Thursday, March 30, 2006

Dairy Herd Improvement Assoc celebrates 50 years — modestly

(Left to right) Lee Day, George Marsh and Ann Marsh at the Willamette Dairy Herd Improvement Association’s 50th annual meeting, held in McMinnville March 29. Marsh was re-elected to another term on the organization’s Board of Directors.

By Elaine Shein

McMinnville, Oregon — The 50th annual meeting of an organization is usually seen as a big event and held in a flashy way.
There is usually a lot of fanfare, long speeches, special guests and perhaps even some audio/visual presentation to highlight what an organization has done to reach this milestone successfully.
However, it was a modest gathering of mainly dairy producers at the Michelbook Country Club in McMinnville on March 29.
The Willamette Dairy Herd Improvement Association meeting had around 100 people in attendance, counting dairy producers as well as sponsors and others there.
According to the annual report, WDHIA serves a client base of 131 members and nonmembers, and tested 36,000 samples of milk last year.

Lots of cows, fewer members

One of the challenges facing the organization has been that the number of dairy producers has gone down, even though the number of dairy cows has stayed constant in the state.
A glance around the room showed that this will continue to be the challenge for the organization. How to continue attracting members to meetings such as this, but even more important, how to keep dairy producers even more involved, such as being on the board of directors?

Marsh Re-elected

George Marsh of Cornelius was re-elected to be a director of the Board of Directors, with no one else running against him.
The other five board members were kept busy, often being the ones to make motions, second them, and being the ones who led the verbal response to voting on motions.
Butch Bloomer of Gaston, Fred Faber of Salem, and George Marsh were those who led the pack, for the most part.
Unfortunately, it was only a half-hearted vote by others in the room that led to motions being passed.

Wanted: Future Directors

As Steve Piersen of St. Paul, the secretary of the organization, noted, “we have to get people on boards — boards work.” He continued to encourage people to be involved or get other people involved to help the organization for the future.
In the business part of the meeting, there were some changes that reflect not only what this organization faces but also challenges probably a lot of other agricultural organizations.
What rules need to be in place about how many directors there should be?
Can outside directors be on the board?
What to do about people who can’t make it to meetings in person?
And finally, what do you do about people who miss more than two consecutive meetings?

New Rules

In their by-laws changes, this DHIA decided to define what is the minimum amount of directors than can be on the board. That number is now five, with no more than nine. Cathy Gesch joined the board this week as the new director representing the permanent seat on the board for someone from the Northwest Dairy Goat Herd Improvement Association.
Another bylaw change was to add “a director at large from an allied industry” and remarkably this was adopted with very little discussion.
This amazed some people, such as Bill Vanderboort, the general manager of California Dairy Herd Improvement Association who has attended a lot of agricultural meetings in the past. He said it was remarkable because often organizations do not accept outside directors easily or quickly.
Unfortunately, sometimes outside directors are allowed on farm organization boards when it is too late and they are in desperate need of expertise from outside of its own board.
However, this was a wise decision made by the Willamette DHIA as it prepares for the future. It’s always good to get expertise from others: in this case, Garey Fritz, from West Coast Bank, was chosen to serve as the director.

Banker Welcomed

People at the meeting laughed when it was noted that any director from large chosen from an “allied industry” should be someone that has a strong interest in agriculture, and who else would be more interested in dairy producers succeeding than a banker?
Kidding aside, Fritz is an excellent choice.
He is someone who definitely is aware of and interested in agriculture. He currently serves as the first vice-president on the board of directors for Oregon’s Agri-Business Council and chairs the Keeping Ag Viable Committee. Not only is he good with numbers, always an asset for any organization, but he also is someone who has worked hard as a volunteer towards helping agriculture.
Maybe the group welcomed Fritz so readily as an outside board member because he is well-known, a familiar face to the agricultural community and he was at the meeting also as a sponsor — but hopefully it was also because the organization was ready to move forward with getting new insight at the board level from people outside the industry.

Calling for Quorum

As for other changes in the by-laws, quorum for a meeting no longer has to be people just meeting in person but can also be met by board members participating by teleconference calls. This reflects the reality that a lot of organizations face in these busy times — it’s tough to get farmers together at times to meet, even if it is only quarterly.
Not everyone can take the time needed to travel to the meeting, but they might be able to participate and serve a valuable role using their phones.
While 50 years ago it might have been tough to imagine meetings not being in person, today’s technology means a farmer with a cell phone can still participate in a meeting even when out working in the field.

Two Strikes…

Finally there was a question of at what point should a board member be removed after missing too many meetings.
Again, a lot of boards face this same question. They don’t want to lose good people, but it hurts when people can’t participate in meetings where they expertise is needed.
“Any board member who misses two or more consecutive board meetings without presenting a valid excuse to the board chair shall be removed from his/her position on the board by a majority vote of the other members of the board,” is the new change in the by-laws that was adopted.
This helps define when does that absence become too much to catch up on the business of the organization, but still allows the board to give people a chance to explain why they couldn’t make it … and perhaps be given another chance by the board.
So what will attract the next board members to the Dairy Herd Improvement Association?

Quietly celebrating

There were no inspirational speeches on what a new board member will get by being part of an established, well-respected organization, but the Oregon Dairy Princess Anna Monroe did share a well-memorized speech about how important milk is to a healthy diet.
There was no explanation of what the herd improvement programs means and how much it has contributed to the success of dairies in Oregon, although the nice glossy annual reports shared a lot of valuable statistics on annual production in the dairy herds.
There were no flashy presentations to celebrate the anniversary of this DHIA, just an informative presentation on the new technology out there for better ear tags that can be scanned quickly to source information for milking herds.
The 50th anniversary might have been a quiet understated affair, but then again, that really reflects the dairy industry. They receive little credit for what they do as they continue to improve their herds.
Dairy producers work hard, put in a lot of long hours, and usually are modest about the contributions they make to help produce safe, high-quality, readily accessible, nutritional milk that costs so little, often much cheaper per glass than bottled water.
Time to raise a glass — of milk, of course — to the dairy producers in this association and others for what they have accomplished and for all those who continue to work hard to make sure their organizations survive.

Oregon’s Agri-Business Council
California Dairy Herd Improvement Association
Northwest Dairy Goat Herd Improvement Association


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