Every year, I look forward to the Pennsylvania Dairy Summit. If you’ve never attended, it’s a two-day conference held every
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February that offers a mix of insight, inspiration and networking.

This year’s summit was held in Lancaster on Feb. 2-3. It featured breakouts on everything from integrating robotic milkers and managing feed costs to navigating supply chain logistics and understanding the 2022 dairy price outlook.

The summit opened with a one-on-one interview with Elle Purrier St. Pierre, who competed in the Olympic Games in 2021 and is from a dairy farm in Vermont.

Purrier St. Pierre shared how an off-handed suggestion from her basketball assistant coach in ninth grade led to her setting records in the 1-mile run and being part of the U.S. Olympic team. She also talked about how the work ethic and resiliency she developed from working on her family’s dairy farm helped her train physically and mentally to compete as a professional athlete.

Other keynote speakers at the summit included: Marin Bozic, who spoke about federal milk marketing order reform; Dale and Clay Hemminger, who presented a showcase of their robotic dairy farm in New York; and Ed Herr, who spoke about work cultures and how investing in people defined the Herr’s Potato Chip legacy.

Part of the reason why I look forward to the summit every year is because of the “truisms” that I glean from the sessions. While there are several definitions of the word “truism,” my favorite is that it is an undoubted or self-evident truth.

Here are 11 truisms I learned from this year’s summit:

1. When you’re in a transition, communication is key.

Donny Bartch from Merrimart Farms spoke as part of the panel at the young professionals reception and shared how his journey took him from a non-farm upbringing to today, being the owner of a 260-cow dairy in Perry County. Bartch encouraged young and older generations to remember that “at the end of the day, you have to step back and think about what this is all for.”

2. I can do things you cannot. You can do things I cannot, but together we can do great things.

The Dairy Innovation Forum, which is held each year as part of the summit, featured a panel of dairy processors who forged unique partnerships to build on common goals and unique strengths.

3. It takes a team.

In the managing feed costs breakout session, Walt Moore from Walmoore Holsteins in Chester County and Jared Kurtz from Kurtland Farms in Berks County shared their feed cost strategies and methods for feed efficiency during high commodity prices. Both farmers were candid about how they leverage a team of consultants and employees to maximize results.

“It’s important to seek to learn and listen to others,” Kurtz said.

4. Talk about the future, even if it’s scary.

Josh Keefer from the North Group spoke about how generational differences can cause roadblocks in communicating effectively with co-managers and employees on the farm.

He shared how something you say can be perceived differently by the person hearing it because of generational differences.

“You need to ask yourself if you are holding people accountable to standards you didn’t clearly communicate with them,” he said.

5. The next seven years shouldn’t look like the last seven.

Matt Gould, editor of The Dairy Analyst, talked about the 2022 Dairy Outlook and what is expected in terms of milk pricing in the coming year. While global supplies are shrinking, Gould reminded the audience that the U.S. is the only major exporter poised to be able to supply international dairy demand right now.

6. It’s a constant balancing act, and getting off to a good uniform start is key.

Jonathan Rotz from Pioneer led a breakout session on in-furrow technology and how critical it is to feed the seed for success.

Just like a cow, Rotz showed how everything you ask of a crop takes energy. In-furrow technologies are a way to make sure that crop is getting the nutrients it needs to get off to a good start.

7. You can’t manage what you don’t measure.

Jason Karszes from Cornell University shared how they are working to support benchmarking groups and dairy farmers in New York and the surrounding area. These benchmarking groups allow dairy producers to “benchmark” their performance against their peers to quickly see where they are pulling ahead and where they are falling behind.

8. It’s not about a dairy farm, a trucking company, or a chocolate company.

Eric Boyle from Hershey Foods and Rick Wadhams from Wadhams Transport shared how increased consumer demand and ongoing labor shortages are creating logistical challenges for everyone in the supply chain right now.

“What’s most important is that we become more interconnected and flexible on finding solutions,” said Boyle.

9. Get to first and then try to steal second.

These were the words of wisdom Dale Hemminger shared during his farm’s showcase. Hemminger spoke about how his family has grown their dairy and vegetable farm business over the years.

“I try to go for base hits to avoid burning up too much equity,” he said.

Hemminger also shared why Pennsylvania dairy farmers should be excited about their role in the Northeast dairy industry.

“We have access to plenty of water, which is something other regions don’t have, and we are within a day’s drive of more than half the U.S. population,” he said. “We can compete, but we have to know our numbers and what we are good at, so we can exploit it.”

10. If you’re not intentionally encouraging someone, you could be unintentionally discouraging them.

Ed Herr spoke about the family’s potato chip business and how they work to cultivate the next generation of family members to be part of the family business.

He shared how they have family stakeholder retreats where they talk to the family members — even those at a very young age — about what the family business has to offer them.

The final truism I took away from this year’s summit came as part of a video Purrier St. Pierre shared before her interview about competing in the Olympics.

During the Olympic trial races, where the U.S. Olympic team members are decided, she had to compete against more than a dozen other professional athletes. When the gun went off, the runners all took off and clamored to get their spots on the track.

About 10 yards into the race, Purrier St. Pierre was knocked completely off the track by the other runners. But instead of giving up or falling behind, she pushed her way right back onto the track and took the lead.

She never looked back and took first place by a strong lead at the end. So, the moral of that story is, “sometimes you get knocked off track (literally), but it’s what you do afterwards that matters,” she said.

Thank you to all of our sponsors, exhibitors and attendees who supported this year’s summit. If you missed it this year, be sure to mark your calendars for next year’s Pennsylvania Dairy Summit, which will be hosted by the Professional Dairy Managers of Pennsylvania and the Center for Dairy Excellence on Feb. 8-9 at the Penn Stater in State College.

Registrations will open in November 2022. We hope you will consider joining us.

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