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September 2010 Archive for Dairy Today Expo Extra

RSS By: Catherine Merlo, Dairy Today

Dairy Today's Catherine Merlo brings you the latest from the World Dairy Expo.

Dairy Feeding Goes High Tech

Sep 30, 2010

Think about what GPS did for crop production.

That’s what the Italian manufacturer and the U.S. distributor of a new precision feeding system believe their equipment can do for dairy nutrition.
Italy’s dinamica generale and Illinois-based Engineered Storage Products Company (ESPC) showcased the new high-tech system Thursday at World Dairy Expo.  
Here’s the technical part:
Designed to deliver a balanced and consistent ration, the Harvestore® FeedScan™ Precision Feeding System analyzes forage and grain dry matter content on the farm in real time before it goes into the mixer. In seconds, it adjusts dry matter weight to match nutritionist recommendations. The system uses software, infrared sensing, a remote control and a weighing scale that wirelessly receives data.
WDE 9 30 10 pix 008 web
Matthew Dobberstein of dinamica generale demonstrates the precision feeding system Thursday at World Dairy Expo.
The FeedScan NIR Analyzer is mounted on the Harvestore feed conveyor system, while the dg precision feeding system’s NIR (near infrared) analyzer is mounted in the pay loader bucket. The entire system is controlled at one or more personal computers loaded with the feed management software.
Here’s the marketing part:
The cost is somewhere in the range of $60,000 to $70,000, depending on its various options, ESPC officials said. They believe the system offers a rapid return on investment, in terms of feed efficiency, production and herd health.
They have a point about production. Studies conducted by the U.S. Dairy Forage Research Center show that variations in dry matter content after rain or snow will decrease dry matter intake by cows. That results in a sizable drop in milk production.
But here’s the exciting part: Those who have seen the precision feeding system believe it’s revolutionary.
“We have not had this technology in the U.S. before,” said Dr. Noah Litherland, with the University of Minnesota’s Department of Animal Science. “We have robotic milkers and automated calf feeders. This is the next big thing.”
Litherland admitted he was initially skeptical about the precision feeding system. But after seeing it tested at Minnesota’s Gar-Lin Dairy, he’s become a believer. He said the system offers such benefits as improved consistency of nutrient delivery, providing a diet as formulated, reduced environmental impact, consistent access to feed and improved cow response.
Andrea Ghiraldi, president and owner of dinamica generale, believes the precision feeding system can reduce feed costs by 20%. Studies on a dairy with 1,000 milk cows showed a savings of some $300,000, Ghiraldi said.
“This precision feeding technology brings the real-time accuracy of NIR technology to the farm versus the laboratory,” said ESPC’s Richard Nelles. “So instead of waiting several days for feed analysis information, the farmer knows instantly the dry matter and nutrient content of feed as it is unloaded.”
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Dean Allen's Gar-Lin Dairy in Minnesota is the first dairy to put the new precision feeding system to use. Allen attended the demonstration at World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wis., Thursday.
I was interested in what the dairy that’s testing it thinks. Minnesota’s Gar-Lin Dairy is the first in the U.S. to use the precision feeding system. The well-run operation milks 1,700 cows. Dean Allen is a partner in the dairy.
“The concept is phenomenal,” Allen said, as ESPC officials demonstrated the system at their exhibit. “It’s definitely an advantage and something that’s coming down the road.”
ESPC expects the dg precision feeding system to markedly change the way livestock producers view nutrition management. From the robots and automated equipment I’ve seen here at World Dairy Expo this week, it won’t be the only new innovation likely to reshape how dairying is done over the next 10 years.

Producers Offer a Snapshot of Survival

Sep 29, 2010

With thousands of producers attending World Dairy Expo this week, it’s probably as good a place as any to gauge what this industry’s front-liners think about their circumstances. I walked the barns and pathways of Expo Wednesday to find out.

