In the Public Eye

June 10, 2009 07:00 PM

*Extended comments highlighted in blue.

Randy & Jennifer Gross
Elkton, S.D.
What consumers want when buying dairy products processed right at the farm is the same thing they want when shopping at Costco, Wal-Mart or the local grocery store: that the products be safe, nutritious and come from cows that are properly cared for and healthy.

When people purchase "antibiotic/pesticide-free,” "organic” or "rBST-free” or other such labeled dairy products, they typically do so because they (mistakenly) believe there is a qualitative difference not only in the milk itself, but in the degree of care provided to the cows and stewardship of our natural resources.

It is our duty as producers to educate our customers as to what goes into producing a glass of milk or bowl of ice cream. How many people know that all milk, regardless of how it is produced, is subject to the standards of the federal Pasteurized Milk Ordinance? Or that every load is tested for antibiotic residue at the processing plant and any positive reading results in discarded milk? Furthermore, how many consumers are aware of the time and effort put into developing and feeding dairy cows a nutritious ration, or maintaining foot health, or keeping up a hygienic milking routine? How about the detailed record keeping, soil sampling and manure testing involved in the implementation and maintenance of a nutrient management plan?

The vast majority of people who rely on and enjoy the products we produce are unaware of these facts we take for granted. Therefore, we must do what we can to tell the story of modern dairy farming to the consuming public.

Helping consumers become knowledgeable about our industry begins in the local community. One of the simplest ways to promote the work we do is to keep comfortable, clean cows in a clean and well-maintained facility. The "drive-by” appearance of a dairy can really have an impact on people's attitudes toward dairy products.

Also, hosting a public event or open house at your dairy is an excellent way to communicate with neighbors and community leaders about what you're doing (and why). Their curiosity and our knowledge are a great match and a real opportunity to "fill in the gaps” about where milk comes from.

Finally, it is important that we continue to follow directions for drug use and withdrawal, as just one incident where guidelines are not followed can reflect negatively upon our entire industry and cause any outreach and education efforts to be forgotten.

Consumers of dairy products, no matter where they make their purchases, want to be certain what they're buying to feed their families is wholesome and safe, and produced by people who genuinely care about the quality of the end product. Thankfully, U.S. consumers have this certainty; we just need to let them know it.

Grosses' April Prices  
Milk (3.5% bf, 3.02% prt): $11.97/cwt.
Cull cows: $45/cwt.
Springing heifers: $1,400/head
Alfalfa $130/ton
Cottonseed: $260/ton
Ground corn: $132/ton

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