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DFA Spotlight: Connecting Family Farms to Family Tables

About Dairy Farmers of America

Dairy Farmers of America, Inc. (DFA) is a national farmer-owned milk marketing cooperative and dairy food processor. DFA serves and is owned by more than 13,000 dairy farmer members on nearly 8,000 farms in 48 states. DFA’s primary mission is to deliver value to its farmer owners. This is achieved through DFA’s core business of marketing members’ milk, paying them a competitive price, and providing programs and services to support member farm operations and profitability. DFA also provides value to its members by investing in processing plants and brands throughout the country, such as Borden® Cheese, Plugrá® Butter, and Kemps®.

In 1996, leaders from several of the top milk cooperatives in the United States gathered to discuss strategies for adapting to a changing market in a consolidating world. They realized that the legacy of regional cooperatives could not survive as milk processors grew larger and more national in scope. They developed a shared vision to unite their talents and capital into a single cooperative that would better serve the dairy farmer, and in 1998, DFA was born. Since then, many other members have joined DFA, which has become a model for farmers to work together.

Today, DFA thrives at the center of a challenging global market by being smart, responsive, forward thinking, and reliable. DFA works with its customers and partners to provide safe, quality products that are manufactured in an ethical and sustainable manner. Driving industry through collaboration, innovation, and expertise, DFA’s more than 5,000 employees work hard every day to connect family farms to family tables.

DFA and Cornell

DFA members rely on cutting-edge science to stay at the forefront of food safety, processing, and innovation, as well as specific customer needs in supplying finished products to the marketplace. For many years, Cornell’s Food Science faculty and graduate students have provided answers when challenging questions have arisen, and in turn, DFA has invested in food science research at the University. DFA even played a pivotal role in building support for the new Stocking Hall where students – future talent for organizations like DFA – can learn and grow.

DFA recently became part of the CIFS-IPP member network, and they shared with the CIFS-IPP team why they decided to join the program and how they have already engaged more with Cornell faculty and staff as a result of this partnership.

What factors led to DFA’s decision to join CIFS-IPP?

We have a long-standing relationship with the Department of Food Science through our involvement in projects with the Northeast Dairy Foods Research Center. We saw the opportunity to leverage Cornell’s broader capabilities with a more strategic approach from both parties. Our hope is to use CIFS-IPP to complement our own capabilities to deliver against our business strategy.

Additionally, Chestnut Labs, a leading food safety solutions provider and business unit of DFA, built a new facility in Ithaca in 2015. Locating our newest lab near Cornell will allow us the opportunity for increased participation and collaboration with CIFS-IPP.

How have you utilized CIFS-IPP program services so far?

We have enjoyed Cornell’s world-class expertise in dairy ingredients, processes, and products, as well as its state-of-the-art laboratories and the Food Processing and Development Laboratory. Cornell University staff have both a deep understanding of domestic business development needs and a global perspective on science and technology in the dairy industry. This mix of business savvy and scientific insight presents a unique opportunity for companies in the food industry.

What has changed in your relationship with Cornell since joining CIFS-IPP, and what message do you have for potential members who are thinking of coming on board?

Through CIFS-IPP, Cornell staff have spent substantial time developing a better understanding of our strategic objectives. They regularly work with our staff to identify potential opportunities of value to DFA.

The food industry largely recognizes Cornell’s expertise in food systems and its long history of world-renowned capabilities in the lab and in processing plants. What we would convey to potential members is that beyond the science and the technology, what has made a difference for us is Cornell’s ability to also address critical business needs in a responsive and specific manner.