Although Dairy Forum only comes around once a year, the people at the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) responsible for putting the annual conference together spend much of the 12 months in between shows thinking about the industry’s opportunities and issues. And those are the very topics that inevitably get addressed throughout the multi-day event.

President and chief executive officer Michael Dykes said IDFA leaders continuously hear from members – at the board, executive and committee levels – on various issues facing the dairy industry in the United States. As a result, Dykes said, the organization stays on top of the subjects that matter most within the industry, whether those are related to congress, the administration, regulations, trade or anything else.

That’s how IDFA keeps evolving and adapting to make sure its annual gathering benefits the industry, with Dairy Forum 2024 set for Jan. 21-24, 2024, in Phoenix.

“When we get ready for Dairy Forum, we’re reflecting on the challenges and opportunities facing the dairy industry,” Dykes said. “And as we look forward, where do we see the great opportunities for our industry? And how do we put programs and speakers and panels in place to accentuate these opportunities?”


What to expect

Dykes said the conference is built around “world renowned speakers,” and the IDFA’s industry leaders, “who are charting the path forward on these issues.”

“You’re able to hear perspectives that you hopefully can take home and put in place,” Dykes said. “There’s no other session in our industry like the Dairy Forum. It’s a place for the entire value chain, from producers, to processors, to distributors, to manufacturers, and also to industries that support dairy, with lending, equipment, services.”

Dykes noted the 2024 edition of the forum will feature such speakers as Scott Pelley, of “60 Minutes,” who will offer insights on geopolitical issues. Former president of Nabisco Foods and Campbell Soup Company Doug Conant, who has since become an author, practitioner and teacher, will weigh in on the importance of leadership. Additionally, Chirag Pandya, of McKinsey & Company, will speak about the contradictory, counterintuitive ideas consumers say they want – and what they actually do want.

Also on the agenda are such industry hot topics as sustainability and the workforce. Dykes shared that one session will cover the concept of insetting – a path to greenhouse gas reduction using interventions within the value chain. Policy and the direction for the upcoming Farm Bill also will be addressed, and Ginny Clarke, a former director of executive recruiting at Google, will be among the human resources experts featured.

Of course, the talking points on the agenda will cover even more over the course of the conference.

“A large side of dairy has been focused on operations,” Dykes said. “But in addition to being able to put out the most product at the least cost per unit out the door, with excellent food safety standards, we’re also going to have to be thinking about innovation, R&D, technology, protection, new markets, new opportunities, growth, all those kinds of things.”

He added: “We’re going to need many, many diverse perspectives around the leadership table. That’s why this year’s theme is ‘elevate.’ We’re going to need to elevate our game, elevate our thinking, so that we’re on a path to keep pushing the dairy industry forward, and taking advantage of the opportunities that we have in store.”

To that end, Dykes said much of Dairy Forum will focus on people, and how the industry can attract, retain and nurture the best ones out there – and make sure it’s a diverse workforce.

“Our future in the workforce will not be from people who grew up on dairy farms. There just aren’t enough of those,” Dykes said. “And we need every type of discipline imaginable.”

From technology to logistics and all points in between, he said IDFA is working aggressively to make sure organizations become more diverse, “especially as it relates to women in dairy.”

What’s more, ultimately, Dairy Forum’s organizers want attendees to leave motivated about the dairy industry’s future.

“Sometimes we get so bogged down in our own individual roles that we don’t have a chance to look ahead, look broader, to see the many positive things that are out there,” Dykes said.

Further details and registration information about Dairy Forum 2024 are available online via IDFA’s website.