Archive for October, 2009

Northeast dairy farmers file suit against DFA and Dean Foods

DMS and HP Hood also are charged with aiding in monopolization and price-fixing

A class action, antitrust lawsuit was filed Oct. 8, in U.S. District Court in Burlington, Vt., on behalf of Northeast dairy farmers against Dairy Farmers of America (DFA) and Dean Foods Company, according to lead attorney Benjamin Brown, of Cohen Milstein.

The suit charges DFA and Dean each with monopolizing a level of distribution of fluid milk in the Northeast and forcing dairy farmers to join DFA or its affiliate Dairy Marketing Services (DMS) to survive.  DMS and milk processor HP Hood also were named in the suit for aiding DFA’s and Dean’s monopolization and, in the case of DMS for price-fixing with DFA.

Northeast dairy farmers blame DFA, the nation’s largest cooperative, and Dean, the nation’s largest processor, for lowering the price they receive for fluid milk by making DFA and its affiliates the exclusive suppliers of milk to Dean and HP Hood. Together the two processors bottle about 90 percent of the fluid milk in the Northeast.

“Monopolization and price-fixing have contributed to the milk-pricing crisis dairy farmers—especially small, family-owned dairies in the Northeast—face today,” says Brown. “Many dairy farmers have been forced to choose between joining DFA or DMS or going out of business. If they join, they have to pay a fee to continue to market to their own customers at prices fixed by DFA, DMS and other cooperatives. Meanwhile major milk processors Dean and HP Hood, which is part-owned by DFA, enjoy the economic benefits.”

The DFA, DMS, Dean and HP Hood domination of the milk distribution system resulted from an unlawful series of contracts, agreements and understandings that defied restrictions that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and various state attorneys general offices imposed, says Brown.

The suit, Alice H. Allen, et al. vs. Dairy Farmers of America, which seeks both monetary damages and injunctive relief that could have far-reaching effects on the American dairy industry, charges that:

  • DFA and others engaged in a string of unlawful mergers, acquisitions and closures of bottling plants—many of which violated conditions imposed by the DOJ —to strengthen their control of the fluid Grade A milk market.
  • Defying the explicit instructions of the DOJ, DFA entered into unlawful agreements with Dean Foods, which controls approximately 70 percent of the Northeast market for bottling fluid Grade A milk, and HP Hood, which controls approximately 20 percent of the market. This ensures that DFA and DMS would supply virtually all of the fluid Grade A milk bottled in the Northeast by Dean and HP Hood.
  • Independent dairy cooperatives and independent dairy farmers have been forced to pay membership fees and dues to join DFA or DMS so they can obtain access to bottling plants. Access to such plants is the only way they can quality to receive minimum monthly payments on Grade A milk sales set by the United States Department of Agriculture.
  • DFA and DMS suppressed and fixed milk prices for Northeast dairy farmers, thus increasing the profits of Dean and HP Hood, and permitting DFA’s management to divert revenue from farmers to themselves and outside business partners.

“At virtually every stage of this conspiracy, the Department of Justice or state attorneys general intervened to place conditions on major transactions to preserve competition,” says Brown. “Yet time and time again, DFA and others circumvented and thwarted the conditions imposed by DOJ and state antitrust authorities. Now, these Defendants are using their resulting market power to deny farmers the benefits of competition.  This has got to stop, which is why we have filed this lawsuit on behalf of all Northeast dairy farmers.”

DHI meter technicians build their maintenance, calibration skills

Quality Certification Services Inc. (QCS), a division of National Dairy Herd Information Association (DHIA), held meter technician training Sept. 14-18, in Hanford, Calif. Those advancing their portable milk meter maintenance, operation and calibration skills represented California DHIA, Idaho DHIA, Vanden Bosch Testing, Tulare DHIA, Tillamook DHIA, Fresno DHIA, The Udder Tester, Southern Counties DHIA, Central Counties DHIA, Ferndale Cow Testing Association, Willamette DHIA, Integrated Milk Testing, Julie Sousa Testing, JP’s Herd Testing, San Joaquin DHIA and Sue’s Testing Service. These trained technicians work with DHI field service providers serving dairy producers and milk testing laboratories in Arizona, California, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Texas, Utah and Washington. Kings County DHIA hosted the meter technician training school.

“The QCS Meter Technician Training School helped technicians learn important skills, troubleshoot a variety of scenarios and boost networking opportunities,” stated Steven Sievert of QCS. “With the completion of this training, we’ve serviced a market area that represents a large portion of the nation’s milk supply. Knowledge and skills gained through this school helps ensure accurate and reliable meter performance to help dairy producers get the most out of their DHI investment.”

Participants improved their abilities through classroom instruction and hands-on experiences with various milk meters approved by the International Committee for Animal Recording (ICAR)/National DHIA. Training at Kings County DHIA involved standard, dual meter and fast-flow calibration procedures, with a focus on calibration and routine care and maintenance of portable milk meters used on dairy operations for weighing and sampling of milk on test day.

Each year, QCS offers a regional meter technician training school to provide comprehensive instruction and meet the certification requirements of meter technicians working in the DHI system. Dairy One Cooperative Inc., Ithaca, N.Y., will host the next meter tech training school in October 2010.

Advanced Dairy Technology, Kings County DHIA, National DHIA, Tru-Test LTD and Waikato Milking Systems USA provided in-kind and financial contributions to help support this educational event. For more information about QCS and the services it provides to the dairy records industry, log on to

National DHIA, a trade association for the dairy records industry, serves the best interests of its members and the dairy industry by maintaining the integrity of dairy records and advancing dairy information systems.

