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October 2009 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.

Signs That Dairy is Headed Up

Oct 05, 2009

By Catherine Merlo

Nearly a week at World Dairy Expo has led me to think that better days might really lie ahead for the U.S. dairy industry.

The distress of my home state’s dairy producers still trailed me when I arrived here Sunday from California. Everyone wondered what the mood would be among producers and exhibitors at this Madison, Wis., event.

For the first day or two, people seemed unsure but hopeful at this massive show, with its 755 exhibitors from 24 countries, 65,000 attendees, eight cattle shows and five sales events. Outside, the skies filled with dark clouds, rain and thunder. Among the throngs of attendees, I saw fewer out-of-state dairy producers here than perhaps at any time in the last five years.

But by Friday, there was no mistaking it. People are beginning to believe that the industry is headed for a rebound. Not everybody has the same explanation for why a recovery is coming. A few producers told me somewhat philosophically that prices were so bad now, there was no where to go but up.

But there are also tangible signs appearing:

  • Dairy market analysts are predicting milk prices could rise to $14.50/cwt. to even $18/cwt. in the coming months. (Read Jim Dickrell’s “Better Dairy Days Ahead.”)
  • Dairy exports are starting a slow rebound. (Also see Dickrell’s “Dairy Exports Start Slow Rebound.”)
  • Cooperatives Working Together this week announced another herd retirement round, the third this year. That’s expected to further help align milk supply with demand.
  • There’s news that some California processors are actually looking for milk to fill their orders. That includes two of the major players, Hilmar Cheese and California Dairies Inc. Supplies are tight but sources there don’t expect milk production to surge. That points to higher prices ahead. (See “California Short of Milk.”)
  • Feed costs are dropping. Corn, soybeans and hay prices are among those projected to fall.

There were other positive indicators as well. Although World Dairy Expo attendance was down slightly, several exhibitors said they were very pleased with the turnout this week. Jim Zomer, director of sales and marketing for Van Beek Natural Science told me his group had generated significant sales at the company’s booth this week. This week ranked, Zomer said, “equal to or better than last year.” Moreover, he said his company’s sales have been increasing noticeably over the past two months.

I met two organic dairy producers who said 2009 had been good to them, bringing them milk prices of just under $30/cwt. One of them, Carroll Wade of Jasper, N.Y., said he’d wager “there’s a real possibility that prices for conventional milk could reach $22/cwt. by December 2010.” He foresees the current downturn forcing enough producers out of the business to create shortage of milk.

Perhaps the most inspiring comment came from a Minnesota dairy producer who stood behind me in line Tuesday as we waited to order our lunch in the great Exhibition Hall. My hands were full of camera gear and, unfortunately, I didn’t get his name. Even so, I remember he said that while 2009 had been tough for him, he was much heartened as he walked among the many exhibits and saw the massive investments made in this industry by the many businesses that serve the dairy industry. It reminded him that many people believe in dairy’s future.

All these are good signs. And I should have recognized another one sooner. All that rain that fell here this week was – at least in the California mindset -- a good omen. If you were a lifelong resident of California’s Central Valley, where rain is desperately short, you’d know that nothing could be more welcome.

Catherine Merlo is Western editor for Dairy Today. You can reach her at cmerlo@farmjournal.com.

New Animal Well-Being Program: A Chance to Prove How Good You Are

Oct 02, 2009

By Catherine Merlo

When you’re struggling to survive 2009’s price downturn, the idea of adopting an animal well-being program probably doesn’t sit very high on your to-do list.

But the new National Dairy FARM program formally launched Thursday by National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) and Dairy Management Inc. is a long-term initiative that’s essential in today’s food marketing channels.

You know very well that California’s Prop 2 animal housing legislation and increased interest from consumers and retailers herald a whole new era of food production scrutiny. As NMPF spokesman Chris Galen says, “We’re in a different place than we were five or 10 years ago. We’ve moved from questions about who produces our food, to how and under what conditions.”

The new FARM (Farmers Assuring Responsible Management) program is a voluntary, nationwide program designed to bring consistency and uniformity to animal care on dairies. It encompasses three steps: 1) education, 2) on-farm evaluations and 3) objective, third-party verification.

Producers, co-ops, processors, and state and regional dairy organizations all can – and should – participate, FARM officials say. The program not only gives companies like Wal-Mart and McDonald’s assurances that the dairy industry is meeting animal well-being responsibilities, but helps counter the misinformation that keeps popping up from negative sources.

“We need to speak with a unified voice on animal care in the dairy industry so that consumers have confidence that our animals are well cared for and that our products are safe,” says Karen Johnson, a North Carolina veterinarian, milk producer and chair of the NMPF animal welfare technical writing committee. Johnson spoke at Thursday’s news conference announcing the FARM launch at World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wis.

Educational materials will be available in a few weeks. They’ll include a hefty technical manual, a quick reference manual and a video. You’ll be able to get these through the National Dairy Farm Web site at http://www.nationaldairyfarm.com/index.html.

FARM’s “Caring for Dairy Animals” manual details best management practices for all areas of animal care, including health, facilities and housing, nutrition, equipment and milking procedures, and transportation and handling. The manual’s content adheres to the principles and guidelines of 2008’s National Dairy Animal Well-Being Initiative.

Once your dairy has completed that educational component, you’ll undergo an on-farm evaluation by a trained veterinarian, Extension agent or co-op field staff member. These “second-party” evaluators will assess your dairy’s animal well-being practices using the manual’s guidelines, and then give you a status report. If necessary, they’ll also provide you with an action plan for improvement. Galen expects FARM to be ready to undertake such evaluations in 2010. Dairies will probably be expected to undergo an evaluation every three years.

But it’s the third component – the third-party verification – that really gives FARM its teeth. Starting in 2011, FARM will employ and pay independent auditors to conduct quantifiable, objective verification that your dairy is providing appropriate cow care. Not all participants, however, will go through an audit. Those who do will be determined by a statistical sampling, much as Gallup does for its polls. Third-party verification will take place every year but only on randomly selected dairies.

Program costs are still being determined. Costs and other program details will depend on the number of participants, as well as the size, type and geography of participants.

Of course, the FARM program isn’t the only animal well-being effort out there. And Galen says that it’s not the program’s intent to be competitive with existing regional and state animal well-being programs. But since milk and dairy products are marketed nationally and internationally today, the FARM program provides national customers with a single platform that assures on-farm animal well-being.

You may be balking at the thought of taking on one more responsibility right now. But FARM officials urge you to think long term. “Prices will ebb and flow,” Galen told me a couple of weeks ago. “But what we don’t see changing is the scrutiny of what’s happening on farms.”

Moreover, Galen urges you not to “judge this program as a prohibitive, expensive undertaking until you see what the standards are. It’s not going to ask you to make a huge investment or do much differently from what you already do.”

You’re probably already doing everything right on your dairy when it comes to animal well-being. It’s not only time to tell that story – but to prove it. Efforts like the National Dairy FARM program may be the perfect opportunity.

Catherine Merlo is Western editor for Dairy Today. You can reach her at cmerlo@farmjournal.com.

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