GLENDALE, Ariz. — Paul Rovey hears the faraway sound of children in the constant buzz at Ponderovey Dairy.
It’s the sound of growing global demand for U.S. dairy in places like Mexico, China, Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa. With milk prices low, times are tough for many dairy farmers right now. It will take time, but Rovey finds hope in increasing exports for himself, his children and other dairy farmers.
“I see the United States as being the greatest dependable country for producing milk needed around the world, because we can do it 12 months out of the year, we have an abundant supply, we have the availability,” he says. “I see the United States eventually being the leader in the world supply of dairy products.”
With the world a potential market for the family-owned dairy’s milk, Rovey sees optimism in the eyes of his kids, when they slow down enough for Rovey to look at them. This is a working farm, so Rovey can even smell the start of a global farm-to-table process that starts with his 2,000 beloved jersey cows and ends with high-protein milk powder consumed by a child in Vietnam, where the government has set a goal of increasing the average height one to two inches by 2020 with the help of dairy.
Far from the way his father farmed
When Rovey’s father, Emil, purchased a farm in Glendale, Arizona, just outside Phoenix, in 1943, he didn’t give much thought to exports. Keeping his milk in Arizona seemed more than enough.
That was then. This is now. Paul Rovey and his children milk locally and export globally, believing the best is yet to come.
VIDEO ABOVE: Hear One farmer’s vision for exports
Rovey has gained an appreciation of the global picture, thanks to the many roles he plays on a local, national and global level. He is the former chairman of the farmer-funded Dairy Management Inc. and the current chairman of the U.S. Dairy Export Council. In those capacities, he has traveled the world.
“I think it is a great opportunity for us as U.S. dairy farmers to not only produce for our domestic market but also to be able to provide great dairy nutrition for the rest of the world,” he says.
Despite health challenges over the years, Rovey never seems to tire.
“This isn’t work,” he says. “It’s fun.”
With two iPhones in his pockets, a Bluetooth receiver attached to his blue polo shirt and a tiny headset in his right ear, Rovey stands on an island of agriculture just a few miles from the desert city of Phoenix.
At times, he is a maestro with manure on his boots, toggling calls between his wife, his four children working on the farm, his 50 or so farm employees and the local neighbors his farm serves. That doesn’t include his work with United Dairymen of Arizona and the U.S. Dairy Export Council.
Dairy’s economic impact in Arizona
Rovey is proud of the economic impact of dairy in Arizona. According to Dairy Delivers℠, the International Dairy Foods Association’s economic impact tool, the economic ripple effect of dairy creates nearly 43,000 Arizona jobs and $293.3 million in Arizona state tax revenue.
From his 1,800-acre farm he can see University of Phoenix Stadium, the home of the Arizona Cardinals and the site of the 2008 and 2015 Super Bowls. He also sees far beyond the horizon to dairy markets around the world.
We asked Rovey a few questions about the fun he and his family are having.
Q: How did this family dairy operation start?
PR: My grandfather, Albert Rovey, came to Arizona to farm in 1912 on ground that is now sitting in downtown Phoenix. When my father, Emil Rovey, graduated from the University of Arizona he looked for ground in another area. He bought the land where we are today in 1943 and started with 120 acres of ground before acquiring more.
I came along in 1955 and I grew up helping on the farm, milking cows, doing all the things that kids should do on a dairy living in a rural area. As we’ve developed over the years the town has actually moved in around us and now I’m an island of a dairy and farm in the middle of a city.
We have worked very hard to be good neighbors, minimizing any of the odors or other negative aspects of the dairy operation. We also provide good nutrient manure for the neighbors’ gardens. We work symbiotically with the neighborhood.
Q: What was it like growing up on a dairy farm and when did you realize you wanted to be a dairy farmer yourself?
PR: Growing up on the farm was just completely natural to me because I enjoyed going out and doing things with my father. I started driving tractors when I was six years old because it was a case of my dad needing a tractor driver and I was available.
There was no one moment of decision. It was just a case of this is what you are born to do, this is what you are doing and you are going to love it. Being on the farm isn’t work. It’s actually a tremendous amount of fun and it is challenging.
Q: Would your grandfather and father have been surprised dairy exports would grow in importance like this?
PR: When my grandfather was farming, he wouldn’t have dreamed of being able to export anything out of the country. But as time transitioned my father was very progressive, and that had an influence on me. His attitude was you need to be proactively participating in the community, looking and seeing where your opportunities are.
Exporting was in its infancy, but he was thinking about it. When he retired, he did a tremendous amount of travel around the world, which gave him a big-world picture. Some of that rubbed off on me.
Q: You have met with dairy importers in China and other countries. What is the best argument you can make to them to buy their dairy products from the United States instead of one of our competitors?
PR: Unlike some of our global competitors who have seasonal production, we have 365 days a year of supply and we have a large, geographically diverse, country. So if there is a drought in one area, the other areas can pick up the slack and increase that production. That’s why I see the United States as being the greatest dependable country for producing milk needed around the world. That’s why I see the United States eventually becoming the leader in the world supply of dairy products.
Q: Customers overseas are sometimes surprised to learn more than 95 percent of American dairy farms are family-owned and operated. Address the myth, if you would, that Corporate America dominates the U.S. dairy industry.
PR: Our dairies have grown larger over the years. But the heart of the matter is that these farms are nearly all family-owned and family-run.
People from the family are involved in these farms and own the farms. Somebody from the family, part of the ownership, has to be there on a day-to-day basis to make things work and to be successful at it.
My kids are going to take over this dairy when I step out of the way and they’ll continue that tradition with their children, just as I did with my dad and my dad did with his dad.