Sep 30, 2014
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May 2014 Archive for Dairy Talk

RSS By: Jim Dickrell, Dairy Today

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

Windows for Immigration Reform Crack Open

May 19, 2014

Opportunities for meaningful immigration reform this year are there. But they come with a word of warning.

There may be several windows of opportunity for meaningful immigration reform this year. But a word of warning: If it doesn’t happen in 2014, reform chances are null and void until after the presidential elections of 2016.

So it’s imperative dairy producers and their organizations re-energize on the issue now. The most critical time will be the first week of June, when Congressmen and women are back in their home districts campaigning for the November election.

"We’re not to the end yet, but I think there is reason to be a little bit optimistic," says Craig Regelbrugge, co-chair of the Ag Coalition for Immigration Reform and a senior vice president of the American Horticulture Industry Association. "Speaker [of the House] John Boehner (R-Ohio) wants to get the issue done, and the mood among Republicans is trending better."

U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue, albeit facetiously, says Republicans need not field a presidential candidate in 2016 if immigration isn’t resolved.

"So there’s reasonable prospect for forward progress in June and July in Congress," Regelbrugge says. "If we get to August, it will be tougher as Congress then goes into full election mode."

Immigration reform is all politics practically all the time. It’s the reason we could not get reform earlier this year. Republican Congressmen and women, and some Senators as well, are afraid of appearing too pro-reform. If they could be portrayed as such by the far-right wing and/or Tea Party, they would face Holy Hell in the primary elections this spring. Conventional wisdom was that we’d have to get past the primaries to give a window of opportunity for reform efforts.

It appears that conventional wisdom is proving correct. For the most part, Nebraska’s Ben Sasse being the exception, incumbent Republicans have held off their Tea Party challengers this spring. That gives immigration reformers a chance this summer, after the Congressional recess the first week of June and before the August recess leading up to the campaign.

But Regelbrugge urges dairy farmers not to be complacent or leave the lobbying up to their co-ops, the National Milk Producers Federation or their farm organizations. Congressmen need to hear directly from constituents how lack of reform is impeding their business and what the economic consequences are, he says.

"You have to take the issue into your own hands, band together with like-minded colleagues and see your lawmaker. Press them to move a package of reforms or a series of bills and to take action between now and August," says Regelbrugge.

Failing passage this summer, there might be one more opportunity in the lame-duck Congressional session following the election in November. But that might be a much sparser, take-it-or-leave-it bill that Republicans offer Democrats and President Obama. How in-your-face that option would be likely depends on whether the Republicans gain control of the Senate and the number of House seats they pick up.

In other words, the time for bipartisan action—and meaningful reform--is now.

Irish Dairy Industry About to Re-awaken

May 05, 2014

Europe will lift its dairy quotas next year, unleashing its farmers to produce as much milk as they please and their bulk tanks can hold.

The lush, verdant pastures of Ireland, bespectacled by Holsteins across the virtual breath of this island nation, are poised to see even more cows in the coming five years.

On March 31, 2015, Europe will lift its dairy quotas, unleashing its farmers to produce as much milk as they please and their bulk tanks can hold. Irish farmers, perhaps unlike any others in the European Union (EU), are ready and willing and able to grow.

Dickrell   Richard Coughlan   Ireland 5 5 14   Copy
Unconstrained by European Union quotas, Irish dairy producer Richard Coughlan plans to grow his dairy herd over the next five years. (Photo: Jim Dickrell)

Thirty-one years ago, when the EU dairy quotas were imposed, Ireland was producing 11 billion pounds of milk annually. It’s doing that same volume yet today. In contrast, New Zealand was at that same 11-billion-pound level in the mid-1980s. Free to supply the world market with no constraints, New Zealand has quadrupled its production over these past three decades.

I spent most of last week in Ireland, talking to farmers and dairy co-ops about this new era of free market European milk production. I was there at the invitation of Enterprise Ireland, a quasi-government, business development promoter.

What I learned: Irish farmers are almost straining in the harness, seeing a world of opportunity with $24 milk prices, total costs of $18/cwt. and cash costs just a fraction of that. Survey after survey, conducted by their dairy co-ops, show Irish dairy farmers plan to grow milk output 50% to 60% by 2020.

One such farmer is Richard Coughlan, who farms just west of Mitchelstown in County Cork, in south central Ireland. Coughlan, a third-generation farmer on ground bought by his grandfather in the 1920s, milks 110 British Friesians and stocks 160 beef cows on 320 acres. His plan: "I’ll wind down the beef herd because of poor margins (2013/14 was disastrous) and gradually grow the dairy herd to 150 cows in five years," he says.

And he’ll do it at very little cost. First off, unconstrained by quota, Coughlan will be able to push for more production through more concentrate feeding. Because of quotas, he only feeds 4½ lb. of concentrate per cow per day. He’ll likely feed more grain at both the beginning and end of lactation (when grass, his primary ration component, is less abundant and energy dense). More grain should increase his rolling herd average from 15,400 lb. to 18,000+.

He’s already breeding for more replacements. In the past, he would use Angus semen on dairy heifers for calving ease and then feed the resulting calves out as beef. Now he’ll use high-indexing Friesian semen to produce more heifers. For next year, he has held over about 10 two-year-old heifers for another season that failed to conceive in time for this grass season. They’ll calve as three-year-olds, but with abundant grass to feed them, it’s cheaper than buying in replacements.

Parlor capacity isn’t a concern, either. Coughlan milks in a double-10 Dairymaster swing-over parlor. Even though it has just 10 milking units, Coughlan and an employee can milk his 110 cows in less than an hour. Adding 40 more cows will add less than 30 minutes to that routine.

The co-ops, economists and university dairy specialists I spoke with all confirmed that Richard Coughlan’s plans are mirrored by a good portion of Ireland’s 18,000 dairy farmers. Ireland’s total milk output on a global scale is modest (comparable to Pennsylvania’s). So increasing its production by half in the next five years will likely account for just 10% of the growth in world markets that is expected to grow another 55 or billion pounds in that same time.

But it does show what opportunity and a free market can unleash after 31 years of the unyielding constraints of quota. 

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