Episode 12 – Is Your Dairy Prepared For A Crisis?

No dairy farmer ever wants to think about a significant issue impacting his farm, much less a crisis. This episode of Your Dairy Checkoff Podcast is hosted by two dairy farmers who have faced such impacts on their own farms. Listen in as Wisconsin’s Amber Horn-Leiterman and Florida’s John Larson talk with Tricia Sheehan, vice president of crisis preparedness and issues management for Dairy Management Inc., and Hannah Thompson-Weeman, the newly announced president and CEO for the Animal Ag Alliance, about on-farm crisis preparedness and issues management.

There are issues that happen on the farm every day. But the types of crisis and issues that are hitting from outside your dairy – that are foreign forces – that’s where organizations such as DMI and the Animal Ag Alliance are there to help.

DMI monitors what type of media traction is out there – from news reports to social media and online conversations. Your checkoff helps dairy farmers navigate the social pressures and become prepared for the media and their community so that they can provide their response to a difficult situation.

Learn from our guests and hosts how they navigate through a crisis and what to do to become better prepared on your own farm.

To learn more about the national dairy checkoff and your local dairy checkoffs, please visit www.usdairy.com.

Dairy Farmer Hosts:
Farmer Host – John Larson – Florida Dairy Farmer
Farmer Host – Amber Horn-Leiterman – Wisconsin Dairy Farmer

Industry Experts:
Guest – Tricia Sheehan – Vice President, Crisis Preparedness and Issues Management for Dairy Management Inc.
Guest – Hannah Thompson-Weeman – Vice President, Strategic Engagement for Animal Ag Alliance

Transcript (Machine generated – please ignore the typos)

Tricia Sheehan 0:00
One of the key pieces that we talk about a lot as we’re doing our crisis preparedness is talking about building relationships throughout your day throughout the year because the last time you want to be trying to introduce yourself and build a relationship with somebody is during the middle of a crisis.

John Larson 0:23
Hello, everyone and welcome to another episode of your Dairy Checkoff Podcast. I’m John Larson, a dairy farmer from Florida and I’m joined today by Amber horn Leiderman, who is a dairy farmer from Wisconsin. We will be the host for today’s discussion on crisis preparedness and issues Management. Today we’ll be talking to Tricia Shihan, Vice President of crisis preparedness and farmer relations for DMI and Hannah Thompson, women vice president of strategic engagement for animal ag Alliance, about industry efforts to protect dairies reputation during a crisis. Tricia, tell us about what you do at DMI.

Tricia Sheehan 1:09
Thanks, John. So here at DMI I lead our issues and crisis team. And that involves a lot of training and preparedness work so that our farmers are better prepared if a crisis were to hit their farm, we know that when a crisis hits, it often comes out of the blue and farmers just aren’t really expected to know what’s going to happen right away and how to respond to that. So we want to make sure that we’re a resource for farmers so that we can be there and help them work through that situation. And then also to help them recover from that. And then most importantly, help them plan for it so that maybe the next time they might have a few steps or plans in place. We spend a lot of time watching different groups and what they’re talking about with dairy. We’re seeing what’s happening on farms and making sure that we’re just aware of any pieces that might pop up as far as issues that are out there that we need to be aware of and that our farmers need to be aware of as well. And we want to make sure that we’re sharing that information with all of our farmers.

John Larson 2:04
Thank you, Tricia, Hannah, tell us about what you do at the animal agriculture Alliance.

Hannah Thompson-Weeman 2:10
That’s John, if you’re not familiar with the animal agriculture Alliance, we are a nonprofit. And our mission is to safeguard the future of animal agriculture and its value to society. By bridging the communication gap between the farm and food communities, there’s a lot of myths, a lot of misinformation out there about animal agriculture. And our role as an organization is to monitor and respond to make sure that we are communicating accurate, balanced information about animal agriculture, our primary issues, we cover our animal welfare, and as part of that responsible antibiotic use sustainability, the environmental impact the nutritional value of animal protein, and then monitoring animal rights extremism. And as you can imagine that last bit is where a lot of crisis situations come from. So I oversee all of our communications efforts, our crisis planning work, our work to help members as they face crisis situations. I work very closely with individuals like Tricia across all the animal agriculture community. So a lot of similar functions that Tricia mentioned as far as issues monitoring, receiving reports from across the animal agriculture community and making sure we’re getting the word out about potential and emerging situations. We’re really glad to work with DMI as a partner, as well as similar organizations across animal agriculture.

