Oconto County Dairy Promotion Committee: Promoting local dairy products

Dan Hansen
A cattle-judging contest was part of Dairy at Dusk event sponsored by the Oconto County Dairy Promotion Committee

LENA – Dairy farmers generally excel at production, but can often use some help in promoting and marketing their products.

Producers in Oconto County are fortunate to have that help from the Oconto Dairy Promotion Committee that sponsors various events and activities to help encourage area consumers to buy more dairy products.

Mark Alden, a farm business instructor at the Northeast Wisconsin Technical College, who works with area farmers on various financial issues who are looking to improve their profitability, is an active member of the committee. 

He told Wisconsin State Farmer the committee receives money from Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin, formerly known as the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, which receives dairy check-off dollars from farmers throughout the state.

“We get about $3,000 back from that every year to conduct local dairy promotions,” Alden said. “Our group consists of eight members who meet at various times throughout the year to plan events and activities that promote dairy products.”

The 400-plus Dairy at Dusk attendees gathered under the big test for food and entertainment.

Special promotions

The committee provides placemats for area restaurants. “By that we hope to encourage diners to have a scoop of ice cream with their piece of pie for dessert, or maybe have a cheese burger instead of chicken nuggets,” he explained.

It also sponsors a parade float that suggests clubs hold their meetings at a local dairy bar and patronize local ice cream stands within the county.

“We help various civic organizations that have food stands at summer events,” said Alden. “If they charge the same for a cheeseburger as a hamburger, we’ll reimburse them to offset the cost of the cheese.”

The committee also sets up booths at local grocery stores to give out free samples of various dairy products and recipes, and tries to tie that in with a promotion the store might be having. 

“We see a definite uptick in the sales of those products well beyond their normal sales volume just because customers had the opportunity to taste the products,” Alden remarked.

Dairy at Dusk

For the past 10 years the committee has been sponsoring a special program at one of the farms in the county called Dairy at Dusk. 

“We wanted to do something that would bring all our dairy farmers in the county together and give them more of an uplifting experience where they could socialize with their fellow dairy farmers and share ideas and information about their dairy herds and crops,” Alden stressed.

“We also wanted to share with them some of the things our committee is doing to promote dairy products and dairy farming,” he said. “We want to help tell the positive story that our farms are producing wholesome products, while treating their animals in a very humane way.”

He noted attendance at the event has experienced tremendous growth. ”Ten years ago we had 75 to 100 people attend this event, this year we had over 400.”

Along with local dairy farmers, about 175 invitations are also sent to other members of the dairy community in Oconto County. “We also get neighbors from nearby farms, and have a very nice evening for the whole family,” Alden added.

This year’s event was held at the Peterson Dairy near Lena. It featured cattle judging and other contests, a picnic, live music and a special guest speaker. 

“We had Dan Hagenow of Video Creations, who spoke about what he’s doing with videos to promote the dairy industry. These videos feature farms in a positive light, and are posted on various social media outlets. The videos illustrate how the farms are working progressively and positively throughout rural Wisconsin,” Alden emphasized.

Dairy challenges

Like dairy farmers around the state, those in Oconto County are also facing economic challenges due to low milk prices and an oversupply of product.

“The pricing cycle we’re in currently is taking a toll on some farmers,” Alden acknowledged. “There are some who are old enough where they can retire, and some who’ve reached a point where it doesn’t make sense for them to burn up any more equity. There are also others who just decide to try something different and are seeking employment somewhere else.”

Like farms in other parts of the state, some Oconto County dairies are turning to robotic milking systems, according to Alden. One farm has made the switch just this week, and will be milking about 200 to 230 cows with four robotic units.

Concluding on a positive note, Alden said, “I want to encourage members of the farm community to maintain a positive spirit. There will be better times ahead. We need to be able to put our heads together to find a way to get the quality dairy products from Wisconsin into the hands of people beyond our state and national borders, and be able to do it in a cost competitive way.”