Archive for the ‘Eastern DairyBusiness’ Category

Essential oils can promote calf health, performance

With regulations restricting some antimicrobial use, dairy producers must look to alternatives for disease treatment and prevention in their calves.

By Emma Wall

Recently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved new regulations limiting the use of neomycin/oxytetracycline (NT) in calf milk replacer. These guidelines no longer allow the use of NT at a 2:1 ratio of neomycin to oxytetracycline. In addition, the new approved 1:1 ratio can only be fed medicinally to treat scours for a 7- to 14-day treatment period. What does this mean to beef and dairy producers, and what are their options?

Emma Wall

First, producers need to decide whether or not it is still economically viable to purchase and feed milk replacer containing NT at the 1:1 ratio to treat scours. Although it is approved, and does appear to be an effective treatment option, the costs may outweigh the benefits.

As for preventative measures, producers are now forced to identify alternative approaches to optimizing calf health and preventing disease. Some of these options include improving dry cow vaccination protocols, ensuring newborn calves receive good quality colostrum within the first 12 hours of life, feeding a good quality milk replacer or pasteurized milk, and general improvements in animal handling and husbandry. In addition, a recent and exciting alternative is the use of essential oil additives in milk replacer.

Essential oils are compounds that give plants and spices their color and scent. Many essential oils have antifungal, antioxidant and antibacterial properties that are used to protect their plant of origin. The antibacterial properties of many essential oils present in chili peppers, cinnamon, oregano and other plants have been known for years.


Isolating essential oil activity

In addition, it is now possible to isolate the essential oils responsible for antimicrobial activity and produce them commercially. Essential oil products are quickly emerging as promising candidates for enhancing the productive performance of many agricultural animals, and calves are no exception. Adding certain essential oils to milk replacer has been shown to improve calf health and performance by:

• Increasing intake of starter grain

• Increasing average daily gain and body weight at weaning

• Increasing the population of lactobacillus in the gut

• Improving rumen development

In addition, several experiments comparing essential oils to medicated milk replacers have indicated that the essential oils work as well or better at promoting calf growth and health. With respect to scours, laboratory research has shown that one of the essential oils present in oregano (carvacrol) can inhibit the growth of E. coli.

An experiment was conducted to compare the efficacy of oregano to neomycin at treating calf scours, and the results showed they were equally effective. Unfortunately, the researchers did not include an untreated group of calves in their study, so it is difficult to determine exactly how well the treatments worked at reducing scours. Still, both treatments decreased the scour scores significantly, and to the same degree.

Essential oils impact on calf feed intakes

A number of essential oil products are emerging in the market, including CRINA (DSM), White Gold (Apex), and Xtract Instant (Pancosma). Research using essential oils (using a water soluble blend of carvacrol, cinnamaldehyde (from cinnamon), and capsicum oleoresin (from chili peppers)  has shown some nice improvements in calf performance (Figure 1).

Talk to your nutritionist and see if adding essential oils to your calf management program is

Essential oils impact on average daily gain, body weights

a good option. Remember, as with any calf management strategy, animal care and handling, and sanitization practices must be optimal if you expect to see results.



Emma Wall has a PhD in Animal Science and is currently a Post-Doctoral Associate at the University of Vermont. She is also a freelance writer and Scientific Consultant. Contact her at


Figure 1.

Adding an essential oil water soluble blend of carvacrol, cinnamaldehyde (from cinnamon), and capsicum oleoresin (from chili peppers) to milk replacer and starter grain increases starter grain intake (left graph), average daily gain and body weight at weaning (right graph). Calves were fed milk replacer with or without essential oils added, and were offered free choice access to starter grain with or without essential oils added.

* = P < 0.05



Recalculating: A new look at ‘THI’ and cost effective ways to manage heat stress in dairy herds

Cows and conditions have changed since the Temperature Humidity Index (THI) was created. Researchers are looking at earlier starting points for management intervention, and new cost-effective cow-cooling methods.

By Ron Goble

One of the top cow comfort experts in the world, University of Arizona animal scientist Robert Collier points out the Temperature Humidity Index (THI) was originally developed for humans, not cows. The research,  conducted at the William J. Parker Research Complex at the University of Arizona in 1958, was extended to cattle using research conducted by I.L. Berry, at the University of Missouri, in the 1960s.

