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Kent is taking to the road for the dairy industry

By Janet Kubat Willette

jkubat@agrinews.com

MORA, Minn. — Paul Kent is taking to the road for the dairy industry.

He spent the last few days of October and the first few days of November in Las Vegas for the annual meeting of the National Dairy Board.

The Mora, Minn. dairy producer was appointed to the National Dairy Board in October by Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns.

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"It’s kind of the top step you can get in dairy promotion as a dairy farmer," Kent said. "I’ve been always kind of interested in taking that last step."

Kent’s career in dairy promotion started in 1968, just after he graduated from high school. He went to his first county ADA meeting and was elected board chairman. He has served as chairman for 25 of the 38 years he’s been involved with the Kanabec County ADA.

He still sells malts at the county fair and helps with local promotions, saying neighbor-to-neighbor promotion is some of the most effective promotion that dairy farmers can do.

Kent, 56, has advanced through the promotion ranks, serving on state and regional boards. He’s in his 17th year on the Land O’Lakes corporate board and he represents LOL on the Minnesota Dairy Leaders Roundtable steering committee and on the Minnesota Association of Cooperatives Board. He co-chairs the Wisconsin Federation of Cooperatives-Minnesota Association of Cooperatives dairy committee. He’s served on the Midwest Dairy Association board.

His latest appointment will take him to meetings across the nation. The National Dairy Board meets five times a year, an expected time commitment of 10 to 15 days. There’s an additional two to four days devoted to attending regional meetings to gather input.

The National Dairy Board oversees how the 15-cent-per-hundredweight assessment each dairy farmer pays is spent, Kent said, referencing a 100-page audit he was given at his first meeting. The board is made up of 36 dairy farmers, including two from Minnesota, North and South Dakota.

Kent’s full-time milker, John, takes care of chores on his dairy farm in his absence. He has an 80-cow free-stall barn and is milking between 50 and 60 cows. He raises his own replacement heifers and sells his bull calves.

A third-generation farmer, Kent grew up on the family farm four miles east of Mora. He started driving tractor at age 5, using the WD45 with a hand clutch, and started milking when he was 15. The homestead is located in the middle of his 480 acres so he has no neighbors within a half mile.

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Kent finds it interesting to learn how the checkoff dollars contributed by dairy farmers are spent. Years ago, checkoff dollars went to generic promotion efforts, he said. Now, money is focused on product research and development, in addition to promotion. Money is also used to counteract bad publicity.

"The No. 1 goal for our whole promotion effort is to increase demand for dairy products … to do what’s going to help the farmer in the end," Kent said.

New demand is what is consuming production growth, he said. New products include those seen in the dairy case plus those not seen and used as ingredients in other products. Export demand is also growing.

Generally, the demand for dairy products increases by 1 percent to 1.5 percent per year, about half a percent to 1 percent is attributable to population growth. Last year, dairy production increased by 3 percent, demonstrating the need to continue growing markets and developing new products.

"I guess I’m pretty excited in getting involved and helping to discover what those products might be and where our future markets are going to develop," Kent said.

He is married to Jill and they have four daughters: Stacy, Michelle, Kayla and Kelsey.

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