Readers respond to ‘Branded’ editorial

Producers deserve marketplace premium

I enjoyed your editorial, “Branded, Naturally: ‘Organic Lite’ Marketing Escalates” in the August 2009 editions of Western/Eastern DairyBusiness.

I believe that is exactly what consumers need to see, as “branding” and labeling have become misused, and continue to mislead.

I posted your information to my latest blog, I am very new at blogging, but I am tired of sitting behind and allowing the many injustices in our industry. Most importantly I want to put a “face” on our industry, so the consumers know who is behind the product.

Barbara Martin

Editorial prompted posting on blog site

The editorial by by Dave Natzke in the August 2009 edition of Western/Eastern DairyBusiness was “spot on.” DairyBusiness Communications was in the forefront, accurately warning producers they could lose an approved technology, while gaining none of the economic benefit of “organic lite” premiums.

Consumer concerns today are eating about a healthy, balanced diet, and climate change. Producers and producer organizations don’t need to spend money hiring consultants to figure this out. U.S. dairy farmers have the right to “brand” terms such as “natural” and “humanely raised” because it is the overwhelming majority of U.S. dairy farmers who are doing just that. Having a license to operate should also warrant some of the premiums in the marketplace, now more than ever.

Carl Baumann

Time for dairy leadership to help industry compete

This letter was triggered by Dave Natzke’s “Branded, Naturally” slam dunk editorial in the August 2009 edition of the Western/Eastern DairyBuisness magazine.

This letter is not meant to address individual farm efficiency strategies, but to spur ideas for dairy and U.S. leaders to lay a foundation so individual farms can compete in an environment of excellence, fairness, justice and stability.

Facing the hard realities: Our industry must decide whether we want to compete and supply dairy to ourselves and the world, or wait, react and buy products elsewhere.

The crossroad: U.S. automakers are also at this juncture. GM reports losing $10,000/car on some models. Limiting supply and increasing price would be a laughable response. Rather, unprecedented leadership with vision to not only keep up with competition, but to blow its doors off with innovative efficient dependable products ensures its future.

So here we are, turning left looks like this: We do an OK job and pat ourselves on the back a lot to feel good. We’re satisfied, being led by a few fundraising activist organizations and some short-sighted dairy processors. We focus only on increasing our price by dumping milk, begging to taxpayers, confusing consumers by implying that only “my” milk is safe, or attempting to shut off dairy imports.

Turning right looks like this: Diligently prepare to compete with leadership that pulls us out of the fires of distraction and sets our sights on excellence – excellence from production to the store shelf.

Today, because of our struggles, I am convinced that together the American dairymen has the potential to finally find all the lost pieces to our puzzle and with focused teamwork to ensure fair competition. If:

• we seek out answers and leaders that end corruption within our industry and leaders that reveal the qualities of dairy to a world that is seeking health; and

• we have leaders that prepare us for world trade by putting all the pieces together. Then, and only then, will we be in position to thrive. We, meaning everyone from the farmer to the consumer.

Natzke’s editorial brings out three pieces to this puzzle:

1) Leadership that implements animal disease and well-being standards and certification programs, now – within our industry.

2) Leadership that demands proper compensation to the dairymen that supply and ‘organic lite’ or any requested specialty product.

3) An industry that celebrates truth, efficiency and honesty with each other and the consumer.

Also, consider more great pieces to the puzzle I’ve heard (do you have any to add?):

1) Lower the U.S. somatic cell count limit to at least international standards, now!

2) Require all imported dairy products pay the 15¢/cwt. dairy promotion fees (fluid equivalent).

3) Continually update and improve websites, such as, and others, and put these websites on as many dairy product packaging as possible, and require them on all imported dairy product packaging.

4) Be proud that we produce milk; be educated as new discoveries are made on God’s miracle food. It’s the sports drink of the future. Supply it at your events – not so you can profit more, but because it’s truly the healthy choice.

5) Start a new slogan. How about  “Power Up With Dairy!” or “Power Up With Ice Cold Milk!”

To make this list complete, we need input from everyone. Please help.

Tom Krall

Dairymen and fundraising coordinator for the Lebanon County Dairy Promotion committee, Lebanon, Pa.


To offer your own opinion or response, e-mail Dave Natzke, national editorial director, DairyBusiness Communications, e-mail:

Editor’s Update: If you see my face

God is great, beer is good and people, well ...

By Dave Natzke

The old joke is that few people understand federal milk marketing orders, and most – if not all of them – are either lying or dead. The same could be said for the entire dairy situation these days.

For example:

• How can we go on a supply reduction program like Cooperatives Working Together, at the same time Dairy Farmers in America is asking producers if they’re willing to increase their base in California because milk supplies are insufficient to meet current market needs?

• How can USDA’s recent monthly World Ag Supply and Demand Estimates and Dairy Outlook reports regularly estimate strong milk production will keep a lid on prices, at the same time USDA’s Dairy Market News reports milk intakes are insufficient to meet desired levels?

• How are such messages – sending such mixed price signals – to be interpreted?

• How can producers/processors go from being winners/losers and losers/winners in relatively short periods of time and expect to maintain any resemblance of business continuity?

• Given the track record, how can we keep going to the government for solutions? And given the track record, how can government not be a bigger part of the solution?

The cry for government involvement in the dairy industry has reached a fever pitch. The situation has amplified the cry from those who have sought more government oversight all along, and created converts among those who just want somebody to stop the economic pain.

