Computers Aid Information management
By Dave Natzke
Whether checking futures prices to make marketing decisions, visiting websites to learn more about herd health, or posting a Facebook comment to help educate consumers, computers are growing as dairy management tools. 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 in their businesses.
According to the survey, about 60% of U.S. dairy operations have computer access, 57% own or lease a computer, 45% use computers for business, and 52% have Internet access. While on par with producers of other livestock and crops, dairy producers lag grain and cotton producers somewhat.
But dairy producers generating $250,000 or more in sales and government payments are more likely to utilize computers (see Table 1), and are near the top among all U.S. farm operators in embracing computer technology.
Dairy producers’ need for speed on the “information highway” was also evident. Just four years ago, “dial-up” was used by 76% of all dairy producers. 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 (see Table 2). Among dairies with sales and government payments >$250,000, DSL access was the leading method (33%), with wireless (12%), cable (11%) and satellite (11%) Internet access also posting gains in the past two years.
There may be more “speed” on the way. The 2008 Farm Bill mandated the Federal Communications Commission and USDA to develop a rural broadband strategy, and a report was released in August. Also, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 funded several broadband initiatives, including $2.5 billion for USDA’s Rural Utilities Service, designed to support the expansion of broadband service in rural areas.
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:
• www.dairybusiness.com, which features daily news updates from Dairy Profit Weekly, as well as business/management articles and links to electronic versions of Western DairyBusiness and Eastern DairyBusiness, averaged more than 107,000 hits per month, or >3,500 hits per day. That’s more than triple the average number of daily hits in 2008.
• HolsteinWorld (www.holsteinworld.com) averaged nearly 160,000 hits per month, or >5,000 hits per day.
• All-Breeds Access (www.allbreedaccess.com) averaged nearly 63,000 hits per month, or >2,000 hits per day.
• DairyLine Radio (http://dairyline.com) averaged >67,000 hits per month, or >2,100 hits per day.
The impact goes further. DairyLine Radio (http://dairyline.com) began conducting polls on dairy-related issues. More than 500 producers provided opinions and comments on a mandatory national supply management program. (About 50% favored it; 38% didn’t; and 12% weren’t sure.) What surprised me is that so many producers didn’t just “check a box,” but provided lengthy, passionate, in-depth opinions.
Finally, last month, I summarized an e-mail survey of producers responding to questions related to the economy and herd health management practices. This month, we surveyed producers about their milking parlors/systems.
Milk parlor/systems survey
To prepare for the September 2009 issues of Western DairyBusiness and Eastern DairyBusiness, the editors surveyed dairy producers on their milking parlors/systems. We found regional similarities – and differences:
• Cow traffic was cited by both regions as the biggest factor limiting efficiency. To improve efficiency, Western producers expressed the need for crowd gates and employee training; in the East, crowd gates and upgrades in existing, older equipment were most often mentioned.
• Automatic takeoffs were overwhelmingly the technology most could not live without.
• Producers in the West were slightly more likely to add parlor technology, including linking parlors to management software and monitoring cow identification, milk weights, cow activity and milk conductivity.
When asked what they wanted to read more about:
• Western producers emphasized technology and employee training to improve efficiency.
• Eastern producers wanted more information on robotics.
In response to those survey results, this month’s Western DairyBusiness and Eastern DairyBusiness magazines target those topic areas. Be sure to visit www.dairybusiness.com for additional articles and columns.
Congratulations to Dino Migliazzo, dairy producer from Atwater, Calif., who was drawn as the winner of the $100 VISA gift card from all producers completing the online survey.
Watch your e-mail inbox for our surveys for the remainder of 2009.
Land values, credit conditions
Add land values to the things on the decline in major U.S. dairy states. USDA’s 2009 Land Values and Cash Rents report shows the value of ag real estate, cropland and pasture declined in most dairy states, but rental rates held fairly steady. USDA economists cited the overall economy, resulting in less commercial and residential development and demand for recreational land. Low dairy and livestock returns reduced producer interest.
Latest quarterly reports from Federal Reserve district banks indicate land values were weak to stable in the nation’s heartland, but credit conditions worsened, including slower repayment rates and increased demand for loan renewals and extensions.
CWT: Bigger herds
Another 87,000 cows will retire this fall through the Cooperatives Working Together (CWT). CWT’s chief operating officer Jim Tillison said the average herd size, at 296 cows, and average production per cow, at 20,884 lbs. per year, are higher than any previous CWT removal. About 73% of the herds selected are from the Midwest, Northeast and Southeast, but 70% of the cows and 72% of the milk are from the West and Southwest.
The International Dairy Foods Association’s recommendation for alternative policy measures to a proposed $350 million increase in USDA purchases of cheese and nonfat dry milk has drawn the response of Gary Genske, certified public accountant serving dairy farmers and a vocal proponent of changes in federal policies to address supply management and imports. In a letter to IDFA president and CEO Connie Tipton, Genske chided IDFA for undermining “the considerable effort that has been taking place for over six months to get short-term as well as long-term dairy farm milk price issues resolved.”
Analysis by his CPA firm indicates U.S. dairy farmers are suffering $4/cow/day in operating losses and, collectively, lost another $10 billion in the past year in lower asset values. Genske said producers were not receiving a fair share of the retail dairy dollar, and that milk protein concentrate imports are adding to the overproduction of cheese. He also said dairy cooperatives are not representing the best interests of their producer members.
Writing in a special report, “Current Dairy Situation FAQs,” University of Wisconsin-Madison professor emeritus Ed Jesse said there’s light at the end of the dairy tunnel, but the length of the tunnel remains in doubt. He said the first six months of 2009 may have been the worst period dairy farmers have experienced in several generations.
Not this ‘Time’
I get Time magazine. An article by Bryan Walsh in the Aug. 31, 2009 issue (“The Real Cost of Cheap Food”) blames modern agriculture for obesity, antibiotic resistance and degradation of animal life. Not identified as an “opinion” piece, and offering little or no substantiation to any claims, one wonders where the editor was. The article appeared in Time’s weekly list of the ‘10 most popular’ stories, meaning producers must spend more time in social networks talking to/with consumers.
■ To offer your own opinion or response, e-mail Dave Natzke, national editorial director, DairyBusiness Communications, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.