By Sean Ellis
Idaho Farm Bureau Federation
BOISE — The potential market reach of Idaho’s dairy industry has been greatly expanded with the formation of Dairy West.
Dairy West, created last year, is a non-profit organization that will continue the work of United Dairymen of Idaho, which promotes and markets the state’s dairy industry and represents its 490 family owned dairy operations.
The group is funded through a producer assessment equal to 15 cents per every hundred pounds of milk produced.
UDI became a partner of Dairy West one year ago and on April 9, the Dairy Council of Utah/Nevada also became a partner. This will allow Dairy West the ability to tap into the Utah market, which has 3.1 million people, and segments of the Nevada market.
Idaho’s population is 1.7 million and the state’s dairy operations produce 15 billion pounds of milk annually while Utah and Nevada produces only a fraction of that.
The milk assessment, or “checkoff,” that Idaho’s dairy farm families pay to fund UDI have provided that organization with a large amount of resources, while the Utah council had relatively few resources.
“So, through this collaboration, we have the ability to meet the potential demand in this greater regional effort,” said Cindy Miller, Dairy West’s communications director.
Dairy West marries up the two states’ resources and provides a broader marketing and promotional opportunity, which is good for the collective dairy industry, she said.
“What if we move the needle even slightly on yogurt consumption in schools, or milk consumption?” Miller said. “That would be significant.”
While Utah is the first state outside of Idaho to join Dairy West, the potential is there for other states to join forces as well.
“This allows us to go outside of our state boundary to promote our products in other states,” said Buhl dairyman John Brubaker, a member of the Dairy West board of directors. “We’re excited about being able to reach other population bases.”
Idaho’s dairy industry has plenty of funding to work with “but we don’t have the population base to work with,” said Gooding dairyman Steve Ballard, vice-chairman of Dairy West’s board and chairman of Idaho Farm Bureau Federation’s dairy committee. “Dairy West gives us the opportunity to invest some money where the population is in the West. It gives us access to more population centers.”
UDI is a quasi-state agency and didn’t have the flexibility to partner with other entities outside Idaho, said Dairy West CEO Karianne Fallow.
“Dairy West gives us a lot more flexibility to be able to work outside the borders of Idaho,” she said.
For now, Dairy West and UDI are being co-branded as the same entity to give consumes time to realize that the same programs and promotion work UDI conducted will continue, just under the Dairy West umbrella, Fallow said.
“This affords us new opportunities. The potential is huge,” Fallow said. “Farmers, consumers, schools, teachers will continue to see the same great quality programs that UDI has always had, we just now have the opportunity to employ those in a wider geography.”
The Dairy Council of Utah/Nevada will also be co-branded with Dairy West.
Idaho milk flows across borders every day “and following that milk to market and making sure there is demand and consumption happening was a huge motivating factor in forming Dairy West,” Fallow said.
She said increasing regional demand for milk has the potential to have a positive economic impact for dairy operations, which is no small thing for Idaho agriculture and the state’s economy.
Revenue from Idaho milk sales accounts for about 30 percent of the state’s total farm-gate revenue.
According to a University of Idaho study, the state’s dairy industry directly and indirectly is responsible for about $10 billion in economic output, 39,000 jobs and $160 million in state and local taxes.
Brubaker said there is still some confusion among consumers about what Dairy West is but that’s quickly becoming less of a challenge.
“I don’t get near as many questions as I used to,” he said. “I think we’re getting the message out pretty good.”
Idaho’s dairy industry, on the other hand, has known about the plans to form Dairy West for several years.
Fallow said a lot of outreach and conversations were held with dairy operators, processors and other stakeholders before the group was launched.
“This effort has been a long time in the making,” she said. “I believe we did a pretty good job at keeping our stakeholders informed.”
Brubaker said a lot of what he calls “kitchen table conversations” were held with dairymen while the concept was being discussed.
“From processors to dairymen, we had overwhelming support for it,” he said.
The UDI and Utah dairy council boards still exist and Dairy West has an 11-member board of dairy farmers that reflects a blend of milk production and population.
For example, there is one seat for every 2 billion pounds of milk production and one seat for every 1.5 million people.
Under that formula, Idaho has eight seats, seven representing production and one population, while Utah has three, two representing population and one representing production.