The pain has been intense. By my estimates, U.S. 2009 income from milk sales will be down more than $12 billion – from about $35 billion in 2007 and 2008, to less than $23 billion in 2009. Divide that by 9 million cows, and the decline equals about $1,300 per cow. Based on daily and monthly losses, that’s in line (or maybe even a bit conservative) with what many dairy farmers and their accountants tell me. Divide that by 61,000 commercial dairy farmers, and you’ve got equity shortfalls and shrinking assets. Add it up, and a lot of capital for future investment has been lost.

But even given these numbers, I can’t help but be wary of asking the government to have the keys to the survival kit. No doubt, dairy needs some short-term intervention to stop the bleeding, because most of the Band-Aids – internal and external – have not worked. But to implement long-term programs and policies based on current conditions could be a drastic error – if not for us, for the next generation.

Although my wife, a pastor, has “preached” end-of-life planning for years, she has had a couple “teachable” moments this summer, the result of untimely deaths by people who did no planning. The time to structure things (either a funeral, business plan or dairy policy) is not when the situation is bleakest or death is imminent. Planning is best when memories are intact, vision is clear and minds are sharp. If the past four years haven’t provided a “teachable moment” in dairy, I’m not sure there will ever be one.

To survive, there must be cooperation – cooperatives and otherwise. Undoubtedly, processors suffered huge financial pain when milk prices were high, and memories can be long. When they hear of producer pain, they remember their own, too. Extreme volatility is seldom good for anyone, except those extremely good at managing it. Being good at biology and business at the same time is not a given, whether it be a dairy farmer or a cheese maker. Currently, the empathy on both sides is in short supply.

The survival kit must include reasonable expectations. If farmer pay prices are to be based on end-product pricing, then there must be accurate monitoring of end-product prices. Guaranteed cost of production for processors must generate some reasonable guarantee for producers. Ethical and legal standards must be met. The cost of the “license to operate” must return some of the premium from the marketplace.

Some say those pieces of the survival kit are already in place. If so, it’s apparent it’s 1950s medicine for 2010s health needs.

In a column I wrote last December, I declared my year of 2008 as “the death of certainty.” Ten months later, “certainty” certainly has not regained life.

We are an angry bunch, we in the dairy industry, reflecting the political mood everywhere, it seems. Angry social and economic conservatives are no better or worse than angry liberals. Unfortunately, it seems many have embraced the hit by the All American Rejects as their theme song: “If you see my face, I hope it gives you hell.” Now there’s something to aspire to. (My wife, on the other hand, has selected Billy Currington’s “God is great, beer is good and people are crazy.” Clergy have their own issues.)

As I write this, cheese prices have gone up about 11¢/lb. in seven days. Maybe, by the time you get this magazine, things will have improved and people will start talking to each other, without yelling.

Speaking of other issues, the economics of print media has obviously changed editorial strategies of some major publications.

First, there was Time magazines’s article Bryan Walsh, in the Aug. 31, 2009 issue (“The Real Cost of Cheap Food”), in which the author blamed modern ag for obesity, antibiotic resistance and degradation of animal life. Whether you agree with him or not, the article was not identified as an “opinion” piece, and offered little or no substantiation to its claims. In an interview later, Walsh stated the article was not meant to be an unbiased news report, but rather reflected the magazine’s strategy to use the author’s opinion to serve as a “conversation starter.”

On Sept., 17, 2009, The New York Times’ series, “Toxic Waters: Health Ills Abound as Farm Runoff Fouls Wells,” addressed what it considered shortfalls in water quality regulations related to dairy farms. This one hit especially close to home for me, because it addressed a 2006 incident in which a dairy operation owned by my cousin, Dan Natzke, of northeast Wisconsin, was alleged to have caused drinking well contamination due to a leak in a manure transfer line.

The negative publicity at the time was enormous. It has started again. Never mind that on Sept. 21, 2006 the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources issued a release stating: “…investigators probing what caused the contamination of drinking water wells … have concluded that the leaked material from Wayside Dairy’s transfer line was not the cause of the contamination, and the Department of Natural Resources plans no enforcement action against the dairy for that incident.”

For those of you who know Dan Natzke, either through the dairy industry or in other arenas of his life, you know he doesn’t need a third-party defender; the way he lives his life is defense enough.

New journalistic tactics, with the decline in print advertising, are designed to generate high website traffic to enhance web-based advertising revenue and web user fees. As I noted in a previous column, DairyBusiness Communications has also built website traffic – in large part by posting almost daily news and market updates, and providing business and production management articles producers can access when it is convenient for them.

But any article that hits a nerve will really generate website traffic – facts and truth sometimes be damned. Within 24 hours after the article was posted on the New York Times website, hundreds of comments were posted – many anti-animal agriculture and anti-dairy.

So we have a new breed of journalists – heretofore delegated to the editorial/opinion pages – who are “conversation starters.” Frankly, passing gas at a wedding reception will start a conversation – if all you want to talk about is “stink.”

I may be beating a dead horse (oops, sorry Humane Society, I was just using an old metaphor), but with the new breed of “conversation starters,” it’s even more critical that dairy producers join the conversation.

At a Glance: Numbers

Regional cows, milk

Ten states in the Western DairyBusiness readership area (Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas, Utah and Washington) are among the 23 states which USDA records monthly milk production data. In August 2009, cow numbers were down about 127,000 from a year earlier. January-August 2009 milk production, at 59.226 billion lbs., was down 823 million lbs.

The 13 “major” states in the Eastern DairyBusiness readership area (Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin) were down about 17,000 cows compared to a year earlier. Year-to-date milk production, at 59.178 billion lbs., was up 693 million lbs., offsetting much of the Western decline.

