By: Kay Ledbetter, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service
The High Plains Dairy Conference held recently in Lubbock, Texas, served as a one-stop update for many things important to the dairy industry, including the value of maintaining good employees, according to Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service specialists.
More than 300 dairy and allied industry representatives registered for the conference this year, according to Dr. Ellen Jordan, AgriLife Extension dairy specialist from Dallas and coordinator of the event. Attendees came from across the U.S., but primarily Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado.
"Every other year we hold this conference to help our dairy farmers learn the latest information that will help them be more profitable," Jordan said. "They’ve heard about the farm bill and the repercussions on the dairy industry. One speaker talked about the food morality issue; how consumers are trying to influence the way their food is produced and some of the messages being sent to consumers and how those messages are being perceived."
Other topics of discussion were on mastitis; managing stress, anger, anxiety and depression on the farm; and the latest technological tools the dairy farmers can use to score their operation and identify where changes might need to take place.
One thing all the dairy producers from the five states share is the Ogallala Aquifer, Jordan said, so several speakers discussed ways to manage and conserve that water.
"They also heard about different forages that can be grown and the different water uses for those forages, and how alternative forages such as sorghum can be used in their rations and still produce as much milk, but perhaps with less stress on the aquifer," she said.
Jordan said overall the dairy industry in the Panhandle and South Plains region is growing at a slower pace than it did in the early 2000s.
"But the industry has seen a decrease in feed prices over the last six months, and we’ve seen milk prices at a stable to higher level than we have seen in many years," she said.
"As a consequence, the industry is improving in its financial health and I expect in the coming year we will also have moderate growth in the region. Our producers will continue to be profitable unless drought again impacts us and feed prices skyrocket again."
Jordan said one reason for the higher milk prices is the U.S. is shipping more and more milk overseas. Last year, more than 14 percent of all dairy products were sold out of the country, and as a result, dairy producers are receiving more income for their product because there is an additional buyer in the market.
One challenge will always be labor, she said. A dairy operates 365 days a year and that results in turnover. Producers are always searching for high quality employees.
"We are looking forward to seeing if Congress passes an immigration bill and how that will impact the availability of labor for the industry," she said.
David Anderson, AgriLife Extension economist in College Station, told the audience that employee turnover can cost the industry almost $500 million annually due to reduced feed efficiency and reduced milk production.
Anderson said in a survey conducted across the U.S. among 5,000 dairy producers, it was determined that employee turnover can affect milk production, calf loss, cow deaths, overall herd health and feed efficiency.
"If every time you have a new employee it takes them awhile to figure out what they are doing, there are going to be some negative effects," he said.
Anderson said the survey showed turnover rate had a statistically significant effect on each efficiency measure. And, compared to other parts of the country, the impacts of the increased turnover were higher in the southwest U.S.
"When we looked at that and applied those changes to a value or a cost, we determined the average rate was 1.48 percent and cost almost $500 million to the dairy industry," he said. "A 1 percent increase in employee turnover resulted in a half percent reduction in milk production."
Anderson said the survey highlighted the value of keeping trained labor and the value of providing that training.
"When you get a good employee, try to hang on to them," he said.