If you’ve never stopped to think about where your food comes from, or how it gets from farm to table, June Dairy Month is the perfect time to consider the original essential worker: farmers.
As a farmer-owned co-op, we do dairy differently. We were founded on the belief that by working together, we can all do better. Dairy farmers care for their cows and the land, feeding our country and the world, no matter what may come. That’s a tall order but we’re up for the challenge, working together to deliver on the dairy goodness made possible by our 1,700 dairy members.
The power of the cooperative
In 1921, 320 dairy farmers met in St. Paul, Minnesota, to join together to effectively market and distribute members’ dairy production across the country. Back then, Land O’Lakes was the first to make butter from fresh, sweet cream — not sour cream — and sell it in individually wrapped sticks. This innovation set the standard for butter quality in America. Today, the co-op spans the entire agricultural system.
Members’ challenges have evolved over the past century, and even more so in recent months, but the co-op model remains.
“This is a personal business. We know each of our farmers and care about supporting them, as they support their farms, families and communities,” says Heather Anfang, SVP, U.S. Dairy Foods. “One of the most important things we do as a cooperative is to provide access to farmers’ milk, regardless of season or market conditions.”
Here’s a peek behind the refrigerator door to learn more about just a few of the many of jobs and skills required to ensure dairy products make it from farm to table.
Picking up the milk
Each year, Land O’Lakes sources about 12.5 billion pounds of milk from member-owners. The expert problem-solvers on the milk supply team work 24/7 to find a home for every drop of milk — in Land O’Lakes butter, cheese, milk powder and other products, or with third-party processors.
Christian Edmiston, senior sourcing director, perpetually aims for zero milk waste. “Farmers put in a lot of blood, sweat and tears,” he says. “And our job is to find a home for that milk regardless of what kind of headwinds we’re facing.”
Those headwinds include planned rushes of supply in spring, holidays and countless curveballs or crises (caused by unpredictable weather, market conditions or the current coronavirus pandemic).
The advantage of the co-op model is its team of dedicated problem-solvers working to ensure farmers’ milk won’t go to waste.
Successful manufacturing teams must be as coordinated as they are mighty. These employees need to collaborate seamlessly to pull off the complex multi-step processes that happen at a processing plant.
Neha Shah, Land O’Lakes plant manager in Tulare, California, compares it to a symphony. “It’s almost like you have different groups of instruments playing at a time,” she says. “You’re trying to essentially compose a piece out of it. Every step of our process is contingent on the success of the prior.”
For example, the Tulare plant runs all day, every day; and the more volume coming in, the more critical it is for the plant team to play in tune with each other.
Employees at our dairy plants have shown up in a big way – working on the frontlines of America’s food supply to help turn our farmers’ milk into the food you need and want. The milk doesn’t get processed, and the butter doesn’t get made, without them showing up!
Getting the milk onto shelves
Last year, Land O’Lakes partnered with innovative startup Plus.ai to deliver 40,000 pounds of butter 2,800 miles. Did we mention that the truck drove itself? It was the first coast-to-coast commercial freight trip made by a self-driving truck, traveling from Tulare, California, to Quakertown, Pennsylvania, in less than three days. The driving system offered the tech to do it safely, including cutting-edge sensors, deep learning algorithms and simultaneous location and mapping (SLAM) technologies.
While that is an exciting twist on transportation, it’s the everyday, over-the-road truckers whose praises we’re singing this month.
Drivers are an integral part of the process, arriving on farm to collect the milk, delivering it for processing and then transporting the finished products to stores and customers across the country.
Doing dairy good
Being part of a cooperative means working together to solve challenges, improve lives and livelihoods and support our communities.
One way we’re doing that is by donating $15,000 to 4-H to help inspire more young people to do, lead and grow, especially in an area near and dear to our hearts: agriculture.