The first time I heard of Marilyn Hershey was just after she was recognized as the “Dairy Women of the Year” by World Dairy Expo, the 44th recipient of the honor. Not long after, I watched a video put together by World Dairy Expo, and couldn’t help but think “man, she sounds busy!”
Marilyn Hershey and her husband Duane own, Ar-Joy Farms, in Pennsylvania, she has been involved in various ways in the dairy industry for many years. Most recently, Marilyn has assumed the Chair position of Dairy Management Inc. (DMI), which is funded by American dairy farmers to help promote and increase the demand for dairy products in the US. I had the distinct privilege of chatting with Marilyn to learn about life on the farm, her work with DMI, the challenges that are currently facing the US dairy producers, and how she finds a work/life balance through it all.
Tell me about your family farm, Ar-Joy Farms:
MH: My husband Duane and I, farm in Cochranville, PA, which is in Chester County. We have 850 milk cows and young stock and we farm 550 acres. There’s a rich history in Southeastern Pennsylvania, a vast array of farms and fields which you don’t see in other areas. Duane and I have four children – Stephen, Kelby and Robert, and his wife Hilary with granddaughter Juniper, are scattered across the US pursuing various careers outside of agriculture, and our daughter Kacie married Jeremy Meck, a dairy farmer, and lives an hour north of us with their two boys, Wyatt and Brooks.
We have 18 employees on the farm, along with 5 or 6 that are part-time. My husband and I oversee the operation and I’m responsible for registration and hair samples on the calves as well as the bookwork for the farm. Our operation is unique in that we can’t expand, mainly because of the large population right around us, so we had to look for ways to diversify the farm to increase income. One way we did that was by putting in a methane digester in 2017. It was a huge learning curve but other farms who already had digesters were willing to help problem solve. One of great things about the dairy industry in this state is that you can always find farmers who are willing to share advice and lean on each other. We also do some IVF work with the top end of our herd and hope to get bulls into stud if possible – it’s a luck game, but fun to play!
What are some of the programs you are currently involved in, industry-wise?
MH: I’ve been involved with DMI for 6 years now, I was involved in local promotion before that, and I’ve really enjoyed becoming involved with the leadership end of things. I served as the Secretary of the National Dairy Board and then made the moved to Vice Chair of DMI. DMI, together with the local promotion boards, manage a program called “dairy checkoff” which farmers pay into based on how much milk they ship, that money is used to promote the consumption of dairy products on a regional and national level and protect the image of the dairy industry and dairy producers.
It’s a very challenging time in the dairy industry and its challenging emotionally especially – emotions are raw and run high. Checkoff is doing what they can to do their part, although they are not the only piece to the puzzle. Checkoff partnerships with food services like Domino’s, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and McDonalds have been great and have moved a lot of product! There are a lot of great things going on with checkoff right now
Each year you have to ask yourself “Where can I improve”, “What can I do to continue to thrive and move forward”. There’s always opportunity! You can never sit back and say you don’t need to change. At DMI we look at that regularly. There’s a huge opportunity now with exports and DMI works closely with the US Dairy Export Council (USDEC), which oversees all US dairy exports. The goal is to increase dairy exports 5%, reaching 20% of our milk supply exported by 2020, which is very aggressive, but there’s lots of opportunity with markets in Africa, China and Mexico and the global marketplace is very interesting! We can be proud of the partnerships with food services and our export goals.
I’m involved by writing for Hoard’s Dairyman, which I’ve done since 2008. I think it’s so important to tell our story and writing has been a great platform for that. I’ve stepped back from other things so that I can make time for speaking engagements at rotary clubs and culinary schools because it’s important to know what people are thinking. The heart of DMI is to increase trust in the minds of the consumer and increase sales of dairy productions.
What are the biggest challenges you face as dairy producers in the US right now?
MH: Price and surplus are obviously big concerns, but we also seem to be in a bit of a civil war where its one type of farm vs another, co-op vs co-op. We have to remember that united we stand, divided we fall. Now more than ever we need to unite and respect each other.
‘Undeniably Dairy’ is a campaign that began in 2017 and now more than 200 dairy industry organizations have caught on. To have support for this across the industry has been an amazing thing to be a part of! We do short snippet video’s that people love to watch. This year they are using murals to tell the dairy story. There are several murals around the country, each one showing dairy in a different light. Our audience is different, and our platforms are different than they were 20 years ago, and we have to market differently because of it. All of our communication is in our hands, which will continue, and Undeniably Dairy has a presence in that.
The plant-based diet really has to be on our radar as well. We need to bring our energy together – our product is so nutritious and plant-based diets don’t even come close to it. If we use our energy to fight each other, we run out of energy to fight the plant based-diet and promote our products!
What challenges have you faced as a woman in the dairy industry?
MH: I’m the first woman to be the chair of the DHI board and I have never once felt disrespected by my peers. I’ve never been treated differently and for that I’m thankful. I’ve always felt respected for my business ability, so for me the gender issue hasn’t been a problem.
Is there a key to achieving a work/life balance that you’ve found works best?
MH: I’ve been the Chair of DMI for a handful of months now and it’s been a learning curve to manage that time. We have good employees on the farm and Duane has been very supportive of my industry involvement. I’d say you really need to take time for yourself and treat yourself with respect. Take care of your body! When my son did his first tour of duty it really wreaked havoc because of stress, but I’ve learned to deal – handling stress and taking care of yourself is certainly a journey. Eating right and exercising are important, and for Duane and myself, prayer and our church involvement have been an important piece of handling stress and getting through life.
To watch the World Dairy Expo Video about Marilyn Hershey, 2017 Dairy Woman of the Year, click HERE.