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January 2012 Archive for Dairy Talk

RSS By: Jim Dickrell, Dairy Today

Jim Dickrell is the editor of Dairy Today and is based in Monticello, Minn.

Immigration Reform 2013: The Lobbying Onus Is on Dairy Producers

Jan 30, 2012

Moving immigration reform forward, even after the election, will require work. It’s paramount that dairy producers talk to friends and neighbors to explain the need for a legal, documented immigrant work force.

 
The bad news, if it’s even news, is that national, comprehensive immigration reform isn’t going to happen this year.
 
That was the consensus of a panel of two former congressmen and a former assistant secretary of the Department of Labor speaking at the Colorado Farm Show in Greeley last week. Participating were Bob Beauprez, a rancher and former congressman from Colorado’s 7th District; John Salazar, Commissioner of Colorado’s Department of Agriculture and former member of Congress; and Leon Sequeira, a former assistant secretary of the Department of Labor in the George W. Bush Administration.
 
“If you’re pushing for a comprehensive bill, it’s not going to happen this year because it gets wrapped around the axel of endless debate,” says Beauprez.
 
That’s primarily due to 2012 being an election year. Politicians like nothing better than to have an issue like immigration reform to harangue their opponents and mobilize their base of support. Plus, the current high unemployment rate simply will not allow politicians to pass legislation that might increase the flow of even more workers into the country or make things easier for the 8 or 10 or 12 million undocumented workers who are already here.
 
But there are rays of hope for 2013. “If President Obama wins re-election, he will push for comprehensive reform. And if a Republican wins, whoever that might be, there will be a push for some reform in an attempt to rebuild the Hispanic voter base,” says Sequeira.
 
“The attitudes of Congress and their staffs have evolved, and in a good way,” adds Beauprez. “The possibility of change is increasing.”
 
Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture John Salazar says one way forward is the Utah Compact, signed by Utah Governor Gary Herbert in 2010, and endorsed by all 50 state departments of agriculture. It holds five principles:
 
          Federal solutions, not state by state.
          Local law enforcement should focus on criminal activities, with civil violations of federal code left to federal agencies.
          Intact families, opposing policies that cause unnecessary separations.
          Free market economies, best served by immigration policy that reaffirm a global reputation for being welcoming and business friendly.
          A free society that integrates immigrants into communities.
 
“And really, who can argue with this,” Salazar says. Immigration reforms, he says, should require strong borders and no path to citizenship for persons here illegally. But if they are here, Salazar believes they should be allowed to apply for a two-year visa if they pass a background check, pay any back taxes due and pay a small, reasonable fine for coming here illegally.
 
Moving immigration reform forward, even after the election, will require work. Beauprez believes agriculture must first be united in its commitment to immigration reform. It must begin now, in 2012, to form broader coalitions of industries—construction, home builders, service providers such as hotels and restaurants, golf courses, landscapers—any industry which has come to rely on immigrant labor.
 
Next, farmers must talk with their local bankers, merchants, friends, neighbors and fellow parishioners about the need for reform. “Rural areas poll anti-immigration most strongly,” says Sequeira, who has also served as legal counsel for Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky., and current Senate minority leader). “Any time immigration reform would come up, we’d get calls 100 to 1 against reform.”
 
So it’s paramount, he says, that dairy producers talk to friends and neighbors to explain the need for a legal, documented immigrant work force. The economies of many rural communities depend on these folks to do the hard, monotonous work of agriculture.
 
Small dairy producers are often the harshest critics of immigration reform. They think that if these workers go away, large farms that rely on them will go away as well. That’s incredibly short-sighted.
 
Farms with more than 200 cows now produce 75% of all milk in this country. If they go away, yes, milk prices might increase in the short term. But soon, processing capacity and supporting infrastructure will wither away. Dairy producers of all sizes must understand that they’re all in this together.
 
Once they do, dairy producers must lobby their legislators hard for reform. You can’t rely on farm organizations or co-ops or the National Milk Producers Federation to do it. You have to do it. You have to make the call.

Dairy’s ‘Go It Alone’ Animal ID

Jan 16, 2012

The National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) has had it with the beef industry’s infighting over national animal identification.

Last month, NMPF sent a letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, urging USDA to move forward with a national program, even if it means enacting dairy specific requirements. Reading between the lines, the letter seethes with frustration.
 
Last week, I asked Jamie Jonker, NMPF V.P. of scientific and regulatory affairs, about that sense of futility. "National Milk and our member producers have a desire to move animal ID forward, and right now we’re lumped together with the beef side," he says. "Dairy and beef have different production systems, and USDA needs to consider rules that are not necessarily the same for both. That’s a long way of saying that, yes, we are frustrated."
 
But could a dual-track system work? Jonker believes it would be better than what the country has now. "Dairy would be much better prepared having one than not having one," he says. "There is an advantage to having all bovines (beef and dairy) in one system, but that’s not likely to happen in the near future."
 
The problem, of course, is that foot and mouth disease (FMD) doesn’t discriminate between a dairy milk cow and beef mama cow. Once it strikes, commerce will shut down. Sale barns will be quarantined, cattle movements will be cease, even milk trucks will be taken off the roads while USDA tries to track the disease.
 
