Archive for the ‘General’ Category

Dairy needs foreign workers, fair immigration policy

By Susan Harlow, Editor
Eastern DairyBusiness 

U.S. dairy, increasingly reliant on immigrant workers, could lose 2,266 farms and 14.7 billion lbs. of milk production annually if half its foreign-born workforce left the country due to federal  immigration policy. That’s according to a survey of the industry released by National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) Thursday.
    The survey found that two-thirds of the U.S. milk supply comes from farms employing immigrant labor. Dairies employ 138,000 full-time equivalent workers. Of those, 41% are foreign, almost all of them Mexican. 
   Loss of half those foreign workers would cost 66,000 jobs on farms, and with agribusiness suppliers and services. The economy would lose $6.7 billion in farm inputs alone; economic losses would total $11 billion. The retail price of milk would be driven up 31% as dairies went out of business.
    Most NMPF members name immigration as their top policy concern. NMPF plans to use its survey results to lobby lawmakers for immigration overhaul, particularly the recently introduced AgJOBS bill.
    “Dairy’s employment needs are inextricably tied to foreign-born workers,” said Jerry Kozak, NMPF president and CEO. “We want to counter people who say immigration reform is just sending everybody back home.“
  According to the survey, average annual compensation for dairy’s immigrant workers is $31,500, which includes an average $10 per hour salary and benefits, such as housing and food.
Texas AgriLife Research at Texas A&M University did the survey, asking 5,000 producers and receiving a response from a little more than 2,000.  Results of the survey are on the NMPF website at

SMART FARMING: Integrated, automated system holds a key

Management, production and consumer demands place a heavy weight on producers’ shoulders. Automation may help relieve some of the burden.

By Dave Natzke

Economics and lifestyle issues for dairy producers, as well as consumer-driven demands regarding food quality, safety and traceability, will continue to push dairying toward increased automation, according to leaders of one of the largest dairy technology companies in the world.

DeLaval, manufacturers of milking equipment – including robotic milkers – hosted journalists from throughout the world at a “Smart Farming” seminar at its headquarters near Stockholm, Sweden, in early December.

With dairy’s economic future defined by scale and efficiency, “dairy farming, as a lifestyle, is fading away,” said Stefan Bergstrand, dairy training manager. “There’s a new generation of dairy farmers, worldwide, who are investing in larger farms. To manage those larger farms, labor and feed costs are important issues. Dairy management is about managing costs.”

“Larger farms and higher yields are increasing demands on professional management and labor,” said DeLaval’s European regional president Jan Ove Nilsson. “There are also increasing demands placed on animal health and welfare, milk quality and food safety, and traceability. That will require more reliable herd monitoring to enable proactive decision-making and action.”

On the farm, several factors drive automation advances: 1) a desire to make jobs easier and improve lifestyle; and 2) labor issues, including availability and cost.

According to Benoit Passard, DeLaval’s vice president of marketing and communication, three keys to automation are:

1) capturing information

2) processing information, leading to aided decision-making tools

3) robotization or mechanization of the process (either in part or completely).


Robotic carousels

DeLaval officials said they were testing a prototype robotic milker for carousel milking parlors, but would not estimate a possible introduction date. The system may be more suitable for managers of larger U.S. herds, who  have been slow to embrace “box” robotic milkers able to handle a maximum of 60-70 cows per unit.

Andrew Turner, DeLaval vice president of milking systems, said carousel applications would address both group and voluntary traffic patterns, with no labor limitations on cow traffic, allowing 24-hour/7-day use of milking equipment, and increasing milk harvested per hour. Dairy managers could focus on cow management, instead of milking management, he said.

Challenges include complete and perfect teat preparation, without compromising parlor throughput. The system will require “intelligent rotary platform movement.” 


Beyond robots

However, the company’s officials stressed automation advancements will go beyond milking robots, to feeding, herd health and reproduction management – both at the herd and individual cow level.

“Because feed costs make up such a large portion of overall costs, improving the efficiency of feeding by 10% can improve profits by 50%,” said Bergstrand. But, he continued, there’s frequently a disconnect between feed efficiency and cow nutrition formulated on paper and the feed that actually makes it to the front of the cow. Variation is one of the challenges to efficient feeding.

“Cows require consistency, accuracy and frequent feeding,” he said. “Sometimes that’s inconvenient with labor schedules.”

Bergstrand predicted automation will help producers by allowing more frequent feeding, as well as on-the-go feed analysis for dry matter, nutrient content and palatability. Sensors will help monitor fermentation and storage stability. It will allow producers to continuously adjust feed mixtures based on changing nutrient needs, pH levels or heat stress, for example.

Improved and integrated cow sensors will lead to more wireless, user-friendly integrated systems, allowing massive data collection and real-time, remote analysis by management team members, according to DeLaval’s Fenando Mazeris. That information will help manage herd health, reproduction and milk quality – identifying risk factors and setting off alarms before clinical signs appear.

In the milking parlor, on-farm milk analysis will include detection of antibiotics and other foreign materials, and count and identify bacteria, before they get into the food chain.

Rest assured, dairy producers will still be needed. Collecting data still requires analysis and interpretation, then making herd and business decisions based on that information.   

“Data is dead, unless you give it life and depth,” said Turner. “Our vision is an on-farm integrated system where we can apply even further automation. We know that the farmer needs to boost profit, milk yield and quality, and reduce feed and labor costs. Our goal is to contribute to the peace of mind for future generations of dairy farmers.”

Tough times in 2009 for dairy

By Susan Harlow, editor, Northeast DairyBusiness

     The next year will bring hard times for U.S. dairy producers, said Scott Brown of the University of Missouri’s Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute, during DAIReXNET’s webinar Nov. 10. “The first six to nine months of 2009 could be some of the toughest of the decade for dairy producers,” he said, forecasting a $17.10 all-milk price for 2009.
     Keep an eye on these indicators: 2009 corn plantings, oil prices and the general economy, to get a read on how the year will go, Brown said.
Domestic demand is weakening, especially with negative income growth projected for the United States through the third quarter of 2009. Brown also said exports will weaken in 2009, with Class III prices driving Class I prices for much of the year.
    If milk prices fall substantially in  the first half of 2009, the all-milk price could sink below $15.50 cwt. That would signal a faster turnaround for the better in the second half of the year. But if prices level out at $17 per cwt., “the pain will go on a lot longer,” he said.
    That would be devastating, given production costs. Although corn prices have dropped from their highs of $7.50 per bushel last summer, that probably won’t last, Brown said, and prices are still above historic averages. Next spring’s corn plantings will foretell where feed prices will trend. Higher prices “will put the brakes on the supply side in this industry and keep milk prices from becoming too low,” he said.
    We’re in the unprecedented fourth consecutive year of 4-billion-pound annual increases, Brown said. Numbers of milk cows haven’t seen much decline over the last decade, but he expects that to change in 2009. 
    The next CWT buyout will lure better bids and remove more cows. “That could help us remove supplies more quickly,” he said. CWT has enough money to act rapidly and forcefully to maximize its effects, which he projected would add 71 cents per cwt. to the milk price.
    With a feed adjuster now part of the Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC) program, “we certainly could be at a point where we would trigger an MILC payment in the next few months,” he said.