What Image of the Dairy Industry Are You Presenting?

Dr. Allen Young
USU Extension Dairy Specialist

    One lesson I learned while in New Hampshire was that �Perception is Reality� to many people in the general population. The concept is that regardless of facts, people�s impressions and feelings regarding a subject or person rank higher than reality. It is a very difficult problem to overcome, as in my experience, education based upon facts doesn�t seem to carry as much weight as these impressions. What does this have to do with you as a dairy producer? Let me tell you using quotes from comments that I have heard from several individuals since moving to Utah.

�I moved here from Pennsylvania and took a drive around to see the farms. I was expecting to see nice, neat, clean farms similar to what I saw in Pennsylvania. I was very disappointed with the appearance of the farms I saw as I drove around. I don�t think much of the farms here.�

�I was just on _________�s farm. The quality of their milk must be very bad if it is like what I saw while I was there. I don�t know if I will ever drink milk again in my life. I almost threw-up at some of the things I saw and smelled.� (This person is used to farms and likes them.)

�I hate driving down the road after a tractor with manure has gone by. My car stinks and I can�t get it off. There ought to be a law against this.�

�Judging by the way that farm looks, I don�t think I want to drink milk.�

    Many of you are probably not equating this with your dairy; however, you should. People are becoming very concerned about where their food comes from and how it is produced (that begs the question of whether they really do know where it comes from). They are also moving into your backyards. Your public appearance will, to a certain degree, determine the acceptability of your product. It is the old adage that if I can smell your farm, you are polluting, regardless of whether you are or aren�t. So, what type of visual image are you portraying to the public? Do you even care? I heard one person say that his banker didn�t care what his dairy looked like, so why should he? Some of you are saying that you are so busy with important stuff, why waste time on the unimportant. Right now I am more concerned that you step back and look at the image you are projecting to people that drive by. In the future, that image may be the difference between support for your causes (and products) and having your neighbors gang up on you and force you out of business.

Some suggestions that won�t take much time, but can help:

* Mow the weeds around your farm. Weeds are not a cash crop unless you live in Vermont where �weed� is the number one cash crop.

* Plant flowers and shrubs. I can think of a dairy north of where I live whose appearance always impresses me when I drive by and see the flowers.

* Put up a sign telling people who you are and landscape around it. Be proud of your dairy.
* Upgrade the drive into the dairy. A load or two of gravel can go a long way towards improving the image of your entrance way. I also suspect the milk hauler won�t complain.

* Have a �garage sale.� Many of the mechanical devices around your farm are creating more clutter than salvageable parts.

* Any year other than this one, I would suggest a big wiener roast using some of the piles of junk around your farm.

* Buy a couple of gallons of paint and apply liberally. In New England, barns were painted a traditional bright red. They were distinctive as well as attractive.

* Plant some grass.

* After you have cleaned up the yard and put on a fresh set of clothes, invite the neighbors over for a picnic or barbeque. You would be surprised how quickly customer relations can be improved. Just don�t serve raw milk.

    Only you can improve your own image. Right now, with low milk prices, you may not be too interested. I can assure you that your public image will be a factor in how much support you get from the general public in the future. If nothing else, it will make you feel good. Clean up and make other people�s perception become reality.