“It’s been condensed considerably and made more efficient for member farms,” Darr says. “At the same time, it’s stricter in some areas. The FARM segment inquires about operating procedures on things that get done on the farms, but also written standard operating procedures and documentation.”
The most recent Gold Standard evaluation also introduces different types of questions. The questions center on environmental stewardship and land, fertilizer and water use.
This section added a few more questions, but Darr says with the contraction of questions in the FARM section, producers shouldn’t see much of a time change for completing the survey.
In a time where information, whether factual or not, is readily available through the Internet or social media, the Gold Standard evaluations are another way to provide facts straight from the farm.
“As each generation moves farther away from the farm, it’s harder for people to understand how food is produced,” says John Wilson, senior vice president and chief fluid marketing officer. “The information from the Gold Standard Dairy evaluations is one way to clear up some of the misinformation we have out there. We can factually talk about some of the farm practices and information about how our members are producing the milk that we market.”
Over the past seven years, information gleaned from the Gold Standard Dairy surveys is extensive, with field representatives completing more than 20,000 evaluations of member farms. During the first two versions of the program, DFA had a 90 percent member participation rate.
Time spent completing the evaluation is another area of improvement. In the two previous versions, field staff conducted the surveys on paper forms; now the survey is conducted electronically using an iPad application.
“The old format using paper could be inefficient and clumsy,” Darr says. “The paper was bulky and difficult to handle. With the app, we have better timelines of receiving data, and we will ultimately have better reporting information that will be easier to get back out to our members.”
The iPads not only get rid of the paper process, the use of electronics also improves communication between field representatives and members.
“The process on the iPad is nice,” says Maureen Leahy, a Central Area field representative. “I’m not flipping through pages, and producers can sit next to me and read with me. The electronic version also makes the process faster. If the member answers ‘no,’ the program will automatically populate ‘not applicable’ in the appropriate spots.”
Leahy says use of the electronic version allows her to send the survey straight to the office, which reduces the chance of a paper mixup.
What hasn’t changed with the Gold Standard Dairy Program is that it’s an opportunity for members to gain insight into their operations.
“By having conversations about farm practices, employee training, animal care management and going through the evaluation process with their field representative, members can learn about their dairy,” Darr says. “By having a program that’s internally developed and managed, it gives us a great opportunity to talk with members and help them to learn and have an opportunity for evolution or improvement.”
The Ohlde family in Linn, Kan., completed all three versions of the Gold Standard evaluation.