John Larson 3:32
Thank you for that hands. What does crisis preparedness mean to the checkoff?

Tricia Sheehan 3:39
As we think about the checkoff, we know that one of our main goals here is to protect the reputation of dairy. And if a crisis or issue pops up, that’s specific against dairy, we know that there’s that potential for consumers to have some skepticism about the dairy industry. One little issue or crisis can impact people’s thoughts and what they believe. So we want to make sure that we’re on the front end of that. And so that’s why we believe that having our farmers be more prepared for a crisis, if it does hit if it’s something that’s a little bit bigger, an industry wide issue or if it’s something specific to their farm, or their local area, that our farmers know how to react to a crisis situation, and how to respond to it. I know that everybody hears crisis and issues, and they automatically get that, oh, my gosh, what’s happening now type of response are feeling. And we want to make sure that people know that it’s important, you know, for the whole dairy industry. And it’s important to check off, but we know that we need to be a resource for our farmers as well. So it’s a big tool that we want to make sure our farmers are aware of that we can help them in times of need and also to be better prepared.

Amber Horn-Leiterman 4:48
Thanks, Tricia, for that broad overview. One of the things that we probably need to really talk about is how does this benefit the farmers being prepared for that crisis? There

Tricia Sheehan 4:58
are crisis and issues that happen on The farm every day I get that. But these types of prices and issues that are hitting from, you know, outside that their farm forces that we are there to help them through these situations. So whether that be, you know us helping them look at what type of media traction is out there and what type of reports is showing up in the news, or if anything showing up at all, if there are activists out there talking about things, you know, to a broader audience or not helping them write a statement so that they can be prepared if a media person does call them and want their response to a situation. These are all pieces of things that we know we can support them with and help them through. We don’t want our farmers to feel like they need to know all of it and have everything all set out in a plan that they can follow a through z without having any outside people help them and work with them through the situation. We want them to have some idea how to handle a crisis, but we also want them to know who their resources are and who’s there to help them. And the checkoff is one group that is definitely wants to be there and support them in terms of a crisis or an issue that’s hitting their farm or their area. And that’s both the national checkoff as well as their state or local organization. I work with a lot of my counterparts at the state and regional level of the checkoff organizations. And so oftentimes, when something pops up on a farm or an area, it’s that group of us working together to help monitor the situation respond to what’s going on, and provide the support that farmers need during the middle of a crisis or a major issue that’s out there.

John Larson 6:36
Water Crisis drills.

Tricia Sheehan 6:38
So one of the things that we as the dairy industry have put a lot of time and effort in is putting together some industry wide crisis drills as well as smaller scale crisis drills. And what these drills do is allow us to bring kind of that cross section of the industry together, we talk about training and supporting our farmers. But we also want to train and support those folks that work with the co ops or the processor groups, the promotion groups, whether there are checkoff organizations or outside groups that are affiliated with promotions. We want to talk to retailers who sell a lot of dairy in their stores, and help them understand how a crisis may unfold. And different scenarios that they may be asked to think through and work through. What we do is we bring a cross section of the industry together in a room and we put them through a crisis drill, it is a real live, real life scenario. It’s things that have happened in the past, or that could happen in the in the future. But then as we work through kind of a a fast tracked crisis scenario, we throw out different challenges to the groups that we have in the room, we may have a group that’s acting as the farm and another group that’s acting as the retailer. And we throw out different challenges to each of those groups, so that they can figure out you know, what, if I am in the middle of a crisis, and something like this happens, how would I respond to this? How would I react? And what would I do depending on what role you’re playing as part of this drill? And it really makes everybody who’s part of the drill, think about the crisis in a different situation, because, well, you know, you may be a farmer going through the crisis, the co op also has to answer some different questions and figure out how to move forward. So does the processor so does a retailer. So everybody gets a chance to kind of think through what’s going on in the scenario, how they would respond, and then ultimately how their response is going to impact other people in the room as well. So we’re never in a situation on our own. We’re never going to be dealing with a crisis just by ourselves. And this really helps show all those different players and how every action has a reaction, right? So if they take what they’ve learned from the drills, and they go home, and they add some pieces to a crisis plan for their farm or for their company, that’s what we’re really looking for. When we put these drills together,

Amber Horn-Leiterman 8:57
you’re touched on who attended them and how they work. Would you be able to let us know how often do these crisis trainings occur? And how would I know if one was in my area?

