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U.S. dairy farmers praise the power of collaboration in Mexico

By Mark O'Keefe
On a week-long governance mission, DMI board members saw how USDEC facilitates business partnerships in Mexico that benefit farmers back home.
Trade agreements, as critical as they are, do not in themselves create trade.
Trade happens when people connect with people, a reality five Dairy Management Inc. board members, all dairy farmers, witnessed on an October 20-25 governance mission to Mexico, organized by the U.S. Dairy Export Council.
Simply put, one-to-one business connections matter. They always have. They always will.
"That was my biggest takeaway, my aha moment, realizing how valuable the relationships are," said Marilyn Hershey, a Pennsylvania dairy farmer who chairs the DMI board that oversees USDEC, a nonprofit subsidiary.
"It's not something that's accomplished in one year. It's something that happens over the years through developing relationships and increasing collaboration. That's when the payoff comes, when you see that collaboration."
Five Dairy Management Inc. board members, all dairy farmers, recently went on a USDEC-sponsored trip to Mexico to learn more about the No. 1 market for U.S. dairy exports. They are shown here at a dairy farm owned by Lala, the largest dairy processor in Mexico. Standing left to right are Kathleen Skiba, Marilyn Hershey, Chace Fullmer, Evan Hillan and Larry Hancock.
Other DMI board members seeing what nearly 25 years of USDEC work in Mexico has accomplished had the same takeaway.
"Relationships are vital," said Larry Hancock, a Texas dairy farmer with 4,200 cows who was recently elected USDEC's new chairman. "The thing I want to really get across to the DMI and USDEC boards after this trip is how important relationships are and how well USDEC facilitates those relationships. It was a really cool and amazing for me to see."
USDEC sells no products. Its mission is to see U.S. dairy exporting companies do the exporting, benefiting farmers and the entire industry. In 2018,  sales to Mexico reached $1.4 billion, about one-fourth of all U.S. dairy exports around the world.
Because value is dependent on world prices, which go up and down, volume may be a more reliable indicator of year-after-year progress. The chart below shows the results of sustained effort -- a 450% increase in 25 years.
The United States has seen consistent, year-after-year growth in the volume of U.S. dairy exports to Mexico. Chart: Created by USDEC utilizing government data.
Consistent export volume growth means more and more U.S. milk has crossed the border to Mexico through dairy products and ingredients. 
Two-way relationship
Twenty-five years ago, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)  opened a door of opportunity for tariff-free trade with Mexico. Processors and farmers alike were united in the belief that an organization was needed to facilitate U.S. dairy exports not just to Mexico, but the world.
DMI founded USDEC 24 years ago. Through the dairy checkoff, farmers continue to fund USDEC, accounting for about three-fourths of USDEC's budget. 
Missions to Mexico and other U.S. dairy markets give DMI board members an opportunity to assess with their own eyes and ears USDEC programs and activities, the ROI for farmers and the potential for continued growth.
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