National Dairy Farmers Assuring Responsible Management (FARM) Program evaluators provide a critical link between a dairy farmer and the consumer, working to ensure best practices. But they’re also a resource for farmers, said Janae Klingler, Manager of Animal Care and Sustainability for the Maryland and Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative Association, in the latest Dairy Defined podcast.
“We are a trusted advisor to our farms,” Klingler said. “Yes, we are here to make sure that our farms are meeting the program standards, but even a bigger part of our job is making sure that our farms get to that point of meeting those program standards and helping them figure out who can help them get there.”
Alan Bjerga, NMPF: Hello, and welcome to the Dairy Defined Podcast. The National Dairy Farmers Assuring Responsible Management, aka, the FARM program is essential to encouraging best stewardship practices across dairy, and essential to that process is the evaluator. Being a farm evaluator can be a thankless task with all those standards and reporting requirements, but without them, consumers don't have the assurance dairy needs to thrive in the 21st century marketplace. Janae Klingler is the Manager of Animal Care and Sustainability for the Maryland and Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative Association, and she's also an evaluator. Today, we're going to learn more about what she does. Thank you for joining us, Janae.
Janae Klingler, MDVA: Thanks for having me, Alan. I'm really excited to be here and talk about what evaluators do on a daily basis.
Alan Bjerga, NMPF: So, the evaluator is very important to making the National Dairy FARM Program work. What do you do?
Janae Klingler, MDVA: So, an evaluator wears many hats. The first and top level of those might be completing the evaluation. So, we go out on dairy farms daily and complete the animal care evaluation, which includes reviewing their standard operating procedures for the farm. And those include their cow care, how they treat illnesses, how they take care of their calves, how they take care of their cattle, feeding practices, many different things. So, we evaluate those, we compare those to the standards of the farm evaluation and work through that process with the farms. We also help the producers to complete those sometimes. Sometimes they have questions about what is needed within those standard operating procedures. So, in that sense, we're kind of a liaison between the program and the producer to be able to satisfy the requirements of the program. So, that's step one.
And within those evaluations, we also look at the cows and the calves. We score them for body condition, hygiene, lameness, several different things, and just generally observe the conditions that the animals are in. And then as we work through that, oftentimes, as part of an evaluator, we're also an advisor for the member. If we see an issue or we see something to be concerned about, we'll talk with the farmer about what's going on, on their farm and try to pinpoint maybe the source of that and point them in the direction of somebody that can help them, whether that might be a nutritionist or a veterinarian or a hoof trimmer. We're a liaison between the farmer and our consumers, whether it's our milk plant or the end consumer that buys the milk at the grocery store.
Alan Bjerga, NMPF: When I grow up, I'd like to become a FARM evaluator. What's the process of becoming one?
Janae Klingler, MDVA: So, the first step to being an evaluator is five years of experience or on farm, or five years of education or a combination of that and on farm experience. So, if you have that, then you can submit an application to National Milk Producers, listing your experience, your qualifications. They'll review that application and then there's actually an interview process where they ask questions. They say, can this person follow these standards, can this person be a good liaison, a good representative of the program to the producers?
Alan Bjerga, NMPF: So, how did you end up becoming a FARM program evaluator and why did you decide to become a farm program evaluator?
Janae Klingler, MDVA: So, I grew up on a dairy farm in Central Pennsylvania, went to Penn State University for animal sciences. And after graduation, I looked for a job for about a year or so. And became hired on as a quality assurance person for Maryland and Virginia milk producers. And I did a little bit of everything. I did some working with quality on our customer end, so reporting milk quality back to our plants and our customers. I worked with members and I started out as an evaluator at that time, doing a few evaluations here and there, it wasn't the main part of my job. And then a little bit later, I moved into the field representative role. So, I started doing dairy inspections, as well as farm evaluations. And then about two years ago, when version four was preparing to roll out, we transitioned from having our field reps do everything from the regulatory inspections, quality work, to environmental work, and farm evaluations. So, we separated out those teams. And at that time, I moved into managing our on-farm applications of the FARM Program, the animal care, the farm, yes, workforce development, as well as our sustainability initiatives.
Alan Bjerga, NMPF: So, who comes up with the standards?
Janae Klingler, MDVA: So, that is a large group of people. It has combination of dairy farmers from around the country, as well as veterinarians from around the country, university animal scientists that are studying different standards, and then industry professionals. So, there's a few co-op representatives that make up the industry professionals.
Alan Bjerga, NMPF: And how do these evaluations then work towards giving these supply chain assurances that the FARM Program exists to provide?
Janae Klingler, MDVA: So, the first step in those is completing the farm evaluation. And like I mentioned earlier, we're looking at a lot of different standards around animal care, whether it's the actual animal observation standards or whether it's standards within. There's practices like disbudding calf care, different standards around that. So, when we get a question from our customers, so that would be our plant customers that buy raw milk, we get lots of questions about what percentage of your farm use a certain disbudding practice or what percentage of your farms are using pooled genetics, or what percentage of your farms meets the standard for lameness scores? We're able to give that data in an aggregated form back to our customers so that they have confidence in the farms that are Maryland, Virginia members meeting the standards of those practices.
And then they're able to then report that to their end consumers from the grocery store. But in addition to all of those things, the farm animal care evaluation actually uses a third party verification too. So, when they do that, we're then the liaison between the third party auditor and the dairy producer, and those third party auditors are really that assurance leg. They're the ones that are coming out and making sure that we, as evaluators, are looking at these standards consistently and consistently implementing the program across all of our farms.
Alan Bjerga, NMPF: I want to bring up a word that everyone is sick of hearing now, but it's an important one, and also one that helps underscore the importance of the FARM Program, pandemic. COVID was very disruptive toward things like on-farm evaluations and inspections and such. What did you learn as an evaluator from that whole experience?
Janae Klingler, MDVA: So, one of the biggest things that we learned is how to adapt. I think we all learned that over the last year and a half or so now. But we figured out how to complete these evaluations in a way that we could work with COVID restrictions. So, where we could, we were able to do some of these virtually. We're able to meet with the producer in a Zoom format or over the phone and answer some of the questions and then visit the farm, but be distanced when visiting the farm. And we were also able to sometimes electronically have them submitting their paperwork to us so that we could verify their paperwork electronically as well.
Alan Bjerga, NMPF: What do people need to understand about the role of an evaluator? If there was one thing you would clear up for the farmers you work with, what would it be?
Janae Klingler, MDVA: I would say the biggest thing is that we're a trusted evaluator. Especially with my role with a cooperative or not an outside evaluator, we are a trusted advisor to our farms. So, yes, we are here to make sure that our farms are meeting the program standards, but even a bigger part of our job is making sure that our farms get to that point of meeting those program standards, and helping them figure out who can help them get there. Whether it's, like I said, a veterinarian, whether it's someone, a financial advisor or an agronomist, conservationist, whoever that might be, but we can help them determine what the next steps are needed on the farms.
Alan Bjerga, NMPF: We've been speaking with Janae Klingler. She's the Manager of Animal Care and Sustainability for the Maryland and Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative Association, otherwise known as Maryland, Virginia. Anything you'd like to add?
Janae Klingler, MDVA: I would just say that I think that this is a really important role in the dairy industry. I think that this provides the farmers an opportunity to share with the public what they do every day. And I talk to my farmers a lot about sharing their good story, and this evaluation really gives them the opportunity to do that. And that's an important part of my role as well, is getting that information on farm and getting that story out to our customers and consumers.
Alan Bjerga, NMPF: Janae, thank you for your time.
Janae Klingler, MDVA: Thank you.
Alan Bjerga, NMPF: That's it for today's podcast. For more on NMPF and the FARM Program, visit nmpf.org or nationaldairyfarm.com. And for more of the Dairy Defined Podcast, this podcast is on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, SoundCloud, and Google Play under the name, Dairy Defined. Thank you for joining us.