Tricia Sheehan 9:06
Yes, so we typically try to do two to three kind of major drills or the larger scale Drills each year. Now with COVID, it’s been a couple of years since we’ve actually had a drill, because we really see the value of getting people in a room face to face with one another. So part of you know working through this drill is understanding the scenario and what happens during the crisis. But another piece of that is networking and meeting people throughout the dairy industry. This year. We hope to have a couple of drills. We don’t have the date set yet. But if you’re looking for information and want to attend, we move the drills around the country we work with our state and regional checkoff organizations to look for different places where we could hold the drill every year we rotate the locations around so that farmers can have a chance to attend and participate in those drills. So if you’re looking to participate that Best Way To Learn more about them would be to, you know, pay attention to our newsletters that we send out because we would share that information there. Talk to your state and regional checkoff organizations

John Larson 10:12
are important is it proactively build relationships with organizations that can help your farm during the crisis.

Tricia Sheehan 10:21
One of the key pieces that we talk about a lot as we’re doing our crisis preparedness is talking about building relationships in, you know, throughout your day, throughout the year, because the last time you want to be trying to introduce yourself and build a relationship with somebody is during the middle of a crisis. There’s so many other pieces and things that are going on that you don’t want to be calling up somebody and saying, Hi, I know we’ve never met, but I want to talk about this issue that’s going on. And so that’s a key piece of what we talk about through these crisis preparedness is making those connections each and every day versus waiting for something big to be hitting when you need to make those phone calls, you know, and that goes is both a face to face presence, as well, as you know, having a social presence to the farmers that have their social profiles built or social pages built. Often times can use those during times of a crisis to if they’ve already built up their credibility and have their following. It’s not just, you know, something specific to crisis and issues. It’s something in general that as we work to build these relationships on an ongoing basis, they’re going to help us with our regular business activities, as well as in times of an issue or crisis.

Hannah Thompson-Weeman 11:32
I think the first part of what Trisha said there really captures the value of crisis preparedness. When we talk about crisis planning with our members. It’s about buying you time. Because again, as Tricia said, the last thing you want to be doing when there’s a crisis is digging out somebody’s phone number is figuring out who’s going to call who about this, those kind of administrative details are not what you want to be dealing with when there is a crisis situation unfolding. And there’s no way to plan for everything. There’s no way to map out every scenario, but in a quiet time, if you can just think through those details, and what information am I going to want? Whose number am I going to need? How can I meet them and establish that relationship, a lot of these crisis situations is being able to react very quickly. And either whether it’s a customer who’s calling and wants you to explain something or immediate inquiry, if you’ve already put the mechanisms in place before the crisis emerge, you’re going to be much more well positioned to buy yourself some breathing room. And that’s ultimately what crisis preparedness is about is thinking through these, you know, Doomsday nightmare scenarios that you hope never happen. And I think Trisha and I would both say the best case scenario is that you never use any of the resources that we give you, we hope that you don’t. But if you do have a problem, we want to help you. So again, I think that’s what crisis preparedness comes down to that that Trisha made a great point that the last time you want to be doing some of this stuff is when the crisis is barreling down on you. And that’s the value of doing it now, even when maybe you think you’re not going to need it right away. Again, the hope is that you don’t, but if you do, you’ll be really glad that you have it.

Amber Horn-Leiterman 13:09
One of the things on the farm that is always very interesting is how we are at a cross sections of different industries. Not only are we selling our milk as a product to our processor, most times co ops, but we are also dealing with feed inputs and other co ops that are bringing things to our farm. We’re also transporting goods and services. All through the year, what whether we’re attracted to word of truck or anything. And I think that when you are in a crisis, one of the hardest things that you said is to figure out who you’re going to call first. And if you have that list, it can be posted in your office, it can be on the backside of a cabinet, have that list and have everyone know on your farm where that list is and where you call first. Because that communication is going to be the most important thing. And if that list is ready to go, you’ve already gone that that first step, because who are you going to call within the organization? Who are you going to call it your processor? Who are you going to call at your co op? Who didn’t need to know do we need to bring law enforcement and things? If you have a spill or an accident? Having that at your hands is one less stressor that could potentially set you over the edge of crying in a corner. I mean, to be honest, because when you when you’re a farmer’s face of crisis, and if you’re not prepared, the first thing you want to do is you want to turtle you know, you kind of want to turn in yourself, you’re like how the world do I start and that’s how you start, you have that list, you have those numbers and you go from there