If you think this can’t happen, simply look to England. When it had its FMD crisis, some dairy producers were quarantined to their farms for months as animal health officials tried to sort out the mess. It was ugly. Opponents to national ID are clueless to the carnage that will ensue.
 
NMPF is also on record calling for a national data base and registry, where health officials can go to a single source to expedite traceback. This is, of course, opposed by some, citing data privacy concerns. Again, that opposition is terribly short-sighted.
 
The current USDA proposal calls for each state, territory and tribal nation to set up a database within its own border. At best, this will be cumbersome as USDA officials try to trace animal movements across multiple state borders. At worst, it might require dairy producers with farms in several states to have multiple animal ID systems. This only adds cost and confusion to the system.
 
At the very least, state systems must be uniform and compatible. But NMPF is right in its call for a national, centralized database. "NMPF recommends that USDA exercise Federal Preemption to a provide a far more beneficial national system with all State, Tribal and Territorial governments utilizing a central system," Jonker wrote to Vilsack. I agree.
 
Finally, when I posted a story on NMPF’s letter to USDA, one reader asked: "What’s the ROI for producers?" The easy answer is that a national animal ID program ups the chances that you’ll be able to remain in business should an FMD incident occur. Make no mistake. If one should occur, the short and long term consequences will be severe.
 
Not only will commerce cease for days, perhaps weeks, in the short term, export markets will also close. The dairy industry in now exporting 13% of its production overseas. An instant closure of those markets will make 2009 look like a mild recession. And it will take years to recover from such a blow.
 
National animal ID is a collective insurance policy for the industry, says Jonker. "It’s like fire insurance that provides overall protection for a catastrophic disease outbreak," he says.
 
RFID tags are pretty reasonably priced, from $1.80 to $2.20/tag. "Over the five-year lifetime of the average dairy cow, that’s just 35¢ to 40¢ per animal per year. That’s a pretty low insurance cost," he says.
 
In fact, it’s pretty much a no-brainer. If opponents to national ID would exert just 10% of the effort they’ve put into opposing such a system into figuring out what can work for the beef industry, we would have had such a system five years ago. Instead, USDA is still trying to wind its way through the politics. How frustrating.
 

The 400,000 Cell Count Mess

Jan 02, 2012

The clock has officially started ticking on the European Union 400,000 somatic cell count export certification requirement.

If you haven’t heard by now, the marketing requirement went into effect this past Sunday, Jan. 1, though dairy farms will have until May 1 to comply.
 
The new standard has been under discussion since June 2009. In fact, on Jan. 20, 2010, USDA had announced the industry would have to meet the new standard by Feb. 1 of that year. The announcement caused such an uproar that the agency retracted the requirement and spent the next 22 months crafting the new requirements.
      
Prior to this ruling, processors who exported dairy products to Europe merely had to certify that their silos and co-mingled tanker loads of milk from multiple farms met the 400,000 SCC limit. Now, like in Europe, individual farms must meet the standard.
    
“The 400,000 E.U. certification requirement is not a U.S. regulation, but simply meets a marketing requirement,” says Ken Vorgert, chief of USDA’s Dairy Grading Branch.
 
The standard for Grade A and Grade B milk within the United States remains at 750,000 cells/ml. “Dairy farmers with milk above 400,000 SCC can still sell milk within the United States as long as it meets the 750,000 SCC,” he says.
 
In effect, however, the 400,000 SCC level will become the new national standard. That’s because milk is processed into ingredients which then go into various dairy and other food products. Once it does, there’s no telling which ingredient was made from milk with more or less than 400,000 somatic cells.
 
The Europeans allow their farmers exemptions to this rule. So, in the spirit of equivalency, USDA will as well. U.S. farms will be able to apply for one of two temporary exemptions, called “derogations.”
 
An annual derogation can be applied for if the farm is not meeting the 400,000 SCC average but is making progress toward that standard, says Vorgert. “If the farm is at 750,000 SCC six months of the year, we’re probably not going to grant derogation,” he says.
 
“And there have to be reasons, other than hygiene or sanitation, why the farm is out of compliance.”
 
As long as the farm is making progress, USDA will likely renew the derogation for a second year.
 
The second type of derogation will be for seasonal problems. Here, farms must be in compliance for nine months of the year and have a consistent history of problems due to seasonality the other three. Seasonal derogations will have to be renewed every three years.
 
USDA will bill processors $136 per application. Processors, in turn, will likely pass that cost plus their own administrative costs on to farms. So farms could be looking at a total cost of $200 to $300 per derogation application.
 
At this point, no one knows how many U.S. farms won’t meet the 400,000 3-month rolling average. But it could be thousands.
 
All of this could have been avoided if delegates to the National Conference on Interstate Milk Shipments had done their job last spring, and rolled the Pasteurized Milk Ordinance requirement back down to 400,000 cells/ml. But that tally failed by one cowardly vote.
 
Now co-op fieldmen will have to babysit high-count herds, submit derogation applications, make up reasons high cell counts aren’t due to hygiene or sanitation, and track progress in case they have to re-submit the applications in a year or three.
 
It’s all pretty much a waste of time when, for the good of cow health, dairy profitability and consumer confidence, a 400,000 SCC national standard makes so much more sense.
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