It might seem odd that this issue's lead stories focus on milk quality when the dairy industry is in the midst of its greatest depression since, well, the Great Depression.
But believe it or not, some of us think that milk quality could be one way out of this mess. In a recent blog, I ran through some estimates of the number of cows that must die to bring milk supplies back in line with demand.The next day, I got this response from an Oregon producer:
"The question is [not how many cows must die, but] which cows should die.…Any dairy that exceeds [a somatic cell count of] 300,000 should cull the necessary cows to get under that minimum. Why do milk processors blend low-quality milk [with my high-quality milk] to get an average acceptable product they can sell? What this industry needs are some hard standards that will create value and accountability for producers.”
Our cover story, "America's Best?,” page 10, shows that my correspondent is not nuts. Cobblestone Milk Cooperative, based in Chatham, Va., offers no quality premiums and penalizes producers who deliver milk above 300,000 SCC. "Penalties grab your attention faster than incentives,” says Roger Jefferson, company president. These standards allow Cobblestone to deliver farm-fresh milk to southern markets anywhere, anytime. Problems with out-of-condition milk, which aggravate processors and are costly to dispose of, virtually disappear.
And if you think the on-farm economic incentive isn't there to produce quality milk, Earl Aalseth begs to differ. See "$1,000/Cow Potential,” page 12. "Lowering a 1,000-cow herd's SCC average from 300,000 to 150,000 can potentially yield $1 million per year, once you count up lost milk, drugs, reproductive failures, culls” and other factors, says the dairy vet from Lake Stevens, Wash.
It takes commitment and management. But focusing your efforts on something positive like milk quality can re-energize your operation. The alternative is pretty bleak.
As Wisconsin veterinarian Andy Johnson is fond of saying: "If you always do what you've always done, you're always gonna get what you've always got.”
How many cows need to die?