Because of Covid-19, everything looks a little different this year and the third annual Dairy Experience Forum held on July 15 was no exception. Hosted by Midwest Dairy, the purpose of the forum is to bring together people from the dairy supply chain for discussions on various topics, trends and opportunities.

The first two forums, in 2018 and 2019, took place in the Twin Cities. In light of the Covid-19 outbreak, Theresa Reps, Agricultural Affairs Manager with Midwest Dairy, realized that an in-person forum may not be feasible.

“We started talking about it when Covid-19 started picking up,” Reps said. It was then that the team at Midwest Dairy began looking at the possibility of having this year’s forum conducted all online. “We made the decision the last week in April.” `

“There’s positives and negatives to each format,” Reps said. While putting the forum online allows for the opportunity to reach those who would not otherwise be at the forum in person, it doesn’t allow for as much interaction and networking between attendees that the usual in-person format does.

The first year of the forum attracted 250 people; the next year it jumped to 400 people. The goal for the virtual forum this year was 400. That goal was surpassed with 425 people registered. Having the forum online allowed distance to not be a barrier in taking part in the event. “We pulled from across the country,” Reps said.

Utilizing a vendor to help facilitate the online format was key in putting on the forum. “So far we’ve received very good feedback,” Reps said. The forum featured a host, a consumer focus group panel, speakers and a chance for small group discussion. The mix of speakers along with the opportunity to interact with fellow forum goers was key in creating this online format.

The in-person forum spanned multiple days. With the change to virtual, Reps said it was determined that a one-day event was key. “We had to make some prioritizing decisions.” When it was decided to put the forum online, she contacted the scheduled speakers to make sure they felt comfortable speaking virtually.

Reps noted there are some things Midwest Dairy would change if they did an online forum next year — such as allowing more transition time in between speakers. Looking ahead to next year, Reps believes that an in-person forum with the ability to also participate online would be a good option.

What 2021 will bring, no one knows; but now having successfully moved the Dairy Experience Forum online this year provides another way to get the information out to members now and in the future.