Steve Maddox is used to having evaluations on his dairy. The Riverdale, California dairy farmer didn’t just sign up for it. This evaluator, Antone Mickelson, and Maddox are writing guidelines and have been for a while for dairymen to follow throughout the country.
“I didn’t realize how good it could become and the continuing improvement and jumps [the FARM program] has made,”said Riverdale, California dairymen, Steve Maddox.
Both are a part of a technical writing group made up of veterinarians, co’ops, farmers and animal science academics who develop standards for the FARM program.
The National Milk Producers Federation and Dairy Management Incorporated administer the program, which now has 98 percent participation from dairy farmers throughout the country.
Maddox was one of the first to not only help develop but adopt the standards after companies asked for more information from the farm.
“We knew we were doing a good job of managing our cattle and taking care of them,” said Maddox. “We just didn’t have the written proof. We didn’t have a program to dictate that.”
A baseline was established ten years ago, a size neutral approach. At that time, it was all about animal care, the oldest component of the program.
“Once we understand where we’re at, we do evaluations,” said Northwest Dairy Association member and FARM Animal Care Evaluator, Antone Mickelson. We can look at where there are strengths and where there are opportunities to improve.”
That baseline keeps evolving as attitudes and technologies are advancing too. That means assessing specific areas like environmental stewardship, workforce development, antibiotic stewardship and animal care.
“Over the past 10 years, the FARM program, specifically the animal care side, has changed. We are actually in version 3 today,” said Angela Anderson, Director of Customer Outreach, FARM program. “We are getting ready for version 4 to be launching in 2020.”
Anderson says the feedback she’s heard from both customer companies and consumers is continuous improvement.
“If we can have a program that indicates and shows that you’re going to be improving every day and that you’re going to do better and to do more, that is something [the companies and consumers] want to embrace and be a part of,” said Anderson.
Those big brands in the program also relay a message to consumers.
While on the beef side, there are new partners as well, including possible improvements to its own National Beef Quality Audit program. They also help write the FARM program.
“While we cannot directly correlate it, I think it’s certainly a reason behind the progress the dairy industry has made is their acceptance of and willingness to adopt the practices the FARM program promotes,” said the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) Director of National Beef Quality Assurance Chase DeCoite.
As producers have audits in the program. They know it’s a benchmark of how to improve even more.
Today, the writers of the system also want to enhance positive improvement and tweak elements.
“Every day when you are on farms doing evaluations, you have these discussions with dairy farmers,” said Mickelson.“You learn what works and what does not work. [You learn] what makes sense and what does not make sense.”
“We really need to pursue the human relations [the newest component] of it and continually improve that area,” said Maddox.
It’s all for the goal of building a better dairy industry.
“As we evaluate more and more farms, we get a better understanding,” said Mickelson. “We learn what works and what doesn’t work.”