The data was placed into the familiar THI chart by the University of Arizona’s Frank Wiersma and Dennis Armstrong, in the 1980s, becoming a popular tool to estimate dairy cow cooling requirements and develop heat stress management strategies on dairies.

Since that early research, things have changed, according to Collier, speaking at the 2011 Western Dairy Management Conference, in Reno, Nev.

For example, the Missouri THI research was based on data from 56 cows with an average milk yield of about 34 lbs./day. Additionally, heat stress was applied for two weeks before milk yield was recorded, and the temperature was constant. During the original studies, there was also no wind speed or infrared heat load consideration.

Collier pointed out today’s typical milk production level is 70 lbs. or more/cow/day, impacting heat stress tolerance. Research in Israeli has demonstrated a milk yield of 99 lbs./day lowers the THI threshold  by 9° Fahrenheit  (5° C).

The time interval producers expect in today’s environment is next-day information. They want to know what impact today’s environmental heat load has on their cows’ production level tomorrow – not in two weeks. And, heat loads recorded from a metal roof during the summer are known to add approximately 6° F (3° C) to a cow’s heat load.

Finally, cows themselves have changed. “Since 1950, heat production per cow has increased an average of 28,000 Btu/day in the Holstein breed,” said Collier. “So the cow is more sensitive to heat stress, since she is producing more heat internally than cows from the 1960s. This requires re-evaluating the relationship between ambient temperature, milk yield and thermal stress level in cattle.”


Underestimated thresholds

Collier contends there’s still no better index to use for heat stress management. However, the current THI threshold is underestimated for today’s high-producing dairy cows.

The original THI chart had a stress threshold starting at 72, a point many used to trigger cooling management strategies. However, analyses conducted at the University of Arizona shows milk yield losses are detectable beginning at a THI of 68. Waiting until THI hits 72 is too late: Cooling methods on commercial dairies should be implemented earlier to prevent effects.

Collier stressed management strategies must focus on minimizing heat gain, while maximizing heat loss. University research showed the summer-to-winter milk production ratio in Arizona confirmed dairy cows are giving up 8.8 lbs of milk per cow/per day during summer compared to winter months.


By the numbers

“If we use an example employing 100 dairy cows cooled by a Korral Kool cooler, we should expect a milk yield gain of 4.8 lbs. of milk per day beginning cooling at 68 vs. 72,” he said. “For 100 dairy cows, that would equate to a milk yield gain of 4.84 hundredweights. Using a milk price of $17/cwt., and a feed price of $14/cwt. milk produced, the income above feed costs would be $14.52.”

Researchers used a variable cost of 14¢/cwt. of milk produced, and assuming each cooler would cool 10 cows, the total cooler variable cost would be $6.80, producing an income of $7.09/100 cows, or 7.1¢/cow/day. In a Western herd of 3,000 lactating dairy cows, the potential income would equate to $213/day, or $1,491/week. Collier pointed out that does not take into account any beneficial effects on reproductive performance in these cows.


Economic efficiency

With increasing focus on economic efficiency,  the objective of a 2009 research project, conducted at Caballero Dairy and Red River Dairy in Arizona, was to determine if lowering the threshold for cooling systems improved milk production and reproductive performance in lactating dairy cows under dairy farm conditions.

Collier concluded additional cooling – using oscillating fans or Korral Kool Coolers – did not improve lactation or reproductive performance when cooling was initiated at THI of 68 instead of 72, and was not considered cost effective.

Conventional cooling of dairy cows during the summer months consumes large amounts of electricity during the peak hours of the power demand and large quantities of water for various cow soaking and misting systems.

Energy costs on dairies continues to increase. Numbers supplied by Agriaire Industries shows a 9,500-cow dairy in Casa Grande, Ariz., spent $700,000 to cool their cows between April through October.

Collier shared a graph showing the historic increase in California’s electric rates from the years 1970 through 2006 for residential and commercial users. Rates climbed steadily, from 2¢ per kilowatt-hour to near 14¢ per kilowatt-hour during the period.

While electrical prices have been going up on an annual basis, prices can be much higher during summer months, too, Collier said.

Electricity futures prices on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange peak in July and August each year. A review of U.S. Energy Information Administration data on monthly electricity prices shows highest prices for end users peaks in June-September (

Also, the average price of water increased last year by 3.8% worldwide, according to a survey conducted by NUS Consulting Group, and an official of the firm says the survey also provides evidence to indicate even higher water price increases in the future.