What I learned didn’t exactly match the golden autumn day that enveloped Madison, Wis.  Most of the producers I talked with are just trying to survive, and they remain concerned about their ability to return to profitability. They were mostly what might be considered small dairies – those with less than 500 cows – but I can’t believe their big-operation brothers would have a much sunnier outlook.
“Milk prices are better than 2009, but they’re not as high as we wanted,” said Charles Voelker of Prairieville, Mo., who’s here at Expo showing Brown Swiss cows.
Still, Voelker has been able to show some profit, unlike last year. He’s continued to cut costs, worked hard to put up higher quality forages and lowered his cows’ Days In Milk (DIM) period from last year’s 220 to 177 this year.
“I was hoping exports would hold up milk prices, but corn futures are at $5/bu.,” he said. “If milk prices drop, we’re going to go back to 2009 pretty quickly.
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John Prokop of Middleburgh, N.Y.
“The industry may have to go with some sort of supply management program, even though I hate it,” Voelker added. “With five kids, I might not be able to expand with a supply management program in place, but we’ve got to survive first.”
Things are better this year for Mark Hornbostel of Campbill Hill, Ill. He’s getting about $18/cwt. for his milk and has cut back on feed costs, largely by mixing his own feed. He and his father would like to expand their small Brown Swiss operation but that isn’t going to be easy.
“We’ve run into so much red tape with the EPA, with soil and water quality regulations,” Hornbostel said. “To keep going, we’re either going to have to expand or quit.”
Mark and Emily Michel of Waterloo, Wis., say they’re still trying to hold their heads above water, despite this year’s price improvement. A fourth-generation family operation, they farm 200 acres and milk 55 cows. Their latest milk check brought them just over $16/cwt., and this year’s corn crop is much better than last year’s.
“But it’s more costly to fix and maintain equipment,” Mark says. An 80 hp tractor costs $80,000 and a brand-new combine is $300,000. They see no way to afford that.
At his Middleburgh, N.Y., dairy, John Prokop says things are a little better financially with prices at the high end of $17/cwt. “I can pay my bills now, although it’s difficult to pay back the line of credit I used last year.”
As a way to streamline his operation, Prokop has started a dairy profit team. Every six weeks or so, he meets with his Farm Credit lender, veterinarian, nutritionist and CAFO planner. Together, the team walks the dairy, looking for ways to improve the operation. It’s made a big difference.
“For example, we didn’t have a calf person before,” Prokop says. “It was more of a team effort. Now, we have one person in charge, and it’s really paid off. We now have a calf mortality rate of 1% or lower.”
Like the others, Prokop has learned to run his dairy more efficiently than ever. Things can’t get much leaner. Let’s hope their efforts pay off.


U.S. Energy Policy Blocks Digester Development

Sep 28, 2010

So much potential energy is going to waste.

If manure digesters could overcome the hurdles that now face them, thousands of U.S. dairy producers could reap tremendous opportunity, AgSTAR’s Chris Voell said today during an educational seminar, “Opportunities to Advance Manure Digesters in the U.S.” at World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wis.
With more waste-to-methane gas systems, there would be more renewable energy available to power dairies, other businesses and homes.  Methane emissions would be cut, air quality improved, odor cut. Dairies could benefit financially from selling their power. And those digesters could be running 24/7 – unlike wind and solar power sources.
But until current energy policies change, the spread of digesters is likely to move slowly, said Voell, AgSTAR’s national program manager.
There are 126 digesters operating on dairies in the U.S. today. But another 2,500 dairies – all 500 or more cows -- are candidates for digesters.
“We have the technology and the interest” to expand the use of manure digesters, Voell said, but until current energy policy opens doors for them, “investors aren’t coming into this field in a big way.”
Among livestock operations, dairies dominate digester technology. Fifty percent of today’s dairy digesters are concentrated in four states: Wisconsin, New York (with 22), Pennsylvania and California (each with 15). The No. 1 benefit of dairy manure digesters is the dried solids used for cow bedding.
Renewable energy is already in big demand in several states. The nation’s digester landscape, however, is “a patchwork from state to state and from energy company to energy company,” Voell said. “Policies are all over the board.”
AgSTAR has successfully encouraged more development and adoption of anaerobic digestion technology. It’s an outreach program designed to reduce methane emissions from livestock waste management operations by promoting the use of biogas recovery systems. But AgSTAR can’t do it alone.
Policy is changing in some states to be more digester-friendly, says Allison Hogge, another AgSTAR program manager. Vermont, for example, recently enacted a feed-in tariff that guarantees producers certain rates for renewable energy. That amount, I’m told, is 18 cents per kilowatt hour. With such support, digester development is picking up steam in Vermont, which already operates eight manure operators, making it the No. 5 state in the number of operating manure digester systems.
Wisconsin, which is home to the most manure digesters with 25 in operation, has also worked to smooth the process, particularly with an easier interconnection to the energy grid.
Policy is tightening in California, however. The state has 14 dairy (and one heifer) manure digesters in operation. Voell says California has the opportunity for 900 digesters at dairies with 500 cows or more. But most of the state’s dairies are located in the Central Valley, which has some of the worst air quality in the nation. State regulators oppose any new sources of nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions in the valley. As a result, regulatory hurdles and concerns over the NOx emissions from digesters’ energy-creating equipment are stalling more development there.
But hope exists for digester expansion nationwide. For starters, says Hogge, agencies like USDA and the Environmental Protection Agency, are starting to recognize the digester obstacles. That should help.
And the government has provided some assistance. The Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008  provided more money for digesters. AgSTAR lists several digester funding opportunities on its website. (http://www.epa.gov/agstar/tools/funding/index.html).  Some of the government funding sources most likely to support anaerobic digester projects, Hogge says, include:
·       Value-added Producer Grants   
Moreover, the digester industry just this year formed the American Biogas Council to promote digester technology and benefits and to help legislators in Washington, D.C., understand what digesters offer. (See my video interview with ABC board member Melissa Van Ornum of GHD Anaerobic Digesters.)
More is needed. Federal and state subsidies could boost digester development, Voell said. Fossil fuels and ethanol have benefitted from government help. “Producing energy from biogas is difficult,” he said. “It needs a level playing field.”  
And more overall players would float all boats. “If we want to transform the industry,” said Voell, “we need more companies and supporting operators to make it successful for those who want to put digesters in place.”

