These are challenging times in the U.S. dairy industry. But Molly Pelzer says the outlook is brightened by the dairy checkoff and Midwest Dairy.

“I know from many years of experience what the checkoff is accomplishing,” said Pelzer, who took over as Midwest Dairy in October.

Midwest Dairy represents 7,000 dairy families across the Midwest, where through the checkoff dairy producers invest 15 cents for every 100 pounds of milk they sell. Midwest Dairy receives 10 cents of this mandatory funding for regional programs. The other 5 cents goes to the National Dairy Board to fund national programs conducted by Dairy Management Inc.

Pelzer succeeded Lucas Lentsch, who left Midwest Dairy for a leadership role with Dairy Management Inc.

Midwest Dairy — its 10-state region consists of Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma — doesn’t represent specific brands or dairy cooperatives. Nor does its farmer-funded programs participate in regulatory activities or influence government policy.

Instead, the organization says it works with retailers and consumers, supports school nutrition, invests in research, provides opportunities to young dairy leaders and shares its insights to develop products that meet consumers’ needs.

Working to help make milk served in schools to be colder, increasing its appeal to students, is a concrete example of Midwest Dairy’s mission, Pelzer said.

Milk remains highly popular with U.S. consumers overall, Pelzer said. But a multi-year stretch of poor milk prices and limited profitability, which experts blame on an excess supply of milk, have pushed many dairy producers out of business or put them at risk of doing so. From 2017 to 2018 alone, 6.5% of U.S. dairy farms went out of business, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics.

Pelzer has both a professional and personal stake in her role at Midwest Dairy

On the professional level, Pelzer, a registered dietitian, joined Midwest Dairy in 1984 and has held several executive leadership roles. Most recently, as chief experience officer, she led the development of its strategic priorities. Before joining Midwest Dairy, she worked with Midland Dairy Association and the Dairy Council Inc., former checkoff organizations that are now part of Midwest Dairy.

On a personal level, Pelzer is a farmer herself.

“I’m fortunate to reside in the same wonderful Iowa community I grew up in, living on a working hog, corn and soybean farm, so I truly understand what it takes to operate a farm day in and day out,” she said.

Pelzer encouraged anyone who wants to learn more about Midwest Dairy or the checkoff to visit www.midwestdairy.com.