Seeking a more effective way

With rising electricity and water costs to cool cows conventionally – and if heat stress management intervention is to start at a THI of 68 vs. 72 – Collier raises the question: “Would alternative ‘passive’ forms of cooling provide a more cost-effective method to reduce milk yield losses?”

One method being researched is a thermal conductive cooling system, a heat exchanger “system” installed beneath the cows’ bedding area in dairy barns. This application utilizes flexible plastic-based heat exchangers.

In the warm southern climate, well water temperatures range from mid-60s°F to low 70s°F. There is approximately a 30-35° F differential between the cow’s internal temperature and the temperature of earth-cooled well water.

The colder temperature of the water cools the cows naturally via conduction, by transferring heat from a warm source (the cow) to a colder source (the heat exchanger with the colder water), explained Collier.

Recently, collaborative work by Agriaire Industries and the University of Arizona demonstrated heat exchangers could be buried 12 inches below the surface of a freestall bed and still provide significant conductive cooling to dairy cows.

“Geothermal cooling would represent significant cost reduction in reducing heat stress on dairy cows and offers the additional opportunity of using the same approach to warm cows during cold winter months in northern dairy locations. Field testing of this concept is currently underway,” he said.

If thermal conduction cooling is proven to effectively cool cows within “profitable physiological parameters” (101° F -103° F) and implemented on dairies, researchers said the potential exists to significantly shift/reduce peak loads of energy required to cool dairy cows, providing huge savings in summer energy costs for dairy producers.


‘Proof of concept’

Phase 1, the “proof of concept” testing, was conducted June 14-23, 2009 at the University of Arizona Agricultural Research Complex in Tucson, under the supervision of the University of Arizona Animal Science Department. This study supported continued development of the concept at a commercial scale.

A commercial scale test was then conducted at 3,600-cow Rancho Teresita Dairy, Tulare, Calif., from Sept. 1-30, 2009. For this test herd,  the 52-stall test section of the freestall barn had no fans and no soaker line system operating, only conduction cooling to cool the cows. Those cows were compared to traditional cooling methods (fans and soakers), which kicked in at 72° F.

With the water supply to the heat exchanger system averaging in the low 70s° F, the control test maintained an average bed temperature of 78.57° F. The test herd with the heat exchanger system averaged 76.31° F.

Rectal temperatures recorded during the 30-day trial showed temperatures at 101.96° F in control cows and 101.98° F in test cows. A 30-day average of skin surface temperatures were reported at 99.0° F in the control group  and 98.9° F in test cows.

Researchers reported 30-day average milk weights of 97.83 lbs/day for control cows and 93.6 lbs./day for test cows, a difference of 4.23 lbs/day.

During the week of Sept. 25 through Oct. 1, temperatures soared to peaks of 99° F, with sustained high humidity. Average loss for all 3,600 cows during this particular week was 5 lbs./cow/day. Supply water to the heat exchanger averaged in the mid-70°s F during this particular week.

Despite the milk output decline in the initial study, cost-effectiveness of the alternative cooling method convinced researchers the data generated from the “proof of concept” and field studies support further development of conductive cooling of dairy cows to reduce water and electrical use. The results supported use of refrigerated water, or implementing additional cooling above air temperatures of 90° F.

Additional studies are planned in 2011-12 at dairies in California, Texas and Arizona.

By modifying management, using conduction cooling alone to cool cows – and holding off turning on fans until temperatures reached 90° F – Collier estimated this same 3,600-cow dairy, using 180 fans at 1.2 kW/hr per fan and paying 9¢/kW/hr, would save close to $26,500 for the summer in energy costs to cool cows – a savings of more than 75% in electricity costs.


DBMMC members ask Congress for access to adequate labor

Green Bay, Wisconsin — Over 40% of the employees in agriculture are foreign-born, even during times of high unemployment.  Wisconsin dairy producers need a legal system to employ foreign labor. Such as the system proposed in the Ag Jobs Act of 2009, which would allow dairy farmers to employ foreign labor, similar to what is used in other segments of agriculture for seasonal employees.

Members of the Dairy Business Milk Marketing Cooperative (DBMMC) recently travelled to Washington, D.C. to meet with Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner and his staff.  An important issue to DBMMC members is the access to labor.  Dairy farming can be a 24 hour, seven day a week operation.  Finding employees to keep these labor intense operations running has proven to be difficult.

“The work on a dairy farm can be physically demanding and repetitive.  When I post a job opening in my local paper, I get very few responses, if any,” commented John Pagel, DBMMC President.  “Dairy farmers need a legal system to bring in foreign labor, much like other segments of the agricultural industry currently have.”

“We made the trip out to Washington DC to alert members of Congress to the problems dairy farmers face back home,” commented Laurie Fischer, Executive Director of DBMMC.  “Congressman Sensenbrenner and his staff have been very attentive to our concerns.  We look forward to continue to work with him to find a solution to the dairy industry’s labor shortage.”


The Dairy Business Milk Marketing Cooperative is a testing, verification cooperative within Federal Milk Marketing Order #30.  DBMMC allows members to vote on proposed federal orders and advocates on behalf of its members for the implementation of federal policies that advance the dairy industry.  For more information on DBMMC, visit


CSI Dairy: Two mysteries of butterfat depression

Numerous ‘culprits’ exist on dairy farms, robbing herd performance and injuring the dairy’s bottom line. Identifying and arresting the  offender isn’t always easy, and  often requires a full investigation, gathering and analyzing evidence on the farm and in the lab. In this mystery, two investigations into  unexplained butterfat depression reveal a common offender.

By Drs. Brian Perkins and Dave Ohman

The experienced dairyman’s voice rang with concern. His Holsteins were no longer producing 80-85 lbs. of milk per cow per day with 3.4%-3.5% butterfat. When butterfat dropped to 3.0% in midwinter, he increased the straw fed and decreased corn. Unfortunately, milk production dropped.


The ration contained 37% high-starch corn silage, double the normal level due to haylage constraints. With high-moisture shelled corn (HMSC) as the main grain source, the ration’s starch content totaled 26%-28%. Potential off-farm feed sources – hay or finely ground dry corn – had not been considered due to cash flow limitations.



An evaluation of risk factors related to the diet, cows and management included testing the total mixed ration (TMR) for neutral detergent fiber (NDF) and starch degradability analysis. The lab results provided a clue: The two-hour starch degradability was a startling 83%.


To reduce the ration’s starch degradability, HMSC was replaced with dry ground corn. The haylage level was increased and straw was reduced. BF increased about 0.25% and milk production increased by several pounds. The reduced starch degradability improved rumen function.

In a second situation, a Western dairyman was puzzled over why persistent low BF dogged his herd on a high-hay diet. An evaluation of the risk factors offered no easy clues.

Then results of the HMSC seven-hour starch degradability analysis provided a surprise: 76% degradability, several points higher than average for HMSC. Rumen acidosis and upsets as the offenders were likely depressing butterfat.

Not long afterwards, the dairy’s first HMSC supply ran out. It switched to a second source. Lab tests were repeated, but with different results: 70% starch degradability and some relief from acidosis.

Simultaneously, two feed byproducts were pulled that had provided small amounts of unsaturated fatty acids to the rumen; BF increased by 0.2%. A potential lead? We asked the lab to run a milk fatty acid analysis.

The test proved revealing. The ration itself had been affecting the rumen biohydrogination pathways that rumen bacteria use to begin detoxification of dietary fats. The level of “trans” fatty acids most active at depressing BF was many times higher than normal.

In addition, the analysis indicated a combination of too much unsaturated fatty acid (vegetable oils) and borderline acidosis. A milk sample taken following the ration changes indicated normal fatty acid levels.

Lab tests

Three tests help evaluate the role of dietary starch availability on rumen function:

• Ruminal starch digestibility analysis. The seven-hour ruminal starch digestibility analysis evaluates the rate of starch degradation in corn, corn silage or the TMR. It is readily available at many forage labs. As the rate of digestibility for a corn starch increases, more starch is digested in the rumen, with less digested in the intestines. Having too much or too rapid ruminal starch digestion increases the risk of sub-acute as well as acute ruminal acidosis.

• Protein solubility also closely correlates to starch availability and can be used to monitor changes in starch availability in HMSC and corn silages.

• Gas production. New and interesting technology uses gas production to understand the digestion rates of both starch and fiber. Compelling information can be gained when troubleshooting milk production and component issues.

Remember, if BF depression strikes, your forage labs have important analysis tools.



Brian Perkins, Ph.D., Dipl ACAN, Dairy Technical Service Specialist for Diamond V, serves producers in the Pacific Northwest. He can be reached via e-mail:

Dave Ohman, DVM, Dairy Technical Service Specialist for Diamond V, serves the Central U.S. He can be reached via e-mail:

•  To register for the Diamond V Nutrition Line Newsletter, email your request to


Guest editorial: Our window of opportunity – Support ‘three rights’ every consumer deserves

Technology is key to a safe, abundant and affordable food supply, unrestricted consumer choice and environmental sustainability.

By Jeff Simmons

As the U.S. growing season gets underway, a wave of food insecurity threatens more than 1 billion people around the world. Global food costs are rising to dangerous levels and projected to continue increasing. In the past two years, a global economic recession has decreased consumers’ buying power while increasing the number of chronically hungry and food insecure people. After decades of decline, the number of hungry people in the world is increasing.

Jeff Simmons

A few years ago I wrote a paper about the urgent need to produce more food. While time has passed, the urgency of the situation has accelerated. Between 2008 and 2010, more than 18 million people died from hunger. That’s the equivalent of a jumbo jet falling out of the sky each and every day.

Will the world allow the devastation of hunger to continue, or will we tackle this problem with solutions that already exist? Since the Green Revolution, producers have been using technology to increase production and make food more affordable. But consumers don’t want technology used in food production. Right?

In 2010, Elanco commissioned a review of consumer food buying attitudes and behaviors from around the world. The researchers looked at studies that only used unaided questions or actual consumer spending data to minimize bias. The International Consumer Attitudes Survey (ICAS) evaluated 27 studies that met the researchers’ criteria. The Nielsen Company validated these findings in late 2010. All told, the research reflected the attitudes and buying behaviors of more than 97,000 consumers in 26 countries.


ICAS findings revealed:

• 95% of consumers are Food Buyers who purchase foods based on taste, cost and nutrition. They are neutral or supportive of using efficiency-enhancing technologies to grow food.

• 4% of consumers are Lifestyle Buyers who purchase foods largely based on lifestyle factors such as luxury, gourmet, organic, locally grown or other types of products.

Food Buyers and Lifestyle Buyers overlap in many areas and are not distinct segments. In 2010, barcode scanner data showed 75% of the conventional food buyers also made lifestyle purchases, specifically organic foods. Few, however, purchase only organic products.

Despite consumers’ acceptance of modern agricultural technology, a small fringe group continues to perpetuate the modern myth. They participate in protests to “protect” consumers from modern food production. To put it simply, 99% of consumers care about what they eat; 1% care about what I eat.


It’s time to end the debate. Ensuring access to safe, proven, efficiency-enhancing technologies ensures “three rights” for all consumers:

1) Food is a human right. Every child born on this Earth has the right to be fed. Technology creates a more abundant, more affordable food supply.

2) Choice is a consumer right. As ICAS revealed, 99% of consumers want unrestricted choice in the food chain. Technology supports choice.

3) Sustainability is an environmental right. We will not be able to feed future generations if we neglect today’s environmental resources. Technology allows farmers to feed more people, while consuming fewer natural resources and generating less animal waste.


As a producer, how can you support the three rights?

• Make it personal. Step out of your bubble and examine what hunger looks like in your own community.

• Engage. Inform your network that the majority of consumers are comfortable with technology use in food production.

• Support. Support the 99% of the world’s citizens who want unconstrained choice. Ask fringe groups looking to eliminate choice to prove their assertions using sound scientific data, which they can share with regulatory bodies.

Today, producers stand at a crossroads. With food supplies tight and input prices increasing, now is our window of opportunity to expose the myth and support access and choice.



Jeff Simmons is president of Elanco. Access  a copy of his new white paper, “Making safe, affordable and abundant food a global reality,” at


Roundup Ready alfalfa: Where does it fit in eastern management?

It’s common to use cool-season grasses to establish a new alfalfa stand in the East. That requires different management strategies when incorporating Roundup Ready alfalfa in your forage rotation.

By Ev Thomas

Ev Thomas

Now that most of the legal dust has cleared, farmers are able to purchase and plant Roundup Ready alfalfa. This is great news for farmers in the Western U.S., where almost all alfalfa is seeded without a grass companion crop. The ability to apply glyphosate (Roundup) to alfalfa will allow these farmers improved control of many annual and perennial weeds. These weed problems are serious enough  that many California farmers have been harvesting their first cut of alfalfa abnormally early in order to permit the timely application of contact herbicides. With Roundup Ready alfalfa, glyphosate can be used not only during establishment, but between harvests to control summer annual grasses including green foxtail, yellow foxtail and barnyardgrass. It’s expected Roundup Ready alfalfa will quickly become very popular in alfalfa-growing regions of the West.

The situation in the Eastern U.S. is quite different, in that a much higher percentage of alfalfa is seeded with a cool-season grass such as timothy, orchardgrass or tall fescue. According to a survey several years ago, about three-fourths of alfalfa in New York is seeded with a grass, with a similar proportion likely in many New England states. Clear-seeded alfalfa will remain the norm where alfalfa is harvested and sold as dry hay, but the acreage of alfalfa-grass is reportedly increasing in a number of dairy farming areas, including the Midwest. Glyphosate will kill forage grasses; therefore, where does Roundup Ready alfalfa fit in the Eastern U.S?


Alfalfa vs. alfalfa-grass

Alfalfa has earned its title as “queen” of forage crops. Alfalfa’s taproot allows it to remain productive under moderately dry conditions, and few forage crops have the ability to produce more protein per acre. However, this “queen” has rich tastes, and alfalfa needs fertile, well-drained soils to be most productive. Fields with variable drainage may be better suited to alfalfa-grass. In many years of growing alfalfa-grass at Miner Institute we’ve learned the two species adapt to variable drainage conditions. Where soil drainage is good, the alfalfa dominates the stand; where drainage is moderate, we get a nice mixture of alfalfa and grass.

One place not to seed alfalfa-grass is in fields where soil fertility, particularly potassium, is poor. That’s because the root systems of cool-season grasses are much more efficient at finding and using potassium and other nutrients. Seeding alfalfa-grass into a field with low potassium levels may result in a good initial stand of alfalfa, but as the grass becomes well-established it will rob the alfalfa of this essential nutrient. The alfalfa may go into the winter in decent shape, but by spring what was an alfalfa-grass stand is now predominantly grass. If the field isn’t well-enough drained for clear alfalfa to be a good option, rather than seeding alfalfa-grass it may be better to use red clover even though clover stands don’t usually last as long as alfalfa.


Seed alfalfa, then grass?

One option being considered by agronomists is to seed Roundup Ready alfalfa, apply glyphosate postemergence, and then interseed a cool-season grass into the young alfalfa stand. Agronomists at Pennsylvania State University seeded orchardgrass 4 and 5 weeks after planting Roundup Ready alfalfa, immediately after glyphosate application. At the time of orchardgrass seeding the alfalfa was at the 2 to 3 trifoliate stage. While there was less orchardgrass during the seeding year, by the following year there was no significant difference between the yield of orchardgrass in the Roundup Ready alfalfa-orchardgrass stand vs. where alfalfa and orchardgrass were seeded at the same time with no application of glyphosate. While the Penn State research didn’t investigate the influence of different grass seeding rates, it’s possible that a slightly higher grass seeding rate 4-5 weeks after alfalfa seeding would produce even better results. Most grass seed (with reed canarygrass the notable exception) is pretty inexpensive.


Alfalfa dollars and sense

It doesn’t look like there will be any serious shortages of Roundup Ready alfalfa seed. However, this technology comes at a price. The cost of the Roundup Ready trait differs from East to West: $150 per 50-lb. unit in the West; $125 per unit in the East. This is in addition to the cost of the alfalfa seed, but farmers purchasing Roundup Ready alfalfa seed will know this because the “tech fee” will appear as a separate item on the invoice. In the East, the trait will add $2.50/lb. to the price of the alfalfa seed or, at a 16 lbs./acre seeding rate, an additional $40/acre. Add in the cost of an application of glyphosate and it’s over $50/acre. However, we have to amortize this cost over the life of the stand, and assuming even a moderately short 3-year stand life, it wouldn’t take much improvement in yield and/or forage quality to amount to at least $50/acre, especially with current alfalfa hay prices of $150 or more per ton.

Another factor to consider is that not all seed in a bag of Roundup Ready alfalfa is resistant to glyphosate. About 5% of the seed is not resistant, and the seedlings from this seed will be killed by the herbicide. However, in most cases the alfalfa seeding rates used by farmers are high enough that the loss of 5% of the seedlings shouldn’t be a problem.


The bottom line

There are several advantages of alfalfa-grass vs. pure alfalfa stands, including less susceptibility to certain insect pests, less alfalfa winterkill due to heaving, and in cases of severe alfalfa winterkill the presence of grass in the field may provide some early-season forage to harvest while you’re still figuring out what to do next. Many farmers in the Eastern U.S. will find that alfalfa-grass, even with limited weed control options, is their best alternative. However, those farmers who have the type of soils that pure alfalfa requires may find the combination of Roundup Ready alfalfa and a timely application of glyphosate will result in superior weed control at a reasonable cost.



Ev Thomas is president of Oak Point Agronomics Ltd., Hammond, N.Y. Reach him via phone: cell 518-570-7408; e-mail: or visit



Two more lawsuits filed

Two lawsuits related to Roundup Ready alfalfa had been filed as Eastern DairyBusiness went to press.

Attorneys for the Center for Food Safety (CFS) and Earthjustice filed a lawsuit against USDA, arguing the agency’s unrestricted approval of Roundup Ready alfalfa was unlawful.

In late January 2011, USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service announced the deregulation of Roundup Ready alfalfa, without conditions, one of three options outlined in a court-ordered Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). In approving the genetically engineered seed, USDA declared it “as safe as traditionally bred alfalfa.”

A second lawsuit, filed against Monsanto by the Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT), challenges the company’s patents on genetically modified seed. Filed on behalf of organic plaintiffs, the organization said the lawsuit seeks preemptive protection from being accused of patent infringement, should their crops ever become “contaminated” by Roundup Ready alfalfa seed or pollen.

No court action regarding the sale or planting of Roundup Ready alfalfa had been announced at the Eastern DairyBusiness press deadline.


Farm Credit East supports agricultural credit bill

ENFIELD, CONN. – Farm Credit East supports the introduction of legislation (H.R. 874), the Agricultural Credit Expansion Act of 2011 by U.S. Reps. Bill Owens (D-N.Y.), Joseph Courtney (D-Conn.) and Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.) to make more farms eligible for USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) loan programs. This bill will allow family farms that are organized for business purposes in certain ways to be eligible for FSA loan guarantees and direct loans.

Farm Credit East CEO Bill Lipinski noted, “This legislation will improve credit availability to agriculture because it addresses real limitations of federal loan programs that are intended to help family farms. We hope that Congress will act quickly to approve it.”

Lipinski added, “When working with FSA to obtain guarantees for some farm loans, we increasingly run into situations where a farm is structured in a manner — such as Limited Liability Company (LLC) or entities formed from Family Trusts — that makes the farm business ineligible for those guarantees.”

For example, many families have a farm ownership LLC and farm operating LLC when multiple family members own the farm. This structure helps protect the business from liability and with business transfers between generations. However, the business is not eligible for a FSA farm ownership guarantee because the person operating the farm does not own the farm. This is true even if both LLCs involve just one family farm operation.

Northeast agriculture is important to the economy of the northeastern states and employs hundreds of thousands of citizens on farms or in service, input and processing industries that support agriculture. Northeast farm businesses work more than nine million acres of farmland in the six states the Farm Credit East serves, including New York, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island.

Lipinski concluded, “While farming is a tough business and the economic recession created significant financial stress on farms, thousands of strong farm operations across the Northeast produce a safe food supply. This legislation will help ensure that the FSA loan program effectively supports those businesses.”

# # #

Farm Credit East extends more than $4.3 billion in loans from 19 local offices in its six-state service area. In addition to loans and leases, the organization also offers a full range of agriculturally specific financial services for businesses related to farming, horticulture, forestry and commercial fishing. A 20-person Board of Directors from across the Northeast leads Farm Credit East.

For more information, go to


PDPW Foundation announces new fundraising campaign

The Professional Dairy Producers Foundation has launched a new campaign to allow dairy producers to easily contribute to support its programming. The “Two Cents for Tomorrow” campaign seeks to raise at least $2 million annually to help bolster the industry through producer-driven education programs. The campaign invites producers to contribute up to 2¢/cwt. of milk from their farms.

Foundation Board Chair Deb Reinhart announced the campaign at the 2011 Business Conference of the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin (PDPW). The Professional Dairy Producers Foundation is a separate, charitable Foundation started by PDPW to focus on long-term education projects and give dairy producers and industry supporters the opportunity to “give back” to their profession.

Reinhart said the campaign began early this year and already has the support of all the producer leaders who serve on the boards of PDPW and the Foundation, about 20 farms.

“We are directing the funds toward projects that we believe raise the bar for producer professionalism,” Reinhart said. “We believe we are building something that will last for future generations, and this is an easy way to allow producers to get involved.”

Reinhart says it will take about 400,000 cows to generate the Foundation’s goal of $2 million dollars. Wisconsin currently has about 1.26 million cows milking in the state. She stressed, however, that the Foundation belongs to the entire dairy industry. Funding the Foundation provides for education programs is industry-wide.

She described the kinds of programs the Foundation has already funded, including the PDPW Youth Leadership Derby, Mentor Program, and the National Dairy Animal Well-Being Initiative. In addition, the Foundation initiated a competitive grant program to surface new ideas, resulting in grants being awarded for producer education programs in Maryland and North Carolina.

Reinhart says interested farmers can contact the Foundation to make arrangements if they would like to participate. All proceed that go to the Foundation are tax-deductible. More information is available at

The Professional Dairy Producers Foundation was established by the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin in 2002 as a not-for-profit vehicle to raise funds and award grants for educational programs and initiatives.


Beginning a career in dairy is still possible

There’s no doubt that getting started in the dairy business is not always the easiest task, but two individuals have shared how it can be done. During the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin annual conference, Matthew Berge and Mark Mayer explained how they were able to begin their careers using perseverance, hard work and some creative business planning.

Berge returned to his 5th generation dairy farm after graduating from college in 2000. With help from legal professionals, he was able to enter into a partnership with his father by creating a separate entity called Badger Pride Dairy, LLC. The plan is for Matt to slowly earn up to 51-percent of the farm’s total ownership over a ten year period through the process of gifting. At that time, he will be able to afford to purchase the other half of the business.

“There were many factors that made this transition successful, but the most important one was communication,” Matt said. “Other important keys were sharing a common vision with my dad, defining each others’ roles, and doing proper estate planning.”

He said the arrangement worked out better for his father, too, as he will be paid more for his equity when he fully retires, while not putting Matt into additional debt. The once 60-cow dairy now milks over 800 cows.

Meanwhile, Mayer talked about how he began his enterprise from scratch without growing up on a farm. He was able to start M.M. Dairy by renting his grandparents’ dairy farm, while purchasing a small herd of dairy cows under a personal payment agreement. Once he paid off his debt and built up some equity, he was able to rent a larger farm for several years before purchasing a 50-acre farm and built a free-stall operation in 2006.

“I took many little steps and kept my debt low and affordable,” Mark said. “After accomplishing a series of short-term goals, I was able expand the herd as I could afford to and have plans to bring my brother into the operation.”

Both producers say it took patience to achieve what they have and said it was never intended to be an overnight process. They also said consulting with professional advisors in finance, nutrition and animal health were essential to their success.


OSHA looking to do more on-farm safety inspections

The Occupational Safety and Health Agency hasn’t spent a lot of time in recent years inspecting farm operations for worker safety compliance, but that’s about to change thanks to a new initiative being announced by the state OSHA office. During the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin annual meeting, Mary Bauer, an OSHA compliance assistant specialist, explained that a recent increase in on-farm fatalities is prompting the agency to add dairy farms to its list of inspection sites throughout the state.

Under current OSHA regulations, farms are exempt from OSHA inspections if they employ 10 or less workers at any given time of the year. But Bauer says farms of any size can be inspected if they offer temporary housing for its workers on the property.

“The bottom line is we want all farms to do what they can to create a safe environment for its workforce,” Bayer said. “OSHA won’t go and inspect every farm in the state. But we do want to stress that all farm employers are obligated to comply with OSHA regulations—no matter what size they are.”

Bauer says OSHA visits are always unannounced. A farming operation is defined as any business involved in the growing or harvesting of crops, raising livestock or poultry, or related activities conducted by a farmers on rural sites, according to the agency.

Matt Kiefer, an occupational health specialist with the National Farm Medicine Center in Marshfield, also weighed in on the topic. His group is helping farmers to become compliant if the producer feels they aren’t doing enough to implement proper safety measures on the farm.

“Farm safety isn’t just about injury prevent, it also involves disease control,” Kiefer said. “It’s the responsibility of the owner to identify any hazards on the property and to provide safety tools to their staff to keep them safe.”

The NFMC has also hired a new staff member to assist farms that need help with becoming OSHA compliant. Kiefer also says owners may have to do more of their own research on farm safety in the future because ag and rural safety funds have been cut in the proposed federal budget being considered by Congress.