When the board of directors of California Dairies, Inc. (CDI), decided to adopt an animal care program for the cooperative's 470 member dairies earlier this year, the group carefully considered its options.
First, CDI had to decide which of the many animal care programs best met its needs. As California's largest dairy processing co-op, CDI had been approached with several programs, but one ultimately rose to the top.
"Our customers told us they were aware of the National Dairy FARM (Farmers Assuring Responsible Management) Program,” says CDI's Eric Erba.
Developed with national dairy input, FARM was launched last fall by the National Milk Producers Federation and Dairy Management Inc.
CDI customers wanted some sort of assurance of appropriate animal care on dairies, Erba says, and without a program like FARM, they may have eventually mandated one of their own.
"They want measurable progress to be made,” Erba says. "Being involved in FARM has been viewed positively by our customers.”
FARM appealed not only to CDI but all of California's major producer-owned dairy processors. With them, CDI worked with Dairy CARES, a coalition of California processor and producer groups. Together, they rolled out a producer outreach program for the FARM process. Among the first phases was a series of workshops for producers explaining FARM.
"We've seen the full spectrum of member reaction,” Erba says. "It's ranged from those who fully understand what we need to do in terms of the marketing aspects of the business to others who think this is simply unnecessary on-farm monitoring.”
Another step has involved training its field staff to conduct the on-farm evaluations. By August 2010, CDI expects to begin the evaluations on its member dairies.
Land O'Lakes has taken similar steps to implement the FARM program, not just in California but throughout the co-op's national system.
"We support FARM because the program provides consistent principles that promote the well-being of animals on the farm and will include third-party verification to independently confirm that dairy producers are using the best practices in animal care,” says Jeanne Forbis, director of corporate communications for Land O'Lakes.
By late May 2010, Land O'Lakes had concluded eight pilot evaluations across the country in conjunction with land grant universities such as the University of California, Davis; University of Wisconsin-Madison; University of Minnesota; and Penn State.
The co-op will start its on-farm evaluations in California first, beginning July 1, 2010. Land O'Lakes has about 275 California members.
"We will be utilizing a mix of in-house staff and contract individuals depending on the geography,” Forbis says. "While Dairy Foods [a division of Land O'Lakes] field staff may not always do the actual on-farm assessment, they will maintain our member relationships.”