Archive for August, 2009

Del Rio Dairy runs high-tech parlor

By Lindsay Reyes

FRIONA, Texas – Del Rio Dairy was built near Friona after owner Rocky Ging saw his Arizona dairy being squeezed out of its location by urbanization and developers. The high-tech operation provides a steady stream of milk production and cow management data.

Ging started searching for other places to move the dairy to and had heard that the Texas Panhandle was a good place to come. Land around Friona was relatively inexpensive and the water was good.

“We brought the Saudi-style barns from Arizona because we believed it would work well out here,” said dairy manager Chris Reed. “The Saudi barn was new to the industry out here and the dairy received a lot of attention because of that.”

Reed sheds some light on their WestfaliaSurge parlor, which features two double-45 parallels and full automation, milk meters and basement barn. “We collect milk weights every single day from our 11 milking pens of 3,100 cows with a capacity of 3,300,” said Reed.

“Other features include sort gates, which allow us to sort out mastitis, dry and beef cows instead of workers chasing cows all over the corrals.

“The guys working the cows fought it at first. They said it wasn’t going to work and they hated it. But now, if I pulled the sort-gate technology away from them they would all cry,” Reed declared.

Why WestfaliaSurge?

“Rocky’s dad had a WestfaliaSurge system on their dairy in Arizona and had good support service there. As they began looking in the Panhandle there were more people familiar with it here and more service providers than some of the other brands,” explained Reed.

Technology makes a difference

When Ging built the barn, in addition to the milk meters, he outfitted the operation with an automated wash system and all the cows are collared with transponders, which provides production data and improves their ability to manage and move cows efficiently. They now know where the cows are each day, and not getting them mixed up in the wrong pens.

According to Reed, milk weight data are used for many management decisions, including dry cows, and beef cows. “Our system produces a milk alarm list, which measures conductivity and flags production losses 24 hours a day,” Reed said. “Night and day shifts get the lists so milkers can check suspect cows for any health problems.”

Milkers have the ability to press a code in the electronic key panel and if there is a mastitis cow, she is automatically sorted and put in a catch pen where she can be treated properly.

“We try to get the most out of the system’s capabilities. Rocky and I are always going into the system and generating new reports – finding new ways to improve the management side of the operation,” Reed said.

This technology also helps solve the mixed cows issue. It makes it easy for Reed to know where each cow is located. He can run a report and quickly fix those problems.

“It makes a big difference if you know where those animals are versus having a barn that doesn’t have transponders to track each animal,” Reed explained.

The typical scenario

A typical scenario on the dairy is this: “A cow pusher forgets to close a gate and nobody says anything. The feeder starts noticing that something is wrong, but doesn’t say anything. Then it’s time for the veterinarian check and the cows he needs to see are somewhere else. You have a big problem,” Reed said.

The system also helps management know which shift the cows were mixed up and can hold the right people accountable.

System does so much more

He also pointed out that the barn manager can quickly see:

• how long milking took

• number of turns

• how long it takes to load and

• how many time they hit the manual or stop button.

Del Rio likes to average about 420-440 cows/hour and if they drop below that, the manager will be able to tell. Such information is kept in the system for seven days giving the barn manager an excellent tool for quickly evaluating his milkers.

“Tools like these make it better than going back and screaming at the milkers,” said Reed.

What’s in the parlor?

• 2 WestfaliaSurge double-45 parallels

• Basic vacuum pump with variable drives

• Parallel barn features rapid exit PBI stalls

• KoolWay milk tanks

• 2 coolers on every tank (200,400 lbs. of  milk shipped daily)

• WestfaliaSurge passive individual ID

• WestfaliaSurge Auto select sort gates

New style, new life

The desire for a lifestyle change was the deciding factor in the switch to a robotic milker.

By Susan Harlow

Michigan dairy producer Alan Simons was putting away his lawn furniture last December when he decided to buy a robotic milking system.

“I said, ‘I don’t even remember sitting on the lawn furniture this summer.’ That’s when I made the commitment,” he said.

Alan Simons installed a robotic milker on his Michgan dairy earlier this year.

Alan Simons installed a robotic milker on his Michgan dairy earlier this year.

Simons had just moved his cows into a new 64-stall freestall barn, milking in a double-4 parlor. “I was sold on a robot, but didn’t know if I wanted to do it right then.” He did, and he’s glad.

Simons, who milks cows on the China, Mich. dairy he owns with his wife, Melissa, said the Lely A3 Astronaut robot changed his life for the better. It’s no small benefit that he has more time to spend with his two small children.

He was milking 70 head in his parlor. To prepare for the robotic system in March, he dried off a majority of cows a bit earlier than normal to bring the number closer to 55 at start-up. He’s now back to milking 65 head, about the optimum number for his single-unit robot, based on the number of visits per cow. “Some may visit two and other may visit six times,” he said. “It’s a matter of balancing the total number of visits, number of cows and milk production.”

The system is saving him about four hours a day in labor.

