In his President’s Breakfast remarks during the last in-person Dairy Forum, in January 2020, Michael Dykes, D.V.M., president and CEO of the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA), talked about the power of change — and how change has been occurring rapidly across the globe and within the dairy industry. He also made a prediction.
“We’re going to see more change in the next five years, in my view, than we’ve seen in the last 15,” he said. “We need to get ready to embrace change.”
And today, technology is a major contributor to — and enabler of — change. As Dykes mentioned during that President’s Breakfast, “The digital revolution has transformed and will continue to transform operations.”
Connecting dairy to technology
An exciting new dairy industry event recognizes the importance technology is playing to effect change in the dairy industry. Organized by Washington, D.C.-based IDFA in partnership with Frisco, Texas-based Dairy.com, the DairyTech Conference — “Where Dairy + Tech Connect” — will take place May 18-20, 2022, at the Austin Marriott Downtown in Austin, Texas.
The event aims to reach top dairy executives and senior management with responsibilities for technology/IT, supply chain, procurement, operations, cybersecurity, and more. It fills a void by creating a gathering place for the dairy industry to connect with technology providers, explains Scott Sexton, CEO of Dairy.com, a provider of technology, services, and intelligence platforms to the dairy industry that has long had a close relationship with IDFA.
“There’s a lot of complexity to dairy, and there’s a lot of uniqueness that I don’t think necessarily gets addressed in some of the other [technology events],” he says. “It truly is the entirety of the dairy industry and the underlying tech capabilities that can support it.”
Although the dairy industry has not been the earliest adopter of technology, there is a growing need for technology to help the industry grow and succeed, adds Tom Wojno, IDFA’s senior vice president of member advancement and innovation.
“So we as the association and we as the partnership with Dairy.com want to help educate the industry on what options are out there, what new technologies and disruptions are available today and coming at the forefront and in the future, and what it means to implement those,” he says.
The event also will help address the challenges dairy companies are having on the labor side, Wojno suggests.
“Wouldn’t it be great if we could also embrace technology in a way that helps supplement and, in certain cases, maybe works alongside with [employees] to build upon some of the shortages and answer the call for the people issue that we’re having? This conference is going to address some of those issues as well,” he says.
A conference and a tech tour
The conference portion of the event will feature two days of keynotes, panel discussions, networking discussions, and evening receptions. Topics will include digitizing the dairy supply chain; technology’s impact on retail, e-commerce, and consumer trends; sustainability through technology; cybersecurity concerns; technology successes in food and agriculture; and more.
Technology providers also will be on hand to showcase their innovations during the conference. As Wojno envisions, the technology hall will be organized in a “farm to fork” — or “grass to glass” — manner, with technology related to milk production on one end and that pertaining to retail on the other.
“So as you walk the hall, you know where the entry points of these different technologies will fit in,” he says. “Based on where you’re looking in that supply chain, you will see different types of technology at these different points within the milk supply chain.”
On May 20, the event will feature a half-day technology tour to a handful of tech companies in the Austin area. As Wojno points out, many technology companies have either their main headquarters or secondary headquarters in Austin.
“Our members can get hands-on experience and sample technology at the home of these organizations that are at the forefront of some innovations,” he notes, “and get a presentation about how they are intersecting with these different retail channels, these different processors, consumer packaged goods companies. … I think of this as an industry ‘8th-grade field trip,’ if you will. We’re going to go boots on the ground; we’ll be on a bus; we’re going to make stops, and we’re going to visit these companies where they are.”
Information sharing is the ultimate goal of the conference. As Sexton explains, dairy companies have been attempting to figure out challenges tied to technology internally, but have not come together to figure them out as an industry.
“Whether you’re just starting the journey or you’ve been there for a while and you can help others along, it’s kind of this connection to educate, learn, innovate,” he says.
For more information about the event, visit https://dairytechconference.com.