 1,200 delegates from 50 countries at the 2023 International Dairy Federation’s World Dairy Summit in Chicago.

The summit, entitled ‘Boundless Potential, Endless Possibilities’, featured more than 100 speakers from across the global industry, including US Secretary for Agriculture Tom Vilsack, the CEOs of top dairy companies from countries such as New Zealand, Japan and India, scientists, economists and of course dairy producers.

The NFU team met up with farmers from around the world to discuss common challenges, share learning and identify ways we can work together in the future to the benefit of the wider industry.

Sessions ranged from economic and trade outlooks to looking in detail at precision nutrition, investment potential, how to accelerate profitable sustainability for farmers, managing welfare and more.

Away from the buzz of the main conference, the USA National Milk Producers Federation hosted a roundtable discussion for young farmers where representatives from more than 10 countries came together to discuss the future outlook for the sector.

The session was chaired by Krysta Harden, the former United States Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, and featured a panel of speakers with the UK represented by NFU Midlands member, Nuffield Scholar and dairy farmer Ruth Grice.

Ruth Grice

“Spending time with our NFU dairy team at the summit gave me huge confidence in our industry’s ability to rise to the sustainability challenge. We have the support of a high-skilled team who have our backs.”

Ruth Grice, NFU Midlands member, Nuffield Scholar and dairy farmer.

Challenging the disconnect

There was a universal agreement at the roundtable that it was also the responsibility of farmers to tackle the growing disconnect we are seeing between consumers and food production across the globe, with one farmer claiming that in the US “fewer than 1% of us are feeding 100%”.

It was clear to see from the contributions made that the next generation of dairy producers are taking the topic of public engagement and education seriously. The group shared experiences of what was happening in their own countries to improve consumers’ understanding of food production, specifically at a local level.

A Dutch farmer told how he invites the public onto farm every year when his cows are turned out to pasture, presenting him with the opportunity to engage with the end consumer. Another Canadian delegate spoke of a concept launched by the Dairy Farmers of Ontario called ‘Post-to-Pay’ where customers pay for their items by posting on TikTok or Instagram.

The idea is that customers follow the the organisation’s youth-oriented sub-brand, ‘MilkUP’ and post to social media to receive dairy-based products in return. Directly targeting Gen Z, the campaign promotes dairy’s local credentials and nutritional benefits to those who may have otherwise grown up around alternatives.

With such a diverse line-up of sessions spanning the conference, this roundtable was a welcome chance to hear directly from farmers and share new ideas between passionate advocates of the dairy sector who represent the future of our industry. Commitments were made to maintain dialogue and continue to share learning.

‘Every farmer has a role they can play’

Speaking on her experience at the event, Ruth said: “It became apparent very early in the summit that sustainability within dairy farming is a global issue of high priority. As British dairy farmers, it can sometimes feel as though we are being tasked with solving the numerous sustainability challenges we face, so it was comforting to hear that we’re not in it alone in the UK.”

“It was also reassuring to hear that, on a global scale, the industry is committed to tackling the sustainability challenge together. This is not an area of competitive edge: collaborate, or dairy risks falling behind consumer demands.

“It was equally reassuring to hear numerous speakers confirm that no single dairy system is more effective than another. They all present opportunities to improve on-farm sustainability, whether than be via genetics, new technology, or just ensuring that best practice is consistently applied. Ultimately, every farmer has a role they can play. And we can all learn from each other.”

“Spending time with our NFU dairy team at the summit gave me huge confidence in our industry’s ability to rise to the sustainability challenge. We have the support of a high-skilled team who have our backs. Whether it’s lobbying government, keeping a finger on the industry’s global pulse, or promoting UK dairy to the public.”

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