Dairy does a nation good

