The Cattle Range Home Page
December 21, 2017
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The Dairy Checkoff... Got Wow?


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Got Wow?... The Dairy Checkoff May Be the Envy of All Checkoffs
Gregory Bloom

You’d have to be pretty young not to know about the famous ‘Got Milk?’ promotional campaign that launched in 1993. If you’ve never seen the first classically funny ‘Got Milk?’ commercial ever made, you can click here to see it. 

The milk mustache, ‘Got Milk?’ and other campaigns are funded by either of the two dairy checkoffs; that’s right, two! Dairy farmers have one checkoff program and milk processors have another.

When you consider that dairy farmers also pay the $1 per head beef checkoff when dairy cows graduate, there are effectively three checkoff programs in the dairy world. Holy cow! You’d think dairy farmers would complain about all this money being used to promote and defend their industry, but in fact, the dairy checkoff is one of the more widely supported checkoffs for all of agriculture. Dairy farmers are very proud of their products, as they should be. I mean, who doesn’t like cheese on their pizza, yogurt, ice cream or butter?

The $325 million annual budget (2015) for the national dairy farmer checkoff program is managed by Dairy Management, Inc. (DMI) and represents over 41,000 U.S. dairy farmers (as well as dairy importers). DMI works with state and regional promotional organizations to implement programs across the country that are designed to increase demand for dairy through education, innovation and research, as well as maintaining consumer confidence in dairy foods. For more information about DMI, click here.

Dairy farmers pay 15 cents and dairy importers pay 7.5 cents per 100 pounds of milk (or equivalent) into the dairy product promotion fund, a.k.a. the ‘dairy checkoff.’ DMI receives five cents of that, and state & regional organizations use the other 10 cents.

That equates roughly to about $36 per head annually. An average dairy cow serves about 5 years, so that’s $180 for each cow.  Beef producers by comparison invest $1 head in their checkoff when they sell, yet they seem to bicker far more often than dairy farmers do about their checkoff program.

The Milk Processor Education Program (MilkPEP) manages the milk processor checkoff. Milk processors pay 20 cents per 100 pounds of milk and use their 90 million-dollar-plus annual budget to promote milk protein with such national campaigns as ‘Milk Life,’ and ‘The Great American Milk Drive. 

I grew up next to a dairy farm and still work closely with many dairies. Over the past 20 years, most dairies have become cleaner, more transparent, and more progressive in the care of their cows. There are still a few dairies working in the dark ages, but these are not the norm. Thanks to cellphone cameras, any dairies that violate sound animal care and handling are being culled out of the system, and rightly so.

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