Aug 29, 2012 • By

Dairy is a day’s work

It would take one cow three to four years to produce all the milk served at the All-You-Can-Drink milk booth during the Minnesota State Fair’s 12-day run.

Of course, it takes several people every day to pour all that milk at the fair.

Betty Berning, a General Mills employee who grew up on a 70-cow dairy farm, is one of the volunteers at the popular All-You-Can-Drink milk booth. We visited with her and discovered she’s always been around dairy, and has some cool connections to the Minnesota State Fair.

What do you do at General Mills?

Berning: I am a senior dairy buyer.

What other roles have you filled at General Mills and elsewhere?

Berning: I bought packaging for one year and started out as a commodity analyst. Before I came to General Mills, I did a few different things. My very first job I worked for the St. Paul Saints baseball team in customer service for their season ticket holders, and then I realized you shouldn’t use your hobby as a job.

I wound up getting into agricultural lending and was a loan officer to dairy farmers in Wisconsin for a few years. Then I went back to graduate school and was a research assistant for a couple years. I researched investments and alternate energy on dairy farms in the northeast.

You were a 1999-2000 Wright County Dairy Princess. What was that experience like?

Berning: It was a lot of fun. I went to a large high school. I went to Elk River (Minn.) High School and graduated with over 500 students. Most of my friends and classmates didn’t have any exposure to agriculture so I had always been happy to talk about what it was like to grow up on a dairy farm. It was a lot of fun to take the message more broadly during my dairy princess experience.

It was also fun because there were two other women that were princesses with me. I had never met them before, and it was just really fun to share that experience with them and become friends.

How does your background help you as a dairy buyer?

Berning: I tell people I have a lifetime of experience in the dairy world.

I think one neat thing that I bring to the table is understanding the front end of the supply chain. I understand milk production on the farm level, governmental policies and how farmers make decisions. My experience from growing up on the farm, as well as my other work and school experiences, have been really helpful in my current role.

The lending experience has proven to be most helpful. When I was doing lending, I saw on a really micro level how a farmer made a decision. As an economist, I like to assume there is perfect information and people make perfect decisions. And that experience really taught me that’s not true at all! I am able to think about how a producer is considering it – the lens that they’re looking at it through.

How did you get involved serving milk at the Minnesota State Fair?

Berning: I got involved a couple years ago because of my second cousin. Her internship was to find milk stand volunteers, and I agreed to help. I then somehow got on someone’s list and, so I helped out again this year. Other employees at General Mills that I know also have volunteered.

So, you’ve spent a lot of time on the fairgrounds?

Berning: Yes, when I was in college I was part of another organization on campus and we ran a booth, as well. We ran the malt booth just outside the dairy barn. I was in 4-H, so I spent three or four days at the fair every year from the time I was 12 until I was 18. I’m happy to go to the fair. I do enjoy it, but one day is enough!

What’s your favorite fair food?

Berning: Pronto pup. That’s an easy one. Oh, and the malts from the Empire Commons by the butter carvings. I actually seek those out. Those are the best malts on the fairgrounds.

Editor’s note: This post is part of a series this week, highlighting our connection to the Minnesota State Fair.