The “Good News” Week

Sep 28, 2010

Is it really true that “no news is good news”?

After the past year of covering dairy’s economic struggle, bovine TB, California’s uncertain dairy future, ugly undercover dairy videos, drug residues in meat and other industry problems, I could certainly agree that good news seems in short supply.

Graph2Sometimes, however, it’s hard to tell if news is good or bad.

Just last week, USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) released its “Overview of the United States Dairy Industry.” The report showed the number of U.S. dairies declined by 33% between 2001 and 2009. Is that good or bad news?

Milk production and the number of milk cows rose during those years. The number of herds with 500 head or larger also grew. These larger herds accounted for nearly 60% of all milk produced in 2009, up nearly 40% from 2001. That dairy concentration means there are a lot fewer dairy producers than there used to be. Is that bad or good news?

graph9The most dramatic increases in operation sizes, USDA-NASS said, occurred in the largest size group, dairies with 2,000 or more milk cows. Those multiplied from only .3% (that’s point three)  of all U.S. dairies, 12% of milk cows and 13% of milk production in 2001, to 1% of all dairies and almost a third of all the nation’s milk cows and milk output in 2009.

Here’s another whopping statistic from that USDA-NASS report: The 10 largest milk-producing states accounted for nearly 74% of total U.S. milk production in 2009. You might be tempted to say that’s good news if you’re No. 1 California. But being bigger draws a lot of unwelcome heat, as any California dairy producer will tell you.

graph8The good news-bad news determination should be much clearer this week.  Here at World Dairy Expo, it’s all good news. The industry is out in full force and decked to the nines. The industry’s biggest names, its best cows, its most enthusiastic entrepreneurs are here, all of them with a can-do message.  World Dairy Expo isn’t the place for pessimism. When 65,000 people come to visit – as expected at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison, Wis., this week – you put your best foot forward.

That means we at Dairy Today will bring you the “good news” this week.  Dairy Today Editor Jim Dickrell and I have planned interviews to learn what’s new in robotic milking systems, automatic calf feeders, automatic barn cleaners, and automatic feed pushers.  We’ll attend sessions on manure digesters, recent genetic developments, heifer feed efficiency, and precision dairy farming. We’ll cover the Virtual Farm Tours, where producers proudly reveal their dairies through “you are there” videos. We’ll cover the 2010 Dairy Forage Toolbox sessions, with their emphasis on what and how to best feed your herd.

 We’ll also bring you short video interviews with experts and other attendees.

We’ll do our best to deliver a taste of five full days of world-class competition, featuring more than 2,500 dairy cattle from among North America’s top dairy breeders. More than 750 companies from two dozen countries will present the world’s largest dairy-focused trade show, showcasing everything needed to manage a herd of dairy cows.

In fact, there’s so much positive news, I don’t think we can deliver it all this week. But we’ll make sure it gets to you. Watch your inbox for our reports in this daily e-newsletter.  We’ll also feature more in upcoming issues of Dairy Today, our weekly Dairy Today eUpdate, and through our newly re-launched website.

So, expect a little sunshine this week. We’ll leave the bad news for another time.

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