When it comes to being a leader in the dairy industry, Glen Easter knows the ropes. Along with more than 37 years of experience as a dairy farmer, Easter has built an extensive resume of leadership roles within the dairy industry.
When not milking 300 registered Jerseys on the 360 acres that make up Eastglen Farm in Laurens, S.C., Easter is busy with leadership roles in Southeast United Dairy Industry Association, United Dairy Herd Improvement Association, Dairy Management Inc. (DMI) and the American Dairy Association of South Carolina.
Easter joined Dairy Farmers of America in 2000 and serves on the Southeast Area Council and the Board of Directors.
How do you think DFA’s elected farmer leadership contributes to the strength of the Cooperative?
Farmer leadership at DFA is part of the Cooperative’s strength. The diversity of farmer-leaders makes DFA the great organization that it is. The decision making process within the various roles that make up DFA’s farmer leadership has always been deliberate, farmer-focused and a collaborative effort. In fact, what sets us apart from other cooperatives is that, even though DFA is made up of seven Areas, not one Area overpowers the other. Big or small, everyone’s voice is heard equally. That’s what makes our Cooperative strong.
Describe the steps you took to become a farmer-leader.
It made no difference which organization I was going to be involved with, if I wanted to manage my dairy business the way I wanted to, I had to be where the decisions were being made and be a part of how they were being made. I have always wanted to be close to the decision-making process in order to understand how my milk was marketed. When it came to growing into my farmer-leader role with DFA, timing was everything. I joined the organization in 2000 at a time when new leadership roles were forming within the Cooperative. I immediately took advantage of opportunities, starting with volunteer roles, then moving into roles in the Area and then to the Corporate Resolutions Committee a short time after. Before I knew it, I was a part of the Board of Directors.
How do DFA’s farmer leadership and management teams work together?
Leadership and management are both comprised of mature individuals who understand the importance of providing members the resources to operate their dairy businesses. There is no question that both leaders and management, as a whole, understand mutual responsibilities. The Board, for example, sets policy, and management manages. There is great respect from both sides at DFA. That respect has shown positive results in the last several years for DFA members. DFA was able to develop several different programs for members to successfully operate their dairy business. With DFA Farm Services, for example, under the DFA umbrella there are many resources to help a member both on their farm and at home. We have so many things to be proud of in our Cooperative.
In 2012, your dairy operation was named as the Small Business of the Year in your local county in South Carolina. How has your role in the Cooperative helped strengthen your dairy business?
Being a farmer-leader isn’t just limited to roles in DFA. If you want to be successful in your dairy business, it is important for you to be involved in your community. My wife, Marilyn, and I are both involved in the Chamber of Commerce in our hometown of Laurens, S.C. Being a part of the chamber has opened our business practices up to people who are not directly involved in the dairy industry. The interaction with professionals in other industries allows us to get ideas on new and different ways we can manage our business, outside of dairying. Marilyn has even become the chairwoman of the beautification committee. Leadership roles aside, I fully believe in community involvement.
The Small Business of the Year is not your only award. In 2014, you won the national American Jersey Cattle Association Distinguished Service Award. How did you earn such an award?
It goes without saying that I am proud of the fact that most of my service has come from the work I do with DFA, DMI and the South Carolina Farm Bureau Dairy Committee. However, being associated in groups such as South Carolina chapters of the Cattle Club and National Animal Identification System, ever present is my acknowledgement of the value of the my Jersey cows. While this award was truly a highlight in my dairy career, the award recognizes the efforts that all farmers put into raising their Jersey cows.
What advice do you have for members who want to get involved in a leadership role?
The most important thing for any member to remember who wants to achieve a leadership role is to be involved. The first step is to get involved in your Area Council. Whether it is attending or volunteering for special roles in committee meetings, as far as I am concerned, there are plenty of entry points to get involved in the leadership of Cooperative. For the Young Cooperators, DFA has developed leadership and training meetings. Finally, whatever role you currently have or plan to get, spend time in each in order to understand more about the Cooperative, the dairy industry and milk marketing in the United States. Believe me, it takes a lot of time to learn.