Hannah Thompson-Weeman 14:38
well, and both your contact list and all of your crisis documents should also be living breathing documents. So this is not something that you do once it’s a living, breathing exercise. You’ve got to keep coming back to it you know, every six months every year and revisit your plan and make sure it’s still current and still relevant and that the right employees and family members know what it is that also happens to Maybe your farm ownership goes through and has this plan, but your employees or your younger family members have no idea what the plan is or what their role is in it or who is to call. So it needs to be a living, breathing, updated document. And you’ve also got to get it in the hands of everyone that’s relevant on a regular basis and make sure they know their role in it, and that they are empowered to act without permission, if it’s within that crisis plan, because again, that’s what it’s about is delegating permission, giving people the empowerment in their role to manage the crisis,

John Larson 15:32
a lot of farmers cannot be there 100% of the time. So what’s your plan B, what’s your plan, see, you know, right on down the line, that’s very important, too. Because, sure, just as you can bet, something would happen. And you’re not there personally. But the other people have got to be just as trained and ready to go to pick up the slack. And that’s

Hannah Thompson-Weeman 15:54
actually something I’ve heard some crisis drills do is you go through the exercise, and then they say, okay, the five most senior executives need to leave the room. Now what you know, do it again, because the when this happens, it’s going to be when you’re on a transatlantic flight, it’s going to be when you are completely unavailable. So that’s something again, I’ve seen before is you’re running through the exercise and then saying, Okay, if I take out one key person, the whole thing falls apart. So not only do you need your crisis team, you also need backup. So it isn’t just again, one person who’s in charge of crisis for your farm, it has to be something the whole team is involved in.

Amber Horn-Leiterman 16:31
What are some things that you may need to watch for on your farm, suspicious activity, things like that that farmer should be aware of.

Hannah Thompson-Weeman 16:39
So it is really critical for farmers, ranchers, if you work in a plant, whatever your connection might be to animal agriculture, that you always have your eyes and ears out for these type of suspicious incidents because they will help tell you if there might be a crisis looming around the corner. And very importantly, help groups like your state and regional checkoff, your national checkoff and the Alliance piece together trends farmers are very uniquely positioned that you are on the grass roots of this you are in touch with a lot of different entities. So we need you all to help be our eyes and ears on the ground. And we can’t know what trends and issues are coming together if we are hearing at that local level. So that’s something I want to emphasize is always always, always report any of these suspicious odd things to your co op to your state and regional checkoff. You are never bothering folks like Trisha, you are never bothering me. That’s why we’re here. And it also most certainly does not mean that you’ve done anything wrong, if there is these types of suspicious activity, because as we’ve documented through years and years of monitoring activism, you can be doing all the right things, and maybe even be more of a target because for them, it’s not about are we properly caring for our animals, it’s about they don’t believe we should be using those animals for any purpose, including for food, no matter how ethically or responsibly that’s done. So a few things to be very mindful of, and on the lookout for one is employment. So employees are obviously both a huge tool, but also can be a vulnerability anytime you’re bringing someone onto your farm and and trusting them to care for your livestock. And we know that employment is a big way that these extremist organizations are trying to get access to farms and plants. So if you suddenly get a huge uptick in interest in employment, that could be a sign that you’re on their horizon, and they’re really trying to get someone hired. Beyond employment also just visitors. So we have so many reports, especially during the pandemic of just these suspicious visitor incidents on farm, someone might show up and say that they are interested in a tour, someone might be flying a drone over your property, someone might be parking on the public roadway and taking pictures and video then they drive away when you approached them. We had an incident I think it was in Pennsylvania, a lady just decided to drive through a free stall barn. And then said she just wanted to show her kids. So you know, those kinds of suspicious things that happen or something to be mindful of, and always get as much information as possible and report it. We’ve also had a lot of examples over the past year and a half of groups not just getting someone hired or trying to go onto a property but actually going on and installing cameras and recording devices that are either wirelessly transmitting back to them or that they have to come back later and collect them. So any kind of odd Wi Fi signals that you don’t recognize any new networks on your property, any of those kinds of devices, just anything that’s out of the ordinary. We also have groups that their bread and butter is actually stealing animals. So there’s a California dairy farmer that dealt with this where someone came onto their farm and stole a calf and there was like five or six months before they came forward and made it public. And I talked to the farmer and I said how did this happen? You know, how did it this much time go by and he very rightfully said to me if a calf goes missing my assumption is never that somebody came here and stole it, I figured she got out, somebody left the gate open, you know, something like that. Never did, it crossed my mind that somebody came in and intentionally did this. Unfortunately, in 2022, that has to cross our mind when anything is out of place, a gate is unlocked, there’s trash, we’re not expecting stuff left behind, you have to run through the suspicious activity checklists. So basically, anything that’s out of the ordinary phone calls, emails, anything that makes you weary, document it and report it, because it could be a sign that something’s on the horizon, either for you specifically, or the dairy and animal agriculture communities as a whole,