Cull cow slaughter

USDA’s National Ag Statistics Service estimated 238,900 culled dairy cows were slaughtered under federal inspection in August 2009, up about 11,100 head from July 2009 and 12,600 more than August 2008. January-August 2009 cull cow slaughter totaled about 1.992 million head, up about 217,400 head from January-August 2008.

CWT: Round 8

Recently completed audits showed 74,114 cows (producing 1.5 billion lbs. of milk) and 2,958 bred heifers were removed through Cooperatives Working Together’s 8th herd retirement program. About 78% of the milk and 75% of the cows came from CWT’s Southwest and West regions.

Forages: By the Numbers

Preliminary outlook: 2009 U.S. dry hay crop slightly larger

USDA’s August crop report indicates U.S. dry hay production will be up slightly in 2009.

Harvest of alfalfa and alfalfa mixtures was forecast at 73.0 million tons, up 5% from 2008. Harvested area, at 21.0 million acres, was down 2,000 acres from the previous year’s acreage.

Yields were expected to average 3.48 tons per acre, slightly higher than the 3.32 tons last year. Most states showed an increase or no change in yield, with the exception of Arizona, California, Illinois, New York, Utah and Wisconsin, where small declines were expected.

Production of other hay was forecast at 79.0 million tons, up 4% from last year. Harvested area, at 39.2 million acres, was up 113,000 acres from the previous year.

Yields are expected to average 2.01 tons per acre, up 0.06 tons from last year. Higher moisture levels in the eastern portions of the U.S. and the Pacific Northwest increased yields from last year. However, moisture deficiencies reduced yields in Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Texas.

USDA traditionally provides estimates for harvested acreage of corn silage, sorghum silage, haylage and greenchop acreage in January following the season’s harvest.

Looking for hay prices?

USDA compiles a weekly report of state and regional hay prices, usually updated every Friday
afternoon. To view the report, visit

Survey: Forage Diversity

In preparation for the October 2009 editions of Western DairyBusiness (WDB) and Eastern DairyBusiness (EDB), the editors surveyed dairy producers on their forage management practices. The summary, in two words: Diversity rules.

First, some pertinent numbers: Herd sizes of WDB producers answering the survey ranged from 70 to 3,000 cows; EDB producers ranged from 52 to 1,050 cows.

Among WDB dairy producers, the average ratio of homegrown to purchased forages was 65% to 35%. Among EDB dairy producers, the average ratio of homegrown to purchased forages was 92% to just 8%.

When it comes to forage storage, bunkers/piles (EDB – 60%; EDB – 80%), and bags (EDB – 60%; WDB – 30%) topped the list. Upright silos showed up on 35% of EDB surveys; 20% on WDB surveys. There was a small sampling of graziers in each region.

When they grow it, they feed it. All EDB and WDB survey respondents utilized 100% of their home-grown forages, with none contracted to others or sold on the open market.

EDB respondents were slightly more likely to harvest their own forages; WDB respondents slightly more likely to utilize a custom harvester, although the differences were small. About 50% of producers in each region utilized both harvest systems.

Challenges to quality: No surprise here – weather, everywhere. To a lesser extent, EDB readers cited availability of labor, harvesting equipment and suitable land; WDB readers cited availability of suitable land.

There’s a hunger for more information on all forage topics, including varieties, soil prep/tillage, pests, manure on forage crops, harvesting equipment, and storage management to maximize quality, including evaluation of preservatives and inoculants. Common theme: maximizing milk production per acre and reducing feed costs, and growing feed using less water and nutrients.

Congratulations to Kevin Schrack, dairy producer from Mill Hall, Pa., who was drawn as the winner of the $100 VISA gift card from all producers completing the online survey.

Forages: What’s New?

Vermeer silage baling

Vermeer’s 404 Pro Baler produces 4×4 round packages weighing 1.900- 2.300 lbs. A Powersplit transmission, with shared-drive gearbox and integrated transversal shafts, divides power equally between the rotor and bale chamber to lower horsepower requirements. Three different cutting knife patterns are available. Visit

Frontier wrappers, carriers

Frontier’s LW1166 Bale Wrapper wraps four- or five-foot round bales up to 66 inches in diameter for silage. Other equipment in the line includes: LW1266 wrapper, which wraps round bales in either four- or five-foot widths up to 72 inches in diameter and square bales up to five-foot six inches in length; and BC1104 (4-5 bales) and BC1108 (6-8 bales) bale carriers. Frontier Equipment is sold exclusively by John Deere dealers. Visit

John Deere harvesters

John Deere introduced its new 7050 Series self-propelled forage harvesters (SPFH), available in six models ranging in size from 375 to 800 hp. The 800-hp 7950 SPFH (pictured above) is available with HarvestLab™ and AutoLoc™ technology. 770 SPFH Corn Head and 600C Series Pickup Heads further complement the lineup. Visit

Hesston round baler

Massey Ferguson introduces the new high-capacity Hesston 2800 Series automated round baler. The 2800 Series round baler creates two baling sizes – Model 2846, 4-by-6-foot bales and Model 2856, 5-by-6-foot bales. Massey Ferguson is offering an early bird program on all 2010 Hesston hay equipment and 0% financing to qualified buyers, through Dec. 31, 2009. Visit

CLAAS rakes

CLAAS introduces the LINER 4000, a 49-ft. 2-in. rotary, center delivery rake. Its folding, simple to use monitor and heavy duty rotors make it a heavy duty rake built for efficiency. The internal rotors run in an oil bath and have three bearing supports for the heavy duty arms. The monitor can lift and lower the rotors in sequence, individually, and set the overlap or windrow width. Visit

