By Mark O’Keefe, contributing editor

The white tent erected in front of Dairy Farmers of America’s new milk powder manufacturing facility in Fallon, Nev., protected dignitaries and other attendees from the bright desert sun on Sept. 10. DFA executives, board members, local farmers, governmental officials and other invited guests sat at festive tables adorned with tablecloths and take-home gift boxes celebrating the occasion.

DFA has 32 other processing plants, many of them larger than the 90,000-square-foot facility in this little town of 8,500. But everyone in attendance knew the grand opening meant something unique (perhaps even historic), with significance far beyond the borders of Nevada and even the United States.

That’s because the $85 million Fallon facility was built from the ground up to meet the specific demands of global dairy customers in China and other countries. That, DFA executives said, marks an important shift toward a more customer-centric approach to exports. It is one more way the national cooperative, based in Kansas City, Mo., brings value to its 15,000 members.

“DFA’s farmer leaders have been working to increase their participation in global markets for some time,” said John Wilson, the co-op’s senior vice president and chief fluid marketing officer. “By moving more product globally, we are able to help our members grow.”

For this reason and others, Dairy Foods selected Dairy Farmers of America as the 2014 recipient of the Tom Camerlo Exporter of the Year.

In selecting DFA for the honor, the magazine also cites the co-op’s:
• long-time championing of U.S. dairy industry exports.
• variety of export products, including whole and skim milk powder, whey, cheese, butter and dairy beverages.
• growth in export sales, especially a 43% increase from 2012 to 2013.
• active industry leadership, starting with charter membership in USDEC and participation on its trade policy committee work.
• participation in USDA’s Dairy Industry Advisory Committee.

The award, sponsored by the U.S. Dairy Export Council, honors companies that demonstrate leadership in driving global dairy demand and U.S. dairy exports. It is named for the late Tom Camerlo, a champion of exports who served as chairman of both USDEC and DFA’s board of directors.