“It’s a different kind of management, sitting at the computer,” Simons said. “It’s more management, but I enjoy being in the barn.”

Moving the herd into the new setup was fairly easy. “I didn’t have to cull any cows because the robot wouldn’t milk them,” he said. “I haven’t had one where it wouldn’t milk a cow.”

The key is to have a lot of help when you start, Simons said. He and three workers spent a week to 10 days constantly pushing cows into the robotic milker, a chore that took 15 minutes for each cow. “After three days, the worst part was over,” he said. “Then after three or four weeks, another light bulb went on. Now, 90% of cows go in on their own.”

Simons checks any cow on his computer list that has gone 10 hours without milking. Twice a day, he’ll fetch 4 or 5 cows. Those with problems going into the robot now usually have sore feet or are late in lactation and lazy, he said. He’s had to cull only one cow for teat difficulties.

Simons spends more time on management, much of it on his computer.

Simons spends more time on management, much of it on his computer.

The setup

To keep the system from freezing in the Michigan winter, Simons installed radiant floor heat under and in front of the robot area. The freestall and milking system is set up for free-choice traffic flow for a single group, and cows don’t have to pass through the robot to get to feed. They’re fed a partial mixed ration (PMR) in the bunk, balanced for 15 lbs. under the average milk per cow, then supplemented with grain in the robot.

“With a herd of this size, it would be hard to split it into groups for feeding and for milking 3X or 6X,” Simons said. “But the robot will adjust feed and milking schedule for each cow. They have to earn the feed to get it. High producers are getting what they need and the low producers aren’t getting overfed.”

Simons began turning the herd out on pasture this summer. “Thus far it has been working well,” he said. “The daily milkings are still on average, and the cows are still producing well,” he said. Cows average 2.6 to 2.7 visits per day, with an average milk production of 70 lbs., about 5 lbs. more than in the parlor.

Simons’ robotic milker uses electrical conductivity to monitor milk quality in each quarter. Abnormal milk is sorted into holding buckets and not mixed into the tank.

Simons would like see his SCC lower. “We just started sampling the cows individually to really get a grasp on what is going on, and it is helping lower the number,” he said.

Simons also makes it clear that the robot is not a “hands-off” system. “You must maintain the robot on a daily, weekly and monthly schedule,” he said. That includes overseeing its daily operation, feeding and observing the herd and analyzing the data generated by the robot.

“All and all it may be more management, but at a different level, and a more flexible schedule,” he said.

Simons expects the robotic system to pay for itself in five to eight years. He plans to add another barn, another 60 cows and another robot.

“The biggest thing to me is the freedom,” he said. “I was just in the barn so much, and this changed my life. It’s a night and day difference.”

Will a robot cash flow?

Will a robotic milker cash flow for your dairy? Look at how robots can offset the cost of labor, said Tom Anderson, farm business management educator at Riverland Community College, Plainview, Minn.
Anderson consults on accounting systems for about a half-dozen Minnesota dairies with robotic milkers. He calculates a single robotic unit, at an estimated price of $170,000, costs about $80-$85/day in principal and interest payments, or around $30,000 annually (with a maintenance plan). It should harvest about 4,700 lbs. of milk daily, or 1.7 million lbs. annually. Compare that to a full-time worker on a typical dairy, who averages 1.1 million lbs. of milk.

“Every farm is different, but you’re getting more milk with a robot than a full-time equivalent (FTE) employee,” Anderson said. “So the robot is producing more than a FTE employee.”

Labor costs, based on Minnesota statistics and including family draw, run $2.75-$2.80/cwt. Anderson puts robot operating costs at $1.80-$2/cwt., leaving 80¢-$1/cwt. to cover additional labor. “You need some labor with a robot – you can’t just walk away,” he said.

A single robotic unit should harvest more milk than a typical full-time equivalent employee.

A single robotic unit should harvest more milk than a typical full-time equivalent employee.

Cash flow, debt load

The purchase of the first robot unit is most difficult to cash flow. “Usually, you’re buying a robot for a 55- to 60-cow dairy, and that’s usually a one-man show, so you’re not saving a lot of labor,” he said. “The robot has to generate other savings.”

Deciding whether to purchase or to lease a robot? Many farmers may not need the tax write-off from a lease, so a purchase is probably preferable.

“But the issue is debt load,” Anderson said, noting it will be a little high compared to a dairy without a robot. A typical recommended total debt load for a dairy should be no higher than $20/cwt. But labor savings generated by a robotic unit can offset higher debt loads.

In preparing balance sheets, some producers find it difficult to estimate the value of a robotic system.

“Some have been reluctant to put full value of the robot on the balance sheet because they don’t know what it will be worth six months from now,” Anderson said.

He recommends a balance sheet value of 80% on the robot, then depreciates it by 10% annually. “It ends up a little less than what robots are reselling for in Europe now,” he said. In the United States, robotic milkers haven’t been around long enough to build much of a resale market.

Production bump?