AGCO twine, net

AGCO Parts announced the availability of a new AGCO brand high strength baler twine and net wrap designed exclusively for AGCO hay equipment. Virgin plastic resin is treated with a UV inhibitor to protect against light degradation. AGCO Professional Grade baler twine has higher knot strength, and AGCO Advanced™ baler twine is designed specifically for extreme baling conditions. AGCO Professional Grade net wrap provides full side-to-side coverage, while AGCO Advanced™ net wrap delivers extra strength in the middle for baling rough crops, such as corn stalks. Visit

BASF on the Web

BASF Plant Science introduced the “NU” face of NutriDense with an interactive blog and revamped website. The blog will be updated regularly with podcasts, videos and articles from BASF Plant Science executives and NutriDense technical staff. The website features product information and customer video testimonials. Visit the blog at, and the website at

Pioneer: inoculants

Pioneer Hi-Bred unveiled Pioneer® brand 11GFT inoculant, products for grass and cereal silage.11GFT inoculant stimulates “front-end” fermentation efficiency by rapidly dropping silage pH. 11GFT improves fiber digestibility and dry matter intake which facilitates higher silage inclusion rates. The grass and cereal fiber inoculants supplement Pioneer’s11CFT and 11C33 (corn silage,) 11H50 (alfalfa silage) and 11B91 (high-moisture corn or earlage) line-up. Visit

Forages: Foraging for ideas, answers

High grain prices have placed – some would say returned to their rightful place – an even greater importance on forage crops. With so many factors affecting quantity and quality – from seed to feeding – researchers in all areas continue to seek ideas and answers for dairy producers.

Compiled by Dave Natzke

Dairy-quality grass forage

Perennial grasses can provide good agronomic, economic and nutritive complements to alfalfa, according to Paul Peterson, University of Minnesota Extension forage agronomist. Researchers examined several perennial ryegrass and tall fescue seeding ratios with alfalfa. They found:

• Perennial ryegrass/alfalfa mixtures looked very good in their first production year and produced dairy-quality forage, but the ryegrass did not persist well.

• Low-alkaloid reed canarygrass was the most persistent and compatible grass with alfalfa, but produced somewhat inferior forage quality.

• Strategic use of nitrogen fertilizer and/or manure on alfalfa/grass mixtures may be economical during spring and late summer.


Alfalfa’s yield/quality tradeoff

Studies by the U.S. Dairy Forage Research Center addressed the trade-off between yield and quality for each cutting of alfalfa, according to Geoff Brink, research agronomist. The study was conducted at three locations – central Pennsylvania, southcentral Wisconsin, and southcentral Idaho – planting similar alfalfa varieties. Alfalfa was harvested in spring, early summer, late summer and fall.

• Yield was highest for the spring harvest period at all three locations.

• Quality was highest for the spring harvest period in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. In Idaho, forage production was dependent on and maximized under irrigation beginning in early summer. Forage quality declined most rapidly in the early summer at all three locations. In Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, the decline in forage quality is slowest in late summer.

Using Milk 2000, an index which combines forage yield and quality into a single term to estimate milk production per acre:

• During the spring harvest period, milk per acre plateaus approximately 10 days after vegetative stage.

• During the late summer harvest period, potential milk production continues to increase because yield is increasing while forage quality does not decline as rapidly as in early summer.


Sweet corn waste

Sweet corn waste (SCW) poses management challenges, according to Paul Dyk, UW-Extension dairy agent. Low dry matter content can lead to a high volume of leachate. SCW typically contains leaves/husks about a foot long, making it difficult to pack. Lab analyses of the SCW samples show wide variations in protein, carbohydrate, fat and minerals. Dry matter ranged from 19.8% to 29.9%. Fermentation analysis showed a high level (>3%) of acetic acid, making feeding rates a concern; typical acetic acid levels in corn silage range from 1.0% to 1.5%. Be sensitive to variation, and adjust prices for quality, if possible.              (

Dry samples with a hair dryer

Penn State ag engineer Dennis Buckmaster designed a simple homemade tool to determine moisture content of forage samples. The homemade “Vortex Dryer” combines a standard home hair dryer with CPVC pipe. It is easy to use, requires less supervision than the microwave oven method, and requires less drying time than a Koster tester. Moisture estimates were within 1% of the actual value 95% of the time. For more information, including how to build and use one, see the Penn State Extension Fact Sheet titled “A Vortex Forage and Biomass Sample Dryer.”

Pack, don’t just level

With the speed of today’s harvesters, bunker packing often results in leveling, not packing. What is gained in the field is lost in the silo – in more ways than one, warns Thomas Kilcer, certified crop advisor from Kinderhook, N.Y.

In addition to feed quality lost to spoilage and poor fermentation, storage capacity is stretched. Research by John Conway, with Cornell’s Pro-Dairy program, showed the fastest, cheapest, most effective method to increase storage capacity is to dramatically increase packing. One local farm increased silo capacity 50% by improved packing.

Radial tires on tractors are designed with low pressure for a large footprint to reduce soil compaction – the opposite of what you want in the silo. Increasing the pressure in the tire (within manufacturers’ specifications) will increase the tractor weight’s packing efficiency.


Redesigning alfalfa

Vegetative proteins of alfalfa and many other forages are rapidly degraded in the rumen, and not efficiently utilized to capture all of the potential nutritional and economic value, according to Ron Hatfield, plant physiologist. Partially degraded protein molecules are even less efficiently utilized – resulting in a need for protein additives and additional nitrogen waste in manure. Plant proteases released during the ensiling process begin degrading the vegetative proteins even before they are fed, one reason ensiling practices emphasize rapidly decreasing silage pH to limit protease activity.