Amber Horn-Leiterman 20:37
we found a light, a handheld light, and it was during a very intense harvesting season. And we assumed that it fell off of someone’s vehicle or fell off a truck in a trailer. And we had gone through our own trucks and the people that had helped us and tractors and we could not find whose light this was come to find out that it was a light used to illuminate calf hutches in the dark to take good pictures. And we still have that light, it’s kind of our talisman, always be aware of suspicious activity, or random objects that are found on your property,

Tricia Sheehan 21:17
I think we need to make sure that all of your your employees on the farm family members on the farm, feel confident to bring up any type of this activity that they may see. You know, I’ve been on farms and I, I’ve not known to these farmers, right. But I’ve been able to walk on those farms and people see me and wave and just, you know, drive on by. So you know, making sure that if something doesn’t seem quite right, somebody is walking on the farm, and I’ve never seen them before. I’ve never seen that little Prius car that is driving down the road, make sure that your employees and that family members know they should bring this up and alert you of this, I’d rather have your employees know that they should bring this up and that they can bring it up if it is somebody that’s meant to be there. So be it but at least you’re acknowledging the fact that you know what, this could be somebody that doesn’t need to be on the farm, and that they’re paying attention to this

John Larson 22:10
a question that we have had before in talking with management his particular employee applicant kept asking about, so I would really like to be working with the, the calves. So can I see your calves? And that was very odd as well, as he just said, well, we don’t have anything open at that particular time. Well, it’s really wrong I want to do can I just go see him. And after we say, well, I’m sorry, we just don’t have any openings. At this particular time. That particular person left and asked one of my maintenance fellows that he saw, where are the calves. And he said, I’m sorry, if you’re not an employee, you’re not authorized to be in this area. He came back to report and we had him on video actually going halfway over to where the calf area was just you know, another example of something that was very suspicious,

Hannah Thompson-Weeman 23:10
those are hitting some of our big red flags for employees. I mean, if someone is pursuing employment, and they are insistent that they are hands on with animals in certain roles, and they will absolutely not consider anything else. That’s one of the red flags. And also a lot of times the suspicious employees, they’ll be your best employees, they want to stay late, they want to come early, because they want to be alone. You know, they want to volunteer for things that nobody else really wants to do. So you’ve got to trust your gut, when things don’t seem right. When they feel a little bit off, ask more questions, verify you know that the worst thing again is maybe someone’s annoyed that you’re so persistently checking up on them. But again, that’s the best case scenario is that they end up checking out at the end of the day, once you’ve done your due diligence, but we can’t afford to cut corners, whether it’s visitors, whether it’s employees, whatever it might be, we can’t cut corners and expedite any of these processes, because that’s when we get vulnerable to these types of issues. So keeping an eye out for those red flags, again, with employees, if somebody has a really high level of education or their their level of education is a mismatch with the role that they’re insistent on. If they give you an address that doesn’t match what’s on their license, it doesn’t match the plate on their car, all those kinds of things can just start to add up and make you second guess what’s going on.