Most robotic milkers have been installed in dairies milking 2X. With an average 2.8-3.1 daily trips to the robot per cow, a producer may see a 5- to 8-lb. increase in milk production per cow. “Putting a robot into a 3X herd, giving 85 lbs. of milk or so, you may not want to count on additional milk,” Anderson said.

Also, with a robotic system, SCC stays equal or slightly improves, often averaging about 225,000 or less, generating some quality premiums, he said.

Anderson stressed the need for good management. “If something isn’t going right, some blame it on the robot,” he said. But with robotic systems, higher-level management is needed than without the technology.

“There’s more to manage. People need to be willing to understand the technology and adapt to it,” he said. “What it really does is flex your schedule so you can enjoy life a little bit more.”

Robotic milking systems could help transform the dairy industry’s map, Anderson said. He sees producers coordinating satellite robotic operations from a central office, instead of concentrating cows in one location.

“You can manage it so much better, and have fewer environmental impacts,” he said.

South Dakota dairy covers manure lagoon to control odors, greenhouse gases

White, SD — Linde Dairy has begun construction of a lagoon cover over the first stage of the dairy’s manure lagoon system to control odors and greenhouse gases. The project, the first of its kind in South Dakota, is a partnership between Linde Dairy, Environmental Credit Corp. (ECC), headquartered in Ithaca, N.Y., and Environmental Capital Management (ECM), a private hedge fund, based in Tempe, Ariz.

Through ECC’s Ag Methane Lagoon Cover Program, the cost of installing the cover system will be paid for through the creation and sale of carbon credits from the captured and destroyed methane. Carbon credits are a form of pollution credit purchased by utilities and manufactures as a way to pay for reductions of greenhouse gases at a lower cost.

Dairy producer Rein Landman milks 1,050 cows at his dairy. He sees this project as “something for the future and for taking care of the environment.” Methane contributes to the greenhouse effect at a rate 21 times greater than carbon dioxide. ECC, a world leader in the creation and monetization of carbon credits, handles all the documentation and the expenses required to create the credits, sells them in the market, and pays back the cost of the project installation. The dairy shares the revenue from the project and gets a cheap source of renewable biogas. After this has been working for some time, Landman said, “I’m interested to catch the methane and use it for the dairy.” Other benefits from the project include odor reduction, storm water protection, pest control and reduced liability.

Ed Heslop, CEO of ECC, emphasized that “our Lagoon Cover Program is designed to make methane capture available to a much larger number of farmers. Working with us, dairymen can take advantage of the existing carbon credit market to create this new environmental asset and get all the benefits while protecting their milk revenue.”

ECC works with farmers across the U.S., supplying both capital and expertise to develop and build projects that reduce the greenhouse gas emissions generated from common manure management practices. ECC then navigates their farm partner through the complex process of verification and certification that turns their real emission reductions into a carbon financial instrument (or carbon credits) and the revenue stream that the new financial instrument represents to the farm.

9/09 Marketing: Fundamentals – direction of inventories will signal switch to bulls

By Matt Mattke

Q: There seems to be so many over-hanging bearish fundamentals for this milk market. Is it possible for the 2010 average to get any better than the $14.50/cwt. currently indicated?

A: Fundamentals can begin to change behind the scenes before any bullish developments are widely perceived. All that is needed to get prices of any commodity moving higher is not bullish absolute inventory levels, but falling inventories. If the market as a whole sees inventories declining, then there is going to be upward price pressure.

Current dairy product inventories are much higher than last year, but the major question for the future is: Are inventories going to continue to grow from here, or decline?  If inventories do start to decline, then the speed and magnitude with which inventories drop will determine how high milk prices will rally.

From a year-over-year analysis of percentage changes in milk prices, percentage changes have been getting larger, exhibited by the wider year-to-year swings (Table 1). So far, year-to-date, the all-milk price is almost 60% below last year, and this is the second year in a row where the year-over-year all-milk price has declined. Looking back at each year back to 1996, when milk futures first began trading, two consecutive “down” years is about all the milk market suffers before having an “up” year.

If the trend of larger year-over-year percentage changes continues, then a 40% or larger increase over the 2009 average all-milk price is not out of the realm of possibilities for 2010. Bottom line, be careful about jumping to conclusions on where the 2010 milk price could go to the upside. Yes, fundamentals are bearish on the face of things right now, but changes can be taking place behind the scenes that we are not seeing yet. After the worst bear market ever experienced in terms of dollars being lost per hundredweight of production, some decent upside, even above the current $14.50/cwt. futures average for 2010, cannot be ruled out. In fact, based on our analysis, we see $14.50/cwt. futures being at the low end, and $16.75/cwt. futures being the upper end of the range of what 2010 could average.

FYI: Matt Mattke is a Market360® adviser at Stewart-Peterson. He can be reached via e-mail:, phone: 800-334-9779 or visit

From a year-over-year analysis of percentage changes in milk prices, percentage changes have been getting larger, exhibited by the wider year-to-year swings.

From a year-over-year analysis of percentage changes in milk prices, percentage changes have been getting larger, exhibited by the wider year-to-year swings.

