California Dairy Leaders Program helps build the industry leaders of tomorrow

Farm Credit is a proud supporter of the Western United Dairies educational and advocacy program

Like most farmers and ranchers, dairy farmers know a lot about farming but often need to learn more about the ways government actions and farmer checkoffs affect their businesses.

Participants in the 2019-2020 California Leaders Program

That’s where the California Dairy Leaders Program comes in. After a COVID-related hiatus, the program – sponsored by Western United Dairies (WUD) – has selected its 16th class of dairy professionals who will spend the next several months learning about the state and federal legislative and regulatory process, how milk products are marketed and ways they can communicate effective messages about the dairy industry.

Participants in the 2022/2023 California Dairy Leaders Program are:

  • Anthony Agueda, dairy farmer, Alberto Dairy, Stanislaus County
  • Eric Fast, Maas Energy Works, Redding
  • Tyler Ribeiro, dairy farmer, Rib-Arrow Dairy, Tulare County
  • Linda Sousa, Farm Credit West, Tulare County
  • Allison Tristao, Tristar Dairy, Tulare County

Darby Pedrozo, until recently WUD’s Technical Field Services Representative, said the program is a great learning experience – and she knows that first-hand, having participated in the 2019-20 sessions.

“I had just started at WUD, and it was great to meet other people in the industry. I made connections and friendships I’ll have for the rest of my life,” she said. “It was a big learning experience and I’m extremely thankful I was able to participate.”

Art Moessner, Vice President, Agribusiness Dairy Team Lead, with American AgCredit, said Farm Credit sponsors the program to help train future industry leaders by giving them a broader perspective.

“This program has done a great job over the years in giving dairy producers a better understanding of the forces that shape their industry beyond what they do on the farm,” Moessner said. “Every organization needs a steady stream of new leaders, and Farm Credit is proud to help build the future leadership of WUD.”

American AgCredit, CoBank, Farm Credit West and Yosemite Farm Credit provide funding for the program. The organizations are part of the nationwide Farm Credit System – the largest provider of credit to U.S. agriculture.

The program begins with communications and leadership training, environmental and regulatory law that govern the California dairy industry, followed by a trip to Sacramento to learn about the state legislative process and how WUD advocates for key issues affecting the dairy industry. Participants also learn about the Federal Milk Marketing Order (FMMO) and dairy market risk management strategies.  Dairy’s unique pricing system and subsequent supply side economics are capped off for Dairy Leaders with a trip to the Chicago Mercantile Exchange to get a national perspective on dairy promotion.

After that comes a trip to the nation’s capital, Washington D.C., to meet with federal agencies and other ag-related trade associations, as well as learning how the federal legislative process works.

In all, participants are away from their businesses for about 14 days over the course of a year.

“It’s important for our dairy families to understand all facets of the industry, especially where their milk check deducts are going,” Pedrozo said. “This program gives them an insight into the work Western is doing to represent them, along with groups like the Dairy Export Council and the DMI (Dairy Management, Inc.) and the state checkoff California Milk Advisory Board (CMAB).”

Mark Littlefield, President and CEO of Farm Credit West, noted that the dairy industry is being particularly affected by state and federal efforts to reduce greenhouse gases, and said it was important for dairy producers to understand the major steps the industry has already taken to reduce emissions and share these successes within the industry and with government leaders.

“Many larger producers are participating in new systems to capture methane, pipe the emissions to digesters that upgrade the gas and use it to produce renewable electricity, renewable natural gas or hydrogen fuel,” Littlefield said, adding that smaller dairies are also reducing methane through less-costly means.

“California has set an ambitious goal of reducing dairy methane emissions by 40%, and our state’s producers are on track to meet that goal,” he said.

Pedrozo said producers are also concerned about the drought and the reduced amount of water available to grow feed and to water their cows. But on a brighter note, she said while fluid milk consumption continues to decline nationally, the industry is still holding its own due to the growth in other areas, such as cheese, butter, and ice cream.

And she should know. Besides working for WUD, Pedrozo has two aunts who married dairymen and in June she married a dairy farmer in Visalia. The couple now own and operate the farm together.

More information about the program is available here.

About Farm Credit: 

American AgCredit, CoBank, Farm Credit West and Yosemite Farm Credit are cooperatively owned lending institutions providing agriculture and rural communities with a dependable source of credit. For more than 100 years, the Farm Credit System has specialized in financing farmers, ranchers, farmer-owned cooperatives, rural utilities and agribusinesses. Farm Credit offers a broad range of loan products and financial services, including long-term real estate loans, operating lines of credit, equipment and facility loans, cash management and appraisal and leasing services…everything a “growing” business needs. For more information, visit

About Western United Dairies:

 Western United Dairies (WUD) is a voluntary trade association representing more than 75% of the milk produced in California. In appreciation of the tremendous dedication of capital, labor and caring concern that our dairy farming members have invested in their dairies, the staff and Board of Directors at WUD will earnestly and conscientiously work to promote sound legislative and administrative policies and programs for the success of the industry, welfare of the animals and the prosperity of our consumers. WUD is striving to advance strategies for the general welfare and longevity of dairy families, while maintaining the strong and positive public image of the entire dairy industry.