MADISON — Like many schools, businesses and communities across the state, the cold weather forced board members of Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin to amend their plans for a meeting on Jan. 30. Instead of traveling to Madison, board members phoned into the DFW office, approving a few budget items before adjourning until Feb. 4, when the remainder of the original agenda items were discussed.
Board chairman Jeff Strassburg shared some of the struggles he had on his farm the morning of Jan. 30, working through subzero temperatures to make sure animals were cared for, employees were safe and the farm was operating as efficiently as it could in the harsh winter weather. He said having board members phone in was the best solution as most of the farmers on the board of directors were likely dealing with the same struggles last week.
CEO Chad Vincent had planned to share information and results pertaining to a plant-based “dairy” survey, conducted by Ravel and commissioned by the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association, Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin and Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative. But instead, he made that report Feb. 4, when board members were present in person.
However, Vincent said the organization has been spending more time with farmers, holding five or six farmer gatherings in December alone. He has been finding that farmers that know about the 90/90 rule — 90 percent of Wisconsin milk is turned into cheese and 90 percent of that cheese is sold outside of the state’s borders — have had a better understanding about the marketing that has been planned and pursued by Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin.
The organization has also decided to put a small billboard plan into place for February and March, and took out a 30-second advertisement during the Super Bowl. Vincent said they were able to get an affordable price for the TV ad slot, with targeted audiences in Wisconsin and the Minneapolis markets.
Now that the organization has a clearer vision and a better idea of where it is going, more dollars are being requested for marketing, programming and communication, leading to two budget adjustments up for approval at the Jan. 30 teleconference meeting.
The first budget adjustment requested that $241,000 be moved from unallocated reserve to capital appropriations for upgrades in audio and visual in the DFW board room, a prep kitchen on site to prepare cheese for events and a passenger van to transport visitors.
Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin currently does not have a space for employees to prep cheese for shows and events, and there is a space in the building not being used that could serve as a prep kitchen. Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin has been working with the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection to see if the kitchen needs to be certified and if other stipulations apply to the prep kitchen. The space is planned to comfortably fit 10 employees, who will have access to fridges, coolers and a dishwasher in order to prep for upcoming events.
As for the van, the organization currently rents a passenger van to transport visitors around but sees the need for a new vehicle that could fit more people, product and could be marketed to be recognizable as it travels around the state.
The second budget adjustment requested that $1,850,000 be transferred from the unallocated reserve into several programming accounts.
Within dairy company communications, funds would be used to help smaller cheese factories switch to the new Proudly Wisconsin cheese badge and provide education for those cheesemakers on the badge.
These funds would also be used in farmer communications and local programming, with plans to show short farm films as previews at movie theaters across Wisconsin during June Dairy Month. It’s possible some of these short films could be entered into film festivals as well, with the aim to showcase the story of Wisconsin farmers.
Early research by the organization has also shown that having a kiosk at events helps them receive information from farmers so they can fortify their email lists and contact information databases, so part of the funding would go toward a kiosk investment. Updating the graphics and wraps on DFW vehicles, including the new passenger van, also fall under this category.
DFW also requested the funding be used toward market research, specifically in the areas of private labels, e-commerce, butter and promotion effectiveness, and plant-based products. They also wish to fulfill a commitment to the Center for Dairy Research and purchase a piece of dairy equipment for their lab, as well as continue to explore national communications through the use of digital media and search engine optimization.
After studying several cheese events and festivals across the country, DFW is also looking to hold its own artisan cheese event that would include a series of workshops and tours for the cheese lover. They hope to have a pilot event in the late fall of this year.
Some discussion was had by board members pertaining to the passenger van, the prep kitchen and the use of the new Proudly Wisconsin badge. But after discussion concluded, the board approved both budget adjustments unanimously.
The Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin board of directors will meet again in March, with the date of that meeting yet to be determined.