However, red clover, even under poor ensiling conditions, typically has minimal protein degradation. A precision breeding approach used at the U.S. Dairy Forage Research Center inserted an enzyme present in red clover into alfalfa, with positive results. Researchers are also working to test the feasibility of co-ensiling forages with plant materials or plant extracts to preserve the greatest possible amount of the native protein.


Equipment technology adds management capabilities

Equipment technology can help forage management from the field to the cow, according to New York and New England Pioneer Hi-Bred dairy specialist Kevin Putnam.

Near-infrared (NIR) technology installed on choppers is helping speed forage information collection, reducing time needed to collect and send samples to a lab. The research is being used to evaluate corn silage hybrids, but has applications for commercial farms, as well. NIR installed on commercial choppers will provide almost instant moisture information, which has a major impact on bunker packing and fermentation.

Precision management software on mixer wagons can monitor feeder error and weigh backs, helping track feed inventories. And, Pioneer is working with some chopper manufacturers to install super low-volume inoculant applicators – linked to yield monitors – to apply the exact rate of inoculant needed, even in fields where tonnage is variable.

Inoculants not a ‘quick fix’

When used properly, inoculants can help ensure the forage that comes from your field maintains its quality through feedout. But which forage inoculants are right for your operation?

An inoculant shouldn’t be used as a “quick fix” to make up for mistakes in harvesting or storage, according to John Anderson, Mycogen Seeds forage nutritionist. Silage inoculants work by adding Lactobacillus-producing bacteria to accelerate the acid production needed to preserve the silage. Silage treated with inoculants stabilizes faster and will maintain higher amounts of nutrients.

Identifying specific needs can help determine which type of inoculant will work best. For example, inoculants that aid in fermentation usually contain lactic acid-producing bacteria and are used primarily on low dry matter forage crops, like grass and alfalfa. Materials like corn silage and cereal grains are more prone to aerobic spoilage and may benefit from inoculants designed to improve stability.                       (

Interseeding annuals

Interseeding summer annuals into pastures was the topic of a dairy tour in Folsom, La., hosted by Ronnie Bardwell, Louisiana State University AgCenter area dairy agent, and Allen Tarver, a Louisiana equipment salesman, cattleman and forage producer. Tarver interseeds forages into Bahia sod using a piece of equipment called a “plant-o-vator,” which opens a furrow (5½ inches deep and 3 inches wide, every 12 inches ) deep enough to apply fertilizer beneath the seedbed, and only disturbs a small area of the topsoil. It’s designed to hold rainwater to keep it available for the plant roots.                (

Frosted corn silage?

A lot of corn for silage could be in the field when the first frost occurs. According to Ev Thomas, high sugar levels in immature corn act like antifreeze, making milk-stage corn somewhat tolerant of a moderate frost. As long as there’s green leaf tissue – or even if only the stalk remains green – the plant will continue to mature.

Don’t overestimate the drying effects of frost. Although leaves may appear crispy, leaves are only about 10% of whole plant dry matter. Much of the moisture (and yield) is in the stalk, which often dries slowly. Harvest timing should be based on a dry matter test.

If the husks are still tightly wrapped around the ear once the plant is dead, start harvest ASAP. A tight husk holds in moisture, and ear molds can start within a week under warm conditions.

A hard frost may kill many naturally-occurring fermentation bacteria, so use a bacterial silage inoculant. (The same goes with alfalfa harvested after a killing frost.) Make sure you get a forage analysis before starting to feed it. Compared to well-dented corn, immature corn is often higher in protein, but lower in starch and energy.


Storage: Floors that last – materials, installation critical

Forages are the base of all dairy feeding programs. Forage storage areas need a strong base, too. A generation ago almost all bunker silo floors were made of concrete, but increasingly farmers are using asphalt for silo floors.

By Everett D. Thomas

In spite of very low milk prices, dairy farms will continue to expand, and as they do, most will need added silage storage. Most new silos, especially on larger dairies, are either bunkers or stacks (also called drive-over piles).

Much of the cost of these silos – the entire cost in the case of stacks – is in the silo floor. We want silo floors to last a long time, which means first choosing the best material, and then making sure the installation will result in a long-lasting surface.

The only really long-lasting silo floors use either concrete or asphalt. A generation ago almost all bunker silo floors were made of concrete, but increasingly farmers are using asphalt for silo floors; first for bunker silos and, more recently for stack silos as well.

And why not; in spite of higher petroleum costs, asphalt floors are still somewhat cheaper than concrete ones and will last much longer.

How much longer? Based on our experience at the William H. Miner Agricultural Research Institute, Chazy, N.Y., plus my travels throughout the United States, an asphalt silo floor will last at least twice as long as concrete. It’s hard to be more specific when most concrete floors must be replaced after 10 years of use, while many asphalt floors are still in excellent condition after 20 years or more. I’ve seen 25-year-old asphalt silo floors in Idaho that are still as good as new, with no maintenance or repairs.

‘Chemistry 101’

The reason asphalt lasts so much longer is “Chemistry 101”: Concrete is lime-based and silage is acidic. The first day forage is put onto a concrete silo floor, a gradual process begins that will deteriorate the surface of the concrete. Eventually, the aggregate in the concrete will be exposed by the action of silage acids, and it will be increasingly difficult to keep the surface clean.

