Q&A: David White

Written by Emily Battmer
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Cabhi Farm
Clymer, N.Y.

Third-generation farmer David White began dairying in 1980 and became a partner at Cabhi Farm in 1988. Today, in partnership with his brother, he milks 210 cows and grows alfalfa and corn on 525 acres in Clymer, N.Y.

David has been active in the dairy industry and in Dairylea Cooperative, which merged with DFA in April 2014. He served as vice chairman of the Dairylea board and sat on Dairylea’s Resolutions Committee, the 2020 Dairylea Committee and participated in the Dairylea Young Farmers program.

Now, as one of the newest members of DFA’s Board of Directors, White is bringing those experiences to his role as a farmer-leader in the Cooperative, maintaining a voice for DFA’s newest members in the Northeast.

Before the merger with DFA, you served on Dairylea’s board of directors. What was that experience like?

I joined the Dairylea board in 2010, and in 2012, I was elected vice chairman. I served as vice chair for the Dairylea board through the merger, and it was just a great experience. I came on at a time when our previous chairman, Clyde Rutherford, was phasing out of his position, and Bill Beeman was elected chairman. I’ve been serving with Bill for the last two or three years, through day-to-day activities in the Northeast and, most important, through the merger process. The Dairylea board worked really well together under Bill’s leadership through the entire planning phase and merger discussions.

What role did you play in Dairylea’s merger with DFA?

As board members, we actively engaged in discussions and analysis that led to the decision to merge with DFA. Dairylea had a rich, 100-year history, and at the time when we started talking about the merger, we were probably as financially strong as the cooperative had ever been. I think the Dairylea board and management showed a lot of vision and foresight to take that step at a time of strength. We thought maybe as a cooperative we had kind of peaked, and we were investigating to see what our next step should be. The board was having discussions about getting back into the processing end of things, as a number of members expressed interest in that. We looked at different entities to partner with, and it was clear through the very close relationship we had with DFA that it was the obvious choice for us. It was a two-year process of evaluating the cooperative and deciding what we thought was the best move for our members. We wanted to keep a strong Northeast presence, and we believed bringing Dairylea and DFA together would help solidify that. I’ve known Rick Smith for 25 years, ever since I was a young farmer, when he served as Dairylea’s CEO. It made the discussion about the merger more comfortable. Members were familiar with Rick, knew what he had done for Dairylea, and we could see what he was accomplishing at DFA.

What made you decide to serve on DFA’s Board of Directors after the transition?

I had expressed interest in serving on DFA’s Board for a number of reasons and am very fortunate to have that opportunity. The first is probably somewhat selfish, but to be honest, I wanted to see through to completion what I had been a part of starting with the DFA merger. I also believe that DFA is “the” milk cooperative of this country. DFA is the leader in this industry, and I have a desire to be a part of that. I wanted the opportunity to continue to serve the dairy farm families that make up this Cooperative.

Why do you think it’s important for former Dairylea membership to be represented on DFA’s Board?

We’re not Dairylea anymore, but it was important to be represented because it really helped give confidence to the membership that they still had a voice and weren’t just going to be absorbed into this new big cooperative. I think it’s going to take a little time for the membership to fully understand and engage with DFA. Having Dairylea representatives on the Board would allow us to work as a liaison to the old membership group. They are familiar with us, and it just helps improve the comfort level. I am really impressed with those who serve on the DFA Board and believe that the Dairylea board members feel welcomed and will mesh very well with the current DFA Board.

What is the importance of a board of directors in a cooperative?

I think it’s twofold. When you look at Dairylea and DFA, they both want to serve the farmer first. They’re farmer-driven. When your cooperative is built on that cornerstone, the board’s input is important in setting the guidelines, the ”white lines in the road.” The second is keeping in contact with the membership and being willing to listen and get them involved. The more we can be connected with the membership, the better we can maintain the health of the Cooperative. Members can read about the activities of the Cooperative in the newsletters and so forth, but I believe it is far more important to be willing to have that conversation with members when the opportunity allows.

What perspective do you hope to bring from Dairylea to DFA?

From what I’ve experienced in just a couple of DFA Board meetings, everyone has an opportunity to speak and express themselves, and that was the experience we had on the Dairylea board. Even though DFA has a much larger Board, I feel really comfortable asking the questions I may have. I think I bring a willingness and desire to work together with the DFA Board and management to continue to strengthen the Cooperative. The perspective that I work from is that one day, some years down the road, the next generation on our farm will be able to say, “my dad or granddad played a role in laying the foundation for a DFA that is stronger today than it has ever been.”