Amber Horn-Leiterman 24:27
Here’s another thing for you. In winter, obviously we get snow up in Wisconsin, a lot of people have calves outside. And if it’s nose out, and you have suspicious footprints in snow, there was a time once where we could follow footprints from the actual road to our calf on so you just assume maybe someone saw a calf out and put that calf back in that Catholic but then that should also be tripped in the back of your mind. That is suspicious behavior what’s going on? Did someone see someone is someone see something and having those in Employees hopefully report back that you know, what they did see. And it was, it was we had we had a calf get out, they put them back, they talked to her employee, and it was fine. But you never know, in those specific situations, we knew right away, something wasn’t right. Because where these, these footprints were in the snow, like no one should have been walking, you belongs

John Larson 25:20
on your crisis team, you

Tricia Sheehan 25:22
want to have the right people in there. But you also don’t need to have everybody as part of the team, who is your lead person that’s handling that crisis. If you feel like it needs to be you as the lead person, then who is your backup person so that if you are not available, that you got somebody who knows that they’re in charge, if you’re not available, you probably want to have somebody that’s designated as your communications person, somebody that can take some of those phone calls that are coming in, whether it be from other organizations that are calling to see if they could help or support or if it’s media calling, but you want somebody to be that communications, they don’t necessarily have to be the spokesperson, but they need to be kind of your communications lead, you can designate a spokesperson to as another role. And again, that may be something that you feel like you want to take on, or you may want to delegate that to somebody else within your organization. And then you want to have somebody that’s kind of your farm leader, who is kind of taking care of everything who’s answering the questions of the employees, so that everybody is sharing information as they best can. But yet not everybody needs to be doing everything specific to the crisis, right? You’ve got to still keep the farm running, you still got to be doing your day to day activities. So again, those are the kind of key roles that I would think of the other point person there is, you know, who do we need to call? Who do we need to share this information with? So those people should be kind of extensions of your team, right so that you know who you’re going to call, whether it be DMI or it’s your state or local checkoff area, who are those people that you want to call in to help you and support you,

Hannah Thompson-Weeman 27:03
we tend to get caught up in thinking about how to respond to the stuff that’s coming in, don’t forget about what you’re going to want to be putting out. And I think it was Amber earlier that said, sometimes in a crisis, our tendency is to kind of go underground or you know, turtles in our shells. But that’s not always the way to approach this. Sometimes we need to be more proactive, sometimes we need to be more visible, and how we address this, whether that’s on social media, or with the media, or very, very importantly, with our customers. A lot of times, especially when we’re talking about animal rights activism, we are not the true targets of these campaigns, it is our household name brand customers, it is much better if those brands hear about it from us. And we get to set the tone and tell the story and explain what happened. And what we’ve done to address any issues versus us being on the defensive and reacting when they’re already calling us because the activist group has gone to them. So don’t just get caught up into thinking, well, how are we going to react to everything coming in, you also need to think about, okay, who’s going to call our customers? Or who’s going to be getting, you know, information to our employees and with your employees to again, don’t forget, they can be some of your biggest advocates. So I guess sometimes our first inclination is, well, nobody needs to be talking about this. And that might not be the right answer. Maybe the right answer is here’s your talking points. If somebody brings this up to you, here’s how to explain what we’ve done here. So don’t get too caught up in thinking about the reactionary aspect of it. Also think about what you might proactively want to communicate and who’s going to be responsible for that?

Amber Horn-Leiterman 28:34
How do farms recover from a crisis on their farm, or in in their specific area,

Tricia Sheehan 28:39
if you’ve built those relationships with folks in your local community, folks within your state and region, that when you’re out there talking about what you’re doing on your farm, maybe you’re addressing this this crisis or issues, specifically, but then knowing you and knowing what you stand for, is a big piece to helping you recover, right, because if they don’t know anything about you, when some of these stories or issues come out, it could lead them to think you know what, maybe this is true, maybe this is what’s happening. But if they already know your organization, your farm, you personally, they they’re gonna think about what’s happening in a little bit different light. So that’s a big piece of being able to recover is having those relationships built up. But then also how you react during the crisis is a big piece of that to have that first inclination of going in and wanting to just hunker down, probably isn’t going to be as helpful as if you’re out there, at least trying to talk about what has happened, talk about what your farm is doing or what your organization is doing in light of this crisis or issue. So people want to see that you are reacting to what’s happening, right? They don’t want to see they don’t want to see every bit of detail about what’s going on but they do want to know that this is a big Do this is important to you, and you are reacting and responding to it. And so that helps groups recover,

