IDFA president and CEO Michael Dykes, D.V.M., joined Senator John Thune, South Dakota Secretary of Agriculture Kim Vanneman, and Senator Mike Rounds’ chief of staff Mark Johnston, at the newly expanded Valley Queen Cheese Company in Milbank, S.D. this week for IDFA’s second Strategic Fly-Out. The event was a great success, convening dairy industry and government leaders in a roundtable discussion focused on legislative and regulatory issues impacting U.S. dairy, including pending trade agreements and negotiations, labor and immigration, and geographical indications (GIs). Senator Thune of South Dakota spent nearly two hours with the group, touring the Valley Queen Cheese facility and talking policy and legislation with the group, which included leadership from IDFA as well as from IDFA members Valley Queen, Agropur, Land O’Lakes, Saputo Cheese, and Bel Brands.

Michael Dykes said, “This fly-out was a tremendous success, and a testament to the respect by government leaders for the dairy industry’s growing importance in South Dakota and across the country. We’re grateful to Doug Wilke of Valley Queen and his team for hosting us and collaborating with IDFA to organize a productive day. I could not be more pleased and grateful to Senator Thune for his engagement in the issues, especially on swift passage of USMCA and the need to prioritize U.S. dairy in trade deals with China, Japan and the European Union. Mark Johnston, Senator Rounds’ chief of staff in Washington, D.C., amplified Senator Rounds’ commitment to continuing to grow the dairy industry in South Dakota. Finally, Secretary Vanneman talked about her budding relationship with the state’s dairy producers and processors since assuming her role in late 2018, and underscored the level of investment and economic expansion happening in South Dakota’s I-29 corridor, which includes Milbank—home of Valley Queen Cheese.”

IDFA continues to enhance its innovative efforts to advocate dairy industry priorities with federal lawmakers. In 2018, IDFA hosted four successful strategic fly-ins in Washington, D.C., and its first strategic fly-out in Nampa, Idaho, bringing together Idaho senators and leaders from dairy products companies with Idaho operations. In June, IDFA will host a major fly-in in Washington and is now planning its third fly-out to sustain the positive momentum and goodwill generated by the events in Idaho and South Dakota.  

Dykes and others at the South Dakota meeting reflected on the importance of the nation’s dairy manufacturing and marketing industry, which supports nearly 3 million jobs that generate more than $161 billion in wages and has an overall economic impact of more than $628 billion. The state of South Dakota has experienced tremendous resurgence in dairy and related industries over the past few years, due to expanding production by IDFA member companies like Valley Queen and others. Dairy products contribute more than $2.7 billion to South Dakota’s economy, support more than 11,000 jobs, and put more than $555 million in wages into the pockets of South Dakotans each year.

Moreover, IDFA members are giving back to their communities in unheralded ways, demonstrating a commitment to their neighbors and the future of their communities. In Milbank, Valley Queen Cheese has supported the construction of a new hospital and clinic by the Northeast South Dakota Healthcare Foundations. For years, the company has helped members of the community attain higher education and vocational training with academic scholarships. Not to mention, in a town of roughly 3,500, the 90-year-old Valley Queen Cheese has become one of the area’s most important and reliable employers.

“One thing about these visits that sticks with you is to see how our IDFA members are respected in their communities. IDFA has enjoyed a longstanding relationship with Valley Queen Cheese going back decades, and we couldn’t be more proud of them and what they are doing in Milbank. That goes for so many of our members, and these visits—whether it’s a strategic fly-out or the listening tour I began almost three years ago now—demonstrate how dairy is delivering for the U.S. economy and our communities across the country.”

IDFA members interested in hosting a Strategic Fly-Out or with suggestions for future fly-outs can contact Colin Newman at