FarmFirst members adapt to meet new dairy industry challenges

Dan Hansen
FarmFirst General Manager Jeff Lyon Lyon reports on various federal legislative priorities including potential improvements to the 2023 Farm Bill, sustainability opportunities and modernizing Federal Milk Marketing Orders.

STEVENS POINT, Wis. –  Approximately 150 members and delegates of FarmFirst Dairy Cooperative attended the organization’s 11th annual meeting Feb. 10-11 at the Holiday Inn Conference Center.

Important information on several key issues currently affecting dairy producers in Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, Illinois and others Midwestern states – including state legislative budgets and agriculture sustainability – was presented.

Leaders report

During the co-op’s business meeting, FarmFirst President John Rettler, owner of Tin Valley Farm of Neosho, Wis., noted that while dairy farmers are facing unique challenges they are continuing to persevere in spite of them. “The past year showcased how labor shortages are not only impacting dairy farms, but also processors and milk haulers, coupled with challenges throughout the entire supply chain,” he said.

Rettler shared how inspiring FarmFirst members are for being involved and raising their voice on issues important to them as they advocate for change. “Because FarmFirst members care to make a difference for the betterment of their dairy community, locally and nationally, they are part of the solution in making a brighter future for today’s youngest dairy men and women,” he emphasized.

General Manager Jeff Lyon shared his thoughts on the strength, resilience, and influence of FarmFirst members, when faced with challenges. He noted that the industry is evolving and members have evolved with it.

“We need to be devoted to the greater good, be passionate, become knowledgeable about the issues in order to be highly regarded in our communities and be effective,” Lyon said. He also stressed the importance of members believing in themselves, and that they have the ability to improve the industry.

Lyon reported on various federal legislative priorities including potential improvements to the 2023 Farm Bill, sustainability opportunities and modernizing Federal Milk Marketing Orders. “FarmFirst will continue to advocate for free-trade agreements that are favorable to U.S. dairy, push back against changes to rules related to the Waters of the U.S., advocate for Ag Guest Worker reform, dairy nutritional standards and dairy labeling," he said.

Member resolutions

During the resolution session, delegates reiterated their support for dairy farmers to receive a fair price for their production and to have federal programs more accurately account for feed supplementation costs. 

Delegates were united in their opposition to federal nutrition programs restricting milk and dairy product purchases due to naturally occurring fat, sugar, and sodium levels. Delegates also continued to oppose any unnecessary environmental regulation on farmers, and expressed their support for programs that adequately compensate dairy farmers for complying with rules and regulations surrounding greenhouse gas emissions.

Member panel

The annual business meeting concluded with a special panel featuring four cooperative members taking on additional leadership roles, who fully embodied the annual meeting’s theme of Members Make the Difference, according to Lyon. 

Janet Clark of Vision Aire Farms near Rosendale, Wis., said her interests and concerns as a young mom and dairy farmer led her to become more involved in the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin (PDPW) and Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin (DFW).

 “My involvement there has helped me to better understand how dairy checkoff dollars are being used to advance and promote dairy products while also building a strong foundation for today’s dairy farmers,” she said. 

Nathan Wiese of Wiese Dairy in Rosendale, Wis., shared how his involvement in the Young Cooperator program has been inspiring and eye-opening as he met with legislators and raised concerns to them about pending dairy policies. 

Mike Paulus of Paulus Dairy in Fredonia, Wis., offered a first-hand perspective on serving on the Farmers Assuring Responsible Management (FARM) Animal Health and Well-Being Committee, noting that if dairy farmers want to make changes, they need to speak up and participate, and that understanding the process will help them be more effective in making changes. 

Doug Danielson of DanAnn Dairy in Cadott, Wis., highlighted his experience serving on the Center for Dairy Research (CDR) committee through DFW, and how participating in that role led him to learn so much more about the center’s impact on the industry and allow him to provide direction as a dairy farmer involved in checkoff..

Awards presented

During its awards program, the cooperative recognized its 2022 scholarship recipients with several in attendance who shared their career aspirations and gratitude for the cooperative’s support of their education.

 Awards were also given to the top milk quality producers within the Family Dairies USA milk marketing division. Staff member, Brandon Flasch (10 years ) and board members Brian Wozniak (8 years) and Richard Meyer (25 years) were recognized for their career milestones and contributions to the cooperative. 

The event included live and silent auctions to help raise funds for youth educational programming. This year’s live and silent auction raised more than $5,000 for youth education, including college scholarships and dairy camp sponsorships.


John Rettler of Neosho, Wis., was re-elected president of the FarmFirst Dairy Cooperative’s board of directors. Steve Brock of Daggett, Mich., was re-elected vice-president, Stephanie Hughes of Pittsville, Wis., was elected secretary, and Bob Dietzel of East Dubuque, Ill., was re-elected treasurer.

Newly elected District 7 Director is Michelle Popp of Unity, Wis., and Jackie Holub of Boyd, Wis., will serve as District 8 Director.

Re-elected to three-year terms, on the 10-member board of directors included Secretary Bob Dietzel, representing District 6.

Tony Schmitz of Fond du Lac, Wis. was elected by the Young Cooperators Steering Committee to serve as Chair, and Nathan Wiese as Vice-Chair, who will represent the Young Cooperators on the Board of Directors.  

Other board members include Dan Vandertie of Brussels, Wis., in District 2, Wayne Gajewski of Athens, Wis., in District 4, and Kathy Bauer of Faribault, Minn.