Hannah Thompson-Weeman 30:06
I want to emphasize the first part of what Trisha said, we have this concept of the Trust Bank. So every time you have a positive interaction with someone, maybe you host a farm tour, or you speak to a local civic organization, or you have media out to see what you’re doing on your farm, you’re making deposits to your Trust Bank. So you’re building up a positive balance in there. So if there’s ever an issue, and you need to withdraw against that goodwill, you’ve already got a balance in your account. If you have done nothing are even worse, if you have a bad reputation and your community or with your processor, you’re not going to have anything to draw against. So make those deposits to your Trust Bank. Now build that network, build that goodwill, make it so that they’re going to give you the benefit of the doubt because they know you and they know the culture of your farm so well. So not only is it just you know the right thing to do to be a good neighbor and be part of your community. But it also helps us build up that basis of goodwill. So they know who you are, they know you’re doing the right thing, and they will have that trust with you if a crisis does emerge. And then as Trisha mentioned, as well, it’s also you know, the value in how you handle it and how you respond and address issues head on. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to take it on the chin if it is some kind of activist issue. I think Fair Oaks is a great example of this. And we point to them a lot that they both addressed issues that arose but they were also very clear about what was misrepresented and what was misinformation and and what underhanded means were used in that process to misrepresent their farm and animal agriculture as a whole. So both you know, being very clear and upfront and taking responsibility for anything that did fall through the cracks or wasn’t done appropriately, while also not being afraid to set the record straight and be very clear about your commitment to animal care and what processes you have on place to do that. And there’s definitely a way to strike that balance of of setting the record straight without being too defensive. And that’s something that you know, your your DNI checkoff team is very adept at helping navigate that balance.

John Larson 32:10
I want to ask the question, probably to you, Hannah, is what’s happening across other animal ag groups.

Hannah Thompson-Weeman 32:16
every sector of the animal agriculture community is dealing with similar challenges when it comes to activism and really crisis as a whole. And there’s been no better crisis journal probably than the past two years, we’ve all dealt with unprecedented times, whether it’s processing difficulties, supply chain difficulties, increased activist activity, and we’ve all gone through this together as the animal agriculture community. And that’s really the role of the animal ag alliance is to help us all learn from each other. So we have a group that meets monthly that Trisha represents dairy on that has similar leaders as Tricia across all of animal agriculture. And that’s where we can compare notes and say, you know, what’s going on in pork, what’s going on and beef what’s going on in dairy, poultry, and how we can all help each other and share resources and talk about issues that everyone has navigated

Amber Horn-Leiterman 33:05
you will be talked a lot about relationships and how we we need to make them how we have I really loved your example, the Trust Bank. In your experience, how do onfarm crisis’s impact sales or even the processor relationship with those who have been affected by crises,

Tricia Sheehan 33:23
when you think about the pressure that you would be facing as a farm, when the crisis hits that processor that retailers facing that same type of kind of crisis to in the sense, they have their consumers coming back to them, they have some of these activist groups hounding them to say, You know what, we see this going on here, you should be dropping this product. Sometimes it does make an impact. There are some times that brands are pulled from short store shelves, because it’s a reaction that that retail group has could be their management, telling them this is what they need to do. But then we’ve also seen the other scenarios where there have been not as much of an impact on sales, there have been stores during some of these different activities. That said, I know that the milk in our store comes from farmers like this, and we are not taking it off the shelves. It’s not to say that it doesn’t ever impact sales, because it is a very big hit on the reputation of the industry as a whole. And it can can definitely impact sales. It really depends on what that storyline is that’s out there. What those groups are pushing against dairy, and then how dairy is responding and reacting in that situation as well.

John Larson 34:31
What happens to your form online when you have a crisis.

Tricia Sheehan 34:36
So social media can be both good and bad at the exact same time. So during times of crisis, I think it’s important to look at that social media property that you have and use it as a tool. So if you already have followers who, who are you know, checking out your page and seeing what you’re doing. Use that as a way to share your message. We don’t need to be on that tool combatting every claim that An activist group may be putting out there, you want to be out there sharing your story and talking about, you know what you’re doing in that positive light. Um, you also need to make sure that you actually own those social media properties, we found out in a lot of different crisis scenarios where people had stopped at a farm and posted on social media properties that I visited farm XYZ, well, because they visited that farm, and that farm didn’t have a social page one was created when they tagged it through them visiting this farm. And so that page is out there, it’s been created, but your farm isn’t aware of it, your farm doesn’t have ownership of it, it’s just a page that’s out there. And so in one scenario, these activists went out and saw these pages out there and started putting a lot of negative posts on these specific pages. So a key piece to do is to you know, periodically go check those social media properties that are out there, check those pages, you know, is your farm page, the only page out there with that farm name on there is there another page that maybe somebody had stopped by and visited your farm tagged your farm, but actually created a slightly different page with a slightly different farm name, maybe by accident, maybe on purpose, but it’s a way to be able to take inventory and know what’s out there, know that you have ownership of those pages, and that you can use them to your advantage in the times of a crisis, but then just in times in general, too. So if you’ve got a social media page, and there is something going on, and you you don’t have the time to respond or react to it, you can always temporarily pause that page, you can take it down, and just put it on pause while you work through things. But then turn that page back on when you’re in that recovery phase, and you’re able to talk about things I want to begin sharing again. So they can be a very useful tool. They can be they can come with their own challenges, of course, but knowing some of the tools, the ways that you can use those tools, and again, reach out for help and support. We’ve got folks at DMI that love social media and would be more than happy to help you with any particular issues or challenges that you may be facing, as well as folks at your state and regional checkoff groups as well.

Hannah Thompson-Weeman 37:15
The last thing you want to be doing in a crisis is figuring out who has the Facebook login, and who’s the admin on this page. So this also needs to be part of your proactive planning, because you can almost guarantee no matter what the crisis is, if you do get some kind of local or national attention, it will bring people to your Facebook page. And make no mistake, this is not a grassroots group of people stumbling on your page, there are actually private groups where activists will identify we’re going to go to this farms page on this day and post this kind of content. So it’s all coordinated, they’re very good at making a few people sound very loud. So again, think through now what you’ll wish you had a few things farmers have suggested to us before having backup moderators. So you might be the only moderator on your page. And then if you need help to jump in and delete things banned people, you’re going to have to add people on the fly, whether it’s someone else involved with the farm, or maybe a friend who also has a page be backups for one another on either page, you can also set up filters. So certain words can’t even be posted on your page. Again, have a comment policy and be willing to block and ban people. But really the name of the game is to think through this now and get the right things in place now so that you’re ready to react quickly in the time of a crisis situation.

Amber Horn-Leiterman 38:33
And we’ve gone through a lot of different scenarios and a lot of different items that farmers can do or are things that we should do is there. Where can a farmer go a dairy farmer go to find help when it comes to a crisis, what resources are available out there for them to take advantage of.

Tricia Sheehan 38:51
So we have a lot of different resources at the checkoff side of things. So we have different workbooks and helping you put together a crisis plan for your farm. We’ve got different trainings and stuff that you can look at. The easiest place would be to reach out to your state and regional contact person or reach out to me we can help get you those materials. But there’s all sorts of pieces and information that you can find on our website as well. If you go to us dairy.com You can find some crisis information there as well.

Hannah Thompson-Weeman 39:25
The Alliance has a lot of resources about activist monitoring, dealing with activist situations, things like protest hiring. A lot of our more in depth materials are available to our members behind a password but again, DMI is a member a lot of co ops, a lot of state and regional groups are members. So don’t hesitate to reach out if you’d like to see if you’re already connected with a member organization, or we do have some you know, larger scale farms that do a lot of hiring, go ahead and join on their own to have direct access to our resources. And then we do have a lot of information that is more publicly available at ag alliance.org Some of our profiles of the major activist groups, some of our high level overviews of issues, our blog is another great place to go. We’re also very active on social media and we’d love to stay in touch with you as well. So again, that’s animal ag alliance.org.

Amber Horn-Leiterman 40:17
And, Tricia, thank you so much for the great discussion today. I think everyone’s learned a lot, especially about the resources available for us and that dairy farmers shouldn’t be afraid to reach out and really start that crisis preparedness. And in closing, this is Amber horn Laderman from Wisconsin, where John Larson from Florida hosting your Dairy Checkoff podcast. Thanks for joining us today. And if you want to hear more about various issues affecting the dairy community, subscribe to the podcast on your favorite podcast platforms, including Stitcher, Spotify and iTunes. Or you can check us out at our website dairy checkup podcast.com for future episodes, until next time, have a great day.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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