Asphalt, on the other hand, is petroleum-based and therefore unaffected by silage acids. Once asphalt is installed, no coating or other maintenance is needed – other than keeping the surface clean – and that’s just good silo management, not because it necessarily extends the life of the asphalt.

Installation: Do it right

While asphalt is the best choice for silo floors, the installation job must be done right. This means an excellent, well-drained gravel base that’s very well compacted. A very firm base is a must, because while concrete will bridge surface depressions, asphalt will not. What’s really needed is an asphalt contractor who can build a “road-quality” surface. This means care should be used in selecting a contractor, and the one with the lowest price might not be the one to choose.

For new construction, asphalt is installed in two layers, or “lifts.” The first is coarse aggregate, and the top layer a finer aggregate that results in a smooth surface. Asphalt contractors vary as to the thickness of each lift, but most finished floors in new silos are 4” to 6” thick. All working edges must be protected by a concrete ramp to prevent traffic damage.

Resurfacing existing silo floors

Worn concrete silo floors can be resurfaced with asphalt, and at a fraction of the cost of new construction. We did this several years ago at Miner Institute, and have been pleased with the results – and the price.

First, the old floor is cleaned to remove all old silage and loose aggregate. Then the asphalt contractor will spray on a material to increase the adherence of the asphalt to the concrete.

In resurfacing projects, only one layer of fine aggregate is needed, with the asphalt installed “edge to edge.” That’s because asphalt and concrete have different coefficients of expansion, and patching worn concrete areas with asphalt isn’t recommended.

We don’t know as much about the useful life of asphalt over eroded concrete, but know of one “resurface job” that after five years was still in mint condition.

Asphalt is fine in warmer climates, as long as a good job is done to start with. I’ve seen silos with daytime temperatures of 90 F or so, and there’s no softening or deterioration of the material. The first two asphalt floors we installed were “acid tests,” so to speak, because they were 25’ wide silos, so most all traffic was right down the center of the silo floors. If there was any situation where the combination of hot weather and heavy traffic would result in depressed traffic lanes, this would be it. There was no problem at all.


• Ev Thomas is a consultant with Oak Point Agronomics, Hammond, N.Y., and continues to work part-time for Miner Institute, Chazy, N.Y. Reach him via phone: Cell 518-570-7408; e-mail: or visit

• For additional information, visit Floors for Bunker and Stack Silos.pdf

Feeding: BMR corn silage fuels a high-forage dairy ration

David Smithgall, Perry, N.Y., has grown brown midrib corn for 10 years, making the silage a bigger part of his dairy’s high-forage ration.

By Susan Harlow

This is the tenth year of growing brown midrib (BMR) corn for David Smithgall, who dairies in Perry, N.Y., with his wife, Mindy, and son, Chris. They grow 2,300 acres of corn, grass and alfalfa, much of it to feed their 980-head milking herd.

Smithgall was introduced to BMR about 10 years ago, at World Dairy Expo, when he toured Crave Brothers Farm, Waterloo, Wis. According to Smithgall, trying out new technologies is essential for dairy producers.

“I want to be one of the first to try to explore and capitalize on new technology,” he said. “But not too much, because I want consistency in my bunk.”

Since being introduced to the crop technology, it’s performed well for him, allowing him to feed a higher forage ration, and about 5% less grain.

BMR provides 10% more digestibility than conventional hybrids, said Smithgall, who now feeds a diet that’s 63% forage, half of which is BMR corn. “But I think we can push that to 70% when we’re predominantly BMR,” he said.

Originally, the yield lag kept Smithgall  away from planting too much BMR, but that lag has shrunk from 15% when BMR hybrids were first introduced to 5% now. He has gradually increased his BMR acreage over the years, with a goal of raising all BMR hybrids once his herd size lines up with crop acreage.

“We try to use all our sod-killed land for BMR, so I can get the highest return on my investment,” he said. “But the yield lag isn’t as steep as it used to be, so I’m venturing out, using it for second- and third-year corn.”

By mid-September, he had yet to harvest his 2009 BMR crop. A cold July probably reduced ear size and yields for all varieties, he said.

Smithgall usually has all his corn seed purchased by Nov. 1, selecting 100-day and 106-day hybrids. He bases much of his choice on hybrid trial results, mostly from Western New York Crop Management Association, because it’s a neutral entity. “That takes out some of the ‘noise,’” Smithgall said. “It’s site-specific. Growing degree days can change hugely; just on my land it changes a lot.”

He also grows dual-purpose conventional hybrids, giving him some flexibility if Mother Nature is fickle. “I have the luxury of extra ground for grain corn, but with dual-purpose, if I have a tough year, I can shell it for high-moisture corn or chop it for silage.”

Incorporating BMR into his dairy hasn’t always gone smoothly. “I’m always reaching for new technology, but my pet peeve is the learning curve, and for BMR that learning curve is expensive, at $250/bag. The management for BMR is all different.”

Harvest and feeding management lessons Smithgall learned include:

• chop length. BMR requires a finer length of cut than conventional hybrids.

• harvest moisture content. “The plant will look dry; you’ll chop it and it’s still wet,” said Smithgall, who relies on three Koster testers to decide when the crop is ready to chop.

• the effective fiber part of the plant isn’t as predominant, so he had to learn how to optimize feeding BMR, especially for fresh cows. He now feeds more BMR to fresh cows and less to dry cows, which don’t need as much digestibility. He monitors cud chewing, manure, and milk components.