National Dairy FARM Program demonstrates high animal care, quality assurance standards

Washington, DC – An animal well-being program designed to bolster consumer confidence in the U.S. dairy industry is being launched by the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) and Dairy Management Inc.™ (DMI). The new National Dairy FARM Program: Farmers Assuring Responsible Management will demonstrate producers’ commitment to the highest level of animal care and quality assurance.

The new National Dairy FARM Program: Farmers Assuring Responsible Management will demonstrate producers’ commitment to the highest level of animal care and quality assurance.

The new National Dairy FARM Program: Farmers Assuring Responsible Management will demonstrate producers’ commitment to the highest level of animal care and quality assurance.

“The dairy industry has an excellent track record of responsible management practices,” said Jerry Kozak, president and chief executive officer of NMPF. “The National Dairy FARM Program will enhance current operations and instill a sense of confidence in consumers who, more now than ever, want to know that animals are well cared for and that the dairy products they consume are safe, wholesome and nutritious.”

The program, which will become available in the fall of 2009, is voluntary and available to all producers. NMPF is managing the production and dissemination of technical animal care manuals, producer education and training, on-farm evaluation, and third-party verification.

DMI is assisting with producer and industry outreach, and market chain and consumer relations.

“Dairy farmers have been committed to caring for their cows for generations. It’s important for consumers to understand that commitment so they can continue to have confidence that dairy farmers are doing the right thing in their animal care practices,” said Tom Gallagher, DMI chief executive officer.

At the heart of the program is NMPF’s revised “Caring for Dairy Animals” manual, which details best management practices for a variety of animal care issues, including animal health, facilities and housing, animal nutrition, equipment and milking procedures, and transportation and handling. The content of the manual is consistent with the principles and guidelines of the National Dairy Animal Well-Being Initiative, which was introduced in 2008. NMPF is working with dairy animal care experts to assure that the document reflects current practices, animal health concerns, innovations and advances in technology.

Training and informational DVDs will be made available to producers, co-ops and others interested in dairy animal care. A National Dairy FARM Program Web site will include producer education and training.

Once producers have completed the educational component, the next step is an on-farm evaluation by a trained veterinarian, extension agent or co-op field staff member, Kozak said. The producer then receives a status report and, if necessary, an action plan for improvement.

“To protect the integrity of Dairy FARM, we are also developing a third-party verification program,” Kozak said. “We want quantifiable, objective verification that the dairy industry is providing appropriate care for animals. It’s important to remember that the goal of verification is to validate the program, not judge individual producers.”

On-farm evaluations will begin in 2010 and third-party verification will start in 2011. Co-ops and processors may choose to participate in the program to bring consistency to dairy animal care nationwide.

Additional Dairy FARM modules designed to assure the quality, safety and wholesomeness of dairy products will be introduced in the future.

“Our organization whole-heartedly supports Dairy FARM,” said M. Gatz Riddell, Jr., DVM, executive vice president of the American Association of Bovine Practitioners. “The program demonstrates that producers consider proper care for dairy animals a moral imperative. It also provides a credible, verifiable framework for producers to demonstrate that commitment to consumers.”

NMPF has assembled an advisory panel to provide guidance on Dairy FARM. The panel is comprised of dairy experts and industry professionals representing many facets of the industry. Members  include Stan Andre, California Milk Advisory Board; Marguerite Copel, Dean Foods; John Frey, Pennsylvania Center for Dairy Excellence; Virginia Littlefield, Safeway Inc.; John Kennedy, Kraft Foods; Shelly Mayer, Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin; Dr. M. Gatz Riddell, American Association of Bovine Practitioners; Allen Sayler, International Dairy Foods Association; and Lynne Schmoe, Washington Dairy Products Commission.

For more information on the National Dairy FARM Program, contact Betsy Flores at 703-243-6111 or log on to

The National Milk Producers Federation, based in Arlington, VA, develops and carries out policies that advance the well being of dairy producers and the cooperatives they own. The members of NMPF’s 31 cooperatives produce the majority of the U.S. milk supply, making NMPF the voice of more than 40,000 dairy producers on Capitol Hill and with government agencies.

Dairy Management Inc. (DMI), based in Rosemont, IL, is the domestic and international planning and management organization that builds demand for dairy products on behalf of America’s 60,000-plus dairy producers. DMI works with state and regional dairy promotion organizations to integrate marketing, promotion, advertising, public relations, nutrition education, and nutrition, product and technology research programs. Visit their website at

AVMA report to Congress disputes Pew Commission study on antibiotics

WASHINGTON — The nation’s largest veterinary association released to Congress a scientific response that disputes several of the findings and recommendations made in a report released last year by the Pew Commission on “industrial farm animal production.”

In a letter sent with the AVMA’s response to members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, Dr. Ron DeHaven, CEO of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), expressed concerns about the Pew Commission’s report and urged members to vote against H.R. 1549 and S. 619, the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA) as they are written. The Pew Commission’s findings and recommendations are being used to advocate for PAMTA.

According to the letter to Congress, “The AVMA is the recognized national voice for the veterinary profession. Our more than 78,000 members represent approximately 86% of U.S. veterinarians, all of whom are involved in a myriad of areas of veterinary medical practice including private, corporate, academic, industrial, governmental, military, and public health services. It is with this authority that we question the methods and outcomes of the Pew Commission’s report on Industrial Farm Animal Production.”

The AVMA’s response raises issue with the scientific validity of several critical areas of the Pew Commission’s report. Key findings from the AVMA’s response include:

  • The Pew Commission’s process for gaining technical expertise in the Pew technical reports was biased and did not incorporate the findings and suggestions of a significant number of participating academicians.
  • Points in the Pew report that address antimicrobial resistance, the environment and animal welfare were determined to be the most pertinent to veterinary medicine. In these areas, the AVMA asserts that many of the Pew Commission’s sub-points have significant shortfalls and lack information as to how the Commission would execute a new plan or program.
  • The Pew Commission’s recommendations for highly restrictive bans on antibiotic use, which are also being used to advocate for PAMTA, have not been proven beneficial to public health. When Denmark and the Netherlands made an attempt to implement less restrictive bans on antibiotics than those recommended by Pew, they found that even a small decrease in antibiotic use severely diminished animal health and welfare without significantly improving human health.

The full AVMA report, as well as a special podcast featuring an interview with Dr. DeHaven on the AVMA’s response to the Pew Commission’s study, is available at

AFACT Summit: Social networks can help put ‘face’ back on producers

By Dave Natzke

Emotion plays a role in food-buying decisions, and farmers – including dairy producers – must put a “face” back on their products to rebuild relationships with consumers and maintain their own ability to operate a profitable business, according to leaders of the American Farmers for the Advancement and Conservation of Technology (AFACT).

The organization hosted its 2nd Annual AFACT Summit, July 22-23, in Minneapolis, Minn.  Theme for this year’s event was “Working Together to Create Solutions.”

Carroll Campbell, fourth-generation Kansas dairy producer and AFACT co-chair, admitted the current economy has many dairy producers in crisis.

“We take great pride in what we produce on our farm,” he said. “But in the current economy, we are losing equity, and we may have to come up with an exit strategy. But one of the most important things we have learned in AFACT is that, while I make business decisions based on science and the facts, that’s not the way to reach consumers. We have to talk about our values.”

“This is an incredibly difficult time, financially, for those of us in the dairy business,” added Indiana dairy producer LuAnn Troxel, who serves as AFACT Communications Team leader. “We realize we all have choices to make. We can get depressed, we can become discouraged, we can continue working silently, we can go into another business altogether.  Or we can keep putting out a high-quality, safe food for the world and tell the world our story.”

Liz Doornink, Wisconsin dairy farmer and AFACT co-chair, noted the organization has learned a lot about consumers and food retailers by conducting focus groups.

“They want to understand what we do,” Doornink said. “They want to know who farmers are, why we farm and how we farm. Over the years, farmers have been so busy working that the connection to consumers has been broken. We need to bring that connection back. When we have that relationship, they’re more apt to appreciate and accept what we’re doing. Everybody understands that more food will be needed to feed a growing population, but they don’t understand how we’re going to do it.

“It’s time for us to come out of hiding and share our stories,” she continued. “Sharing our story is not a ‘choice’ anymore. It’s something we have to do.”

Social networks

One means to do that is through understanding and embracing “social networks” via the computer. AFACT is helping producers feel more comfortable telling their stories through “AFACT Advocate” training and helping build familiarity with social networking tools.

“Dairy producers may not be able to spend a day (traveling and speaking to consumer groups),” Doornink explained. “But they can share their thoughts and values online.”

Michele Payn-Knoper, founder of Cause Matters Corp., a company designed to help people – especially those in agriculture – with advocacy training, grassroots marketing, fundraising and sales training, provided Summit attendees a crash course on social media, including, Facebook and Twitter. When it comes to agricultural consumer advocacy, social media is the most valuable tool  – besides face-to-face meetings – in her eight-year experience, she said.

Payn-Knoper said there currently are 225 million users of Facebook, and Twitter grew 1,400% between February 2008 and 2009.

“These are large groups of consumers that agriculture can reach out to and inform,” she said. “By using these tools, a personal relationship can be built, even while sitting hundreds of miles apart.”

Payn-Knoper said social media is called “social” for a reason.  A picture and small biography is essential for building producer/consumer relations on whatever social media tool you use.  However, she warned, the window of opportunity to be proactive using these tools is closing.  By the end of 2009, Payn-Knoper fears agriculture could lose its edge with these tools.

Other highlights

AFACT was created a couple of years ago by dairy farmers concerned over the potential loss of recombinant bovine somatotropin (rbST) as a tool for improved milk production efficiency. Since then, animal rights’ activists have been successful in advancing restrictions on some livestock management practices, and media and marketing blitzes surrounding “green,” “sustainable” and “local” generally attempt to portray modern agriculture negatively. The organization’s 2nd Annual AFACT Summit sought to reach beyond dairy, and included presentations by:

• California egg producer Ryan Armstrong and dairy farmer Ray Prock Jr., who shared their experiences with California’s Proposition 2.

• Gary Thome, a Minnesota swine farmer, swho hared his farm’s experience with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

• Len Corzine, Illinois crop farmer, who discussed restrictions on technologies used in crop production.

• Alex Avery, director of Research and Education at the Hudson Institute, who discussed movements that restrict new technologies in food production, and the implications for future global population growth and food needs.

• Washington State University scientist Jude Capper shared her research showing that U.S. dairy cow numbers have dropped from 25 million in 1944 to about 9 million today, noting dairy’s “carbon footprint” has declined sharply in the past 6 decades.

Panel discussion

A diverse panel was featured on the second day of the Summit. Panelists were Vonda Johnson, consumer/mother from Minnesota; Andrea Gauthier, employee at Taher Food Management Services, which is also responsible for food purchasing for the Minnesota School Lunch program; and Mitch Davis, general manager of Davis Family Dairies (Davisco Foods International).

Johnson and Gauthier said they use the Internet to evaluate food product claims, trying to visit multiple sites to get a balanced message. Both said they would appreciate the ability to link to local producers as a source of information.

“From a consumer perspective, it would be great to connect directly with a producer.” Johnson explained. “The science might make me think, but if I trust somebody, that would help me decide.”

Johnson, who grew up on a Wisconsin beef farm, said she is amazed at the technology utilized in dairy farming today.

“The cow is so well taken care of. To produce on a bigger scale, there has to be technology. I don’t worry about technology affecting the food,” she said. “I think the media drives the consumer much of the time. Oprah has a lot of power. Producers have to combat ‘empty-headed listening.’”

Davis, who travels throughout the world, finds irony in the debate over technological advances in food production.

“In my business travels throughout China, Asia, Europe and the Middle East, my observation is that  those who have technology and are benefitting from it take it for granted and try to distance themselves from it; those who don’t have technology are desperate to get it,” he said.

Davis addressed the hot-button issue – rbST – that led to the creation of AFACT.

“We’ve had a lot of interaction on rbST-free milk,” Davis said. “I believe firmly that fluid milk processors and retailers created the rbST issue, and they did it in a short-sighted, desperate move to cannibalize the available market. Instead of going out and touting and promoting the nutritional value of milk, they shoved their competitors out of the way by differentiating their product. Now, consumers are confused and frustrated.”

The resulting fallout affected his family’s business.

“We had a large customer who wanted to market a reduced-fat cheese that was produced from cows not supplemented with rbST,” he explained. “We told them we needed a few days to determine the premium we would need for our dairy producers. We surveyed our producers,  and came back to them in eight days. When we went back to the customer, they told us there was no need for discussion, because a large plant in California said they would do it ‘free.‘

“It represents cannibalization of the industry,” he continued. “Milk is a commodity product. You can add value to a commodity product, but to differentiate it as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, I think the whole category suffers. It seems like a lot of what we do in this industry is a disservice to our consumers. Nutrition should be the first thing. It is our opportunity.”

Gauthier noted the push for “organic” and “local” is creating hardships for schools and foodservice industries.

“As a foodservice company, and the way federal and state funding is going for schools, we’re being ‘pushed to the bottom’ when it comes to prices,” she explained. “At the same time, we’re being pushed toward more organic, locally produced food. They want a ‘dollar menu’ with organic and locally produced food. The people implementing these programs don’t understand the costs.”

Looking ahead

Opportunities identified for AFACT to pursue were the continued education of consumers, retailers and producers through face-to-face meetings and by incorporating online dialogues.  Recruitment of more members and advocates in all areas of agriculture was also recognized as a vital step to inform the masses that technology has a necessary role in modern agriculture production.

Up next: World Dairy Expo
AFACT will be at World Dairy Expo, Sept. 29-Oct. 3, sharing its message, making new friends in the industry and educating
consumers.  Look for AFACT in the Exhibition Hall Lobby (between the doors directly across from the Hall E entrance).
New (and renewing) members joining AFACT will receive t-shirts.

For more information, visit, AFACT can also be found on Facebook by searching for AFACT, or follow on Twitter, under itisAFACT.

The need for speed: Computers aid information management

By Dave Natzke

Whether checking the day’s milk futures prices to make marketing decisions, visiting a website to learn more about a new dairy technology, or posting a comment on Facebook to help educate consumers, the computer continues to grow as a dairy management tool.

While a June 2009 USDA survey of 31,500 ag producers shows the percentage of all dairy operations using computers hasn’t changed much in four years, more dairy producers in higher annual income levels are using computers to manage their businesses, and they’re opting for higher-speed Internet connections.

Dairy details

About  60% of U.S. dairy operations have computer access, 57% own or lease a computer, 45% use computers for farm business, and 52% have Internet access. While on par with producers of livestock and crops, dairy producers continue to lag grain and cotton producers in overall computer access and use.

But dairy producers generating $250,000 or more in sales and government payments are much more likely to utilize computers (Table 1), and are among the leaders in embracing that technology among all U.S. farm operators.

Dairy producers’ need for speed on the “information highway” was evident is USDA’s latest report. In 2009, “dial-up” (32%) was still the leading means of Internet access for dairy producers, but digital subscriber line (DSL) access (31%) is catching up. (Table 2). Wireless (12%), cable (11%), and satellite (11%) Internet access also posted gains in the past two years. Among dairies with sales and government payments of $250,000 or more, DSL access was the leading method (33%) in 2009. Just four years ago, dial-up was used by 76% of all dairy producers.

Logging on

Dairy producer computer use is impacting the relationship between DairyBusiness Communications and dairy producers. Our staff tracks the number of “hits” or visits to our websites. For the May-July 2009 period:, which features daily news updates from Dairy Profit Weekly, as well as business/managemnt articles and links to electronic versions of Western DairyBusiness and Eastern DairyBusiness, averaged more than 107,000 hits per month, or more than 3,500 hits per day. That’s more than triple the average number of daily hits in 2008.

HolsteinWorld ( averaged nearly 160,000 hits per month, or more than 5,000 hits per day.

All-Breeds Access ( averaged nearly 63,000 hits per month, or more than 2,000 hits per day.

• DairyLine Radio ( averaged more than 67,000 hits per month, or more than 2,100 hits per day.

The impact goes further, improving the interaction between editors and readers. DairyLine Radio ( began conducting surveys on dairy-related issues. More than 500 producers provided opinions and comments on a survey regarding a mandatory national supply management program. (About 50% favored it; 38% didn’t; and 12% weren’t sure.)

To view the full USDA report, “farm Computer Usage and Ownership – August 2009,” visit

Computer WEB chart

Production Pointers: Labor management


Aug. 13, 2009

Dairy farm employee dismissals: treat with caution

Emotions often are high on both sides during the involuntary termination of a worker’s employment. Dismissals must be handled with great care, according to Vera Bitsch, Michigan State University Department of Agricultural, Food and Resource Economics.

Careful selection, training and management decisions will hep reduce the number of dismissals. A dismissal should only be considered after other options have been tried and did not lead to the desired results.

Except in cases of gross misconduct, the dismissal should not come unexpected to the employee. Managers need to make sure that sufficient opportunities for behavioral changes were provided and a fair disciplinary process was followed. In addition, regular evaluation of an employee’s performance and a paper trail regarding performance appraisals and disciplinary actions are essential should a terminated employee challenge the dismissal in court.

Wrongful discharge

Michigan (and other states) is an at-will employment state. In the absence of a contract stating otherwise, the employee can resign at any time and for any reason, and the employer can terminate for any reason or with no reason. However, in the past 50 years, the common law based at-will doctrine has eroded in several ways. Therefore, a terminated employee may file a wrongful discharge suit against his or her former employer, causing substantial costs for dealing with this situation, even if the employee does not prevail in court.

Employers need to review and regularly update their employment documents, if they want to ensure an at-will employment relationship with their employees. However, less job security may also result in less loyalty from the employees.

Grounds for dismissal

There are basically four generally accepted causes for dismissal:

1) unsatisfactory performance

2) lack of qualifications for the job

3) changed requirements (or elimination) of the job

4) misconduct

Other recommendations

• The termination interview must be planned carefully, ahead of time. It is best to terminate in person in private, not by delivering a “pink slip” or over the phone. Because of the emotions involved in dismissals, unexpected incidents can happen. If the manager has any concerns, a second person present is a must. Listen to what the employee has to say and give him or her time to calm down and be reasonable. Identify the next steps, such as clearing out the locker and how to receive the last pay check. Preferably, the pay check should be ready before the termination interview. It will make sense to escort the terminated employee off the premises.

• Severance pay is a one-time payment or a salary continuation for a defined period after terminating. Whether as a reward, a gesture of goodwill or to deter disgruntled employees from filing a lawsuit, a written policy should govern the process. It should be equitable and not a source of unfair differential treatment.

• The employer should also consider how to deal with potential unemployment benefit claims by a dismissed employee. For an employer who pays unemployment taxes, the contribution will increase if unemployment claims are charged to the farm.

Source: April 2009 Michigan Dairy Review. To read the entire article, visit

A good start determines success

The things a new employee experiences on their first few days of employment can have a large impact on their success on your farm, according to Chuck Schwartau, University of Minnesota Extension Educator-Livestock.

Preparation for a new employee must start before they arrive for their first day of work.  Preparations include legal work such as having W-4 tax forms ready; I-9 forms ready to verify an employee’s authorization to work in the U.S.; and “new hire” report forms for the state.  Be sure you have proper provisions made for workers compensation coverage.  Prepare an employee file so all the necessary paperwork and records are in one place and easily found when needed.

Besides the legal matters, employers need to plan how they will start new employees on the job.  That planning should answer the following questions.

* Who will meet new employees, showing them where to put extra clothes or their lunch?

*  Where are time cards kept and how are they completed?  When is payday?

* What are the policies employees are expected to follow on the farm?  Are you providing an employee manual?

* What are the work hours?  When is the employee expected to report to work?  When are breaks and how long are they?

* Who will spend time with the employee their first day?  Will the owner/manager be the one who shepherds the new employee around the farm, or will it be another experienced employee?

* Will the new employee be given a good overview of the entire farm operation so they gain an understanding of what happens besides their specific job, or will they be directed straight to their new job?

* Will someone show them where to find appropriate supplies, tools, equipment and people, or will they be put out in the barn and left to fend for themselves?

* Where is safety equipment found on the farm?

* To whom does the new employee report?

* Who is going to introduce the new employee to the rest of the staff?

* If they have a question about their work, whom do they ask?

These are certainly not all the topics employers should be ready to address with new employees, but they do lay a good foundation.

Conducting a good orientation with new employees shows you care about them and their success on the farm.  You want to do everything you can to help them become contributing members of the team that makes your farm successful.  You want to show all your employees they are important, but if new employees aren’t well engrained in the system in the first few months, there is a much greater chance they will leave the farm.

Source: University of Minnesota Dairy Connection. To read the full article, visit

Elsewhere on

People Power: Anger – Emotion or Behavior?

Have you experienced the following reaction recently: “Wow! I never saw that person so angry?”

A “yes” answer is not surprising.  With the challenges facing both agriculture and our economy, anger is a common response.

Anger is both an emotion and a behavior.  Understanding and reacting appropriately and thoughtfully to the differences is crucial, according to Robert Milligan, senior consultant, Dairy Strategies LLC.

To read Milligan’s latest column, visit

Ag labor: Anger – Productivity, excellence and giftedness

According to Gregorio Billikopf, University of California:

Productivity = Ability x Motivation

By productivity, he means a combination of speed, quality and discernment. Ability is what a person can do. Motivation is what a person will do. If either ability or motivation comes close to zero, then productivity will be near a flat line. If motivation is very low, it matters little how much potential a person may have. If talent in an area is very low, it also matters little how much motivation and desire to improve a person may have.

To read Billikopf’s column, visit

NMPF task force probes milk proposals

ARLINGTON, VA – The National Milk Producers Federation’s Strategic Planning Task Force met Monday, in Chicago, to further analyze several proposals intended to offer long-term solutions to the twin issues of low milk prices and extreme price volatility.

The group concluded that more information is needed regarding the ramifications of dairy imports and exports on the efficacy of a mandatory supply management proposal that several dairy industry organizations are promoting. The Task Force also recognized the critical importance of evaluating the unintended consequences that could result from the implementation of such a program. The Task Force further agreed to examine a plan to reform the Federal Milk Marketing Order program by eliminating make allowances.

Reflecting a desire to review the most current and complete information available on the impact of globalization on the domestic market, the Task Force was presented with a major research report, conducted by Bain and Company, of how the U.S. dairy sector currently fits into the global dairy system, and how that role may change in the future depending on the course of action taken by the domestic industry in the coming years.

“There is strong interest on the part of our Task Force in making dramatic and positive changes in milk pricing so that we don’t have to find ourselves in the same position again in the future,” said Jerry Kozak, President and CEO of NMPF. “Because the stakes are so high, we want to be certain that we have fully explored all the consequences of any actions that we recommend, such as how the position of the U.S. dairy business may evolve over time compared to our competitors in other countries.”

The Task Force heard detailed analyses of the so-called price stabilization plan, being promoted by the Holstein Association USA and other groups, by Dr. Chuck Nicholson of Cornell University, and Dr. Richard Sexton of the University of California-Davis. Each economist offered his perspective on how that supply management program would be implemented, affect farm-level prices, and alter the flow of both imports to, and exports from, the U.S. market.

“We recognize that the proposals the Task Force is reviewing won’t relieve the current pain and suffering on dairy farms across the country. However, the severity of the present situation  raises the stakes for our effort, and strengthens the resolve of our group to make certain we are as thorough as possible in suggesting changes in future dairy policy,” Kozak said.

While the NMPF Strategic Planning Task Force is focused on future changes in milk pricing, Kozak said that NMPF is continuing to take short-term steps to help improve the pricing situation. This includes having Cooperatives Working Together (CWT) conduct its second-largest ever herd retirement round in August and September, and continuing to work with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to implement corrective improvements, such as the recent increase in the dairy product price support program.

The National Milk Producers Federation, based in Arlington, VA, develops and carries out policies that advance the well being of dairy producers and the cooperatives they own. The members of NMPF’s 31 cooperatives produce the majority of the U.S. milk supply, making NMPF the voice of more than 40,000 dairy producers on Capitol Hill and with government agencies. Visit for more information.