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The heart of dairy country South Dakota Dairy Producers gives a voice to producers

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Published on Jan. 18, 2020

Since 2009, South Dakota Dairy Producers (SDDP) have been a voice for the dairy industry. SDDP aims to promote dairy, bring dairy farmers together with suppliers and processors and to represent all dairies – regardless of size, operating style or location. 

            “South Dakota is in a very unique position currently in that we are increasing our number of milking cows at a time when most states are maintaining or losing cow numbers,” says SDDP Executive Director Tom Peterson. “A primary reason we have been able to continue a growth trend is through the unified efforts of many stakeholders.” 

            He continues, “Generational, as well as new dairy farmers, have had a willingness to expand and do business in South Dakota, combined with processors who have been willing to make the investment in plant expansion have created an environment where South Dakota has become a dairy destination.”

Mission and goals      

            Tom notes SDPP efforts are focused in three main areas. 

            “We want to be a voice for the South Dakota dairy industry,” he says. “We aim to shape public policy by working through dairy industry partners and educate and mobilize our membership.”

            The mission of SDDP is, “Working together to assure and enhance a sustainable dairy environment in South Dakota.”

            Within this mission, there are four pillars of focus – policy, growth, education and consumer confidence. 

            On the policy front, SDDP wants to be the voice of dairy with government and the agricultural community.

            Growth is accomplished by cooperating with other commodities and stakeholders, SDDP is encouraging growth and opportunities for dairy in South Dakota.

            Education is reached on a number of fronts including providing information to dairy farmers through South Dakota State University Extension, the I-29 Moo University and at the State Annual Meeting.           

            Consumer confidence is working to protect dairy farms license to operate by engaging the public and consumers to maximize and amplify the high level of trust already earned by dairy farmers.

Public outreach

            “SDDP is fortunate to work for dairy farmers who have established a long-standing culture of openness and transparency of their farms,” says Tom. “While care must still be taken, the dairy industry is unique in that there are fewer limitations regarding farm access and offering the public opportunities to see dairy farms first-hand.”             He continues, “Visitors have the chance to see on-farm measures dairies take to ensure animals are well cared for and the high level of emphasis on recycling, efficient water use and other practices that enhance the environment.”

            With a huge focus on June Dairy Month, SDDP is active in at least four to five dairy farm open houses each year, with creative farmers who have developed opportunities that attract, in many cases, semi-urban populations who have had little or no opportunity to see a farm first-hand.  

            “These same people are making the purchasing decisions at the grocery store or restaurant, and building trust in where their food comes from is a key part of their decision making,” says Tom. 

            He continues, “SDDP was also instrumental in creating what has become known as the South Dakota Dairy Drive. While an intangible ‘brand or tagline’ it symbolizes the unified approach South Dakota has built to enhance and grow the dairy industry in the state.” 

            Annually SDDP is a partner in the “Dairy Drive” football and basketball games at South Dakota State University (SDSU) fostering the great relationship between SDDP, dairy farmers, SDSU and the processor and industry partners dedicated to the dairy industry.

SDPP organization 

            The organization is led by a nine-member board, which typically meets three to four times per year, with an annual meeting including all membership. 

            Board members consist of dairy farmers from various size farms, along with processor and industry representation.  Currently, the representation consists of six dairy farmers and three board members from within the dairy industry. 

            “SDDP represents and works for dairies of all sizes. In addition to producer members, associate memberships are available to anyone with a stake in growing and supporting South Dakota’s dairy industry,” says Tom. “Associate and industry members can include food processors, farm lending institutions, veterinarians, feed and nutrition companies, livestock equipment dealers and many others.”

            He continues, “SDDP membership is voluntary and dues are renewed annually. Our members and board members are all very active in their communities, school systems, and have established a culture, with many opening their farms up to open houses, school tours and other opportunities to engage with the general public and South Dakota’s youth.”

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            Callie Hanson is the managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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