Harvesting and storing BMR corn separate from conventional hybrids gives the biggest bang for his buck, Smithgall said. “I believe in site-specific feeding to where cows are in their lactations,” he said. He feeds his six milking groups two different rations – a fresh cow diet that’s high in dry hay, and a ration for lower producers, with more conventional corn silage.

BMR hybrids are now offered with triple-stacked traits for glyphosate resistance and insect resistance. Smithgall planted eight bags this season. If he doesn’t see much yield difference, he plans to plant all BMR triple-stacked hybrids next year.

“That will protect against most other environmental problems,” he said. “I used to think triple stack after sod was a waste of money. But this year, they found cutworm on a neighbor’s corn. (Triple stack) protected us, even on first-year corn.” That saved the cost of spraying for cutworm.

Smithgall has used zone tillage for three years, saying it has saved him as much money as any technology. “We have healthier soil with less cost incurred, especially in a dry year.”

Ten years ago, when Smithgall first began experimenting with BMR hybrids, local nutritionists knew little about it. But most area nutritionists are now familiar with the technology. And through trial and error, Smithgall has made it work for his dairy.


The University Crop Testing Alliance compiles summaries of major crop field trials conducted by universities in 13 states. Visit


• Cornell:

• Florida:

• Georgia:

Pro-Dairy: Evaluate your employee training programs

By Mark Thomas, DVM

Do your education programs for Spanish-speaking employees meet these six criteria?

To address the needs of the dairy industry, both the public and private sectors offer training, education, meeting facilitation and translation in Spanish. Agriservice, such as veterinary clinics or A.I. companies, may provide these value-added services. Or producers may turn to public organizations, such as Cooperative Extension, for Hispanic training and translation.

Both private and public programs can provide quality instruction and personnel assistance, but not all training programs are equal. Whatever training program you choose for your Spanish-speaking dairy employees, it should have these six characteristics:

1. The person conducting the program should understand dairying or have experience with farming. This is just as important – if not more so – than strong bilingual skills.

Frequently dairy managers turn to the local high school Spanish teacher to help provide translation or training to Spanish-speaking employees. While Spanish teachers can help communicate general messages, they’re unlikely to have the language and context of dairying needed to do detailed translating and training.

Generally dairy-related jargon and colloquial words and phrases aren’t in a dictionary. But the trainer should be aware of these. It helps the trainer understand Spanish-speaking employees better and builds rapport with them. They’re more likely to identify with a person using “blue collar” Spanish than someone who speaks formal Castilian Spanish.

Trainers with experience on dairies and appropriate language skills can meet with farm owners or managers to discuss their concerns with employee performance and deliver the message in an uninterrupted, coherent manner.

2. Make sure employees understand training is part of continuing education, not retribution for wrongdoing. This is a difficult concept for Hispanic employees to grasp initially.

They may approach a meeting hesitantly, thinking they’re going to be reprimanded in response to a problem such as poor udder health or increased calf mortality. But once Hispanic employees are introduced to education, they embrace it.

3. Training should cover both the what and the why. Some employees won’t care why a certain procedure, such as udder preperation, must be done, but adoption is generally more successful if they know the reasons why a process is important.

For example, if employees know the importance of thoroughly post-dipping teats, the dairy generally gets better implementation of the practice.

4. Discover what employees know before beginning training. If there are different levels of experience and knowledge, employees maybe able to train each other.

It’s important for trainers and managers to ask employees if procedures being taught can be successfully implemented. After all, they’re the people milking cows, feeding calves or working in the maternity area.

Also, getting employee input places more of the ownership of a procedure with the employee and often ensures a greater chance of full implementation.

5. Employees benefit from both generic and farm-specific training. Group sessions with employees from multiple dairies can be useful and provide a great opportunity for workers to take personal pride in their dairies. However, on-farm training is always important.

We can teach the basics of milking procedure and assisting with calf deliveries in a generic format, but there are many specifics on each dairy that are critical to successful outcomes. Trainers are more likely to encounter other teachable moments if they’re participating in on-the-job training and translation.

6. The trainer must consider the possibility of limited literacy skills. To accommodate different literacy levels, it’s important to use lots of pictures and diagrams in presentations. Props also keep presentations stimulating and allow for hands-on demonstrations.

To ensure employees understand procedures, make sure easy-to-understand bilingual training materials such as handouts and standard operating procedures (SOPs) are available. Flow charts, diagrams, animations and pictures are excellent visual aids to outline a process such as milking procedure.

Lifelong learning

Training sessions are the basis of continuing education on a dairy, not the last word. Tracking the results of training and showing those results to both employees and managers are necessary for successful training. It’s also a way to help prevent procedural drift.

Some training feedback can be almost immediate. For example, using Lactocorder graphs demonstrates the benefits of proper milking procedure. Other indicators such as tracking somatic cell count (SCC) and stillbirth or morbidity rates may be more long term. Keep in mind that a change in SCC does not necessarily indicate a drift from proper milking procedure. A more appropriate direct measure of the procedure may be parlor throughput or teat coverage of post dip.

The bottom line is employees must know where to turn for answers. And they must realize that training is dynamic and ongoing. Protocols will need periodic revision based on changes within the dairy.

If you’ve successfully communicated that training isn’t retribution for wrong doing, then you must follow through with recognition of a job well done. Too often dairy managers miss this important step in the training process.

Recognition doesn’t have to be linked to financial rewards. But it must be prompt and public so peers and professionals visiting the dairy can see the accomplishments. A message board hung conspicuously at the dairy is an effective tool for public recognition.


Mark Thomas is a veterinarian with Countryside Veterinary Clinic based in Lowville, N.Y. Reach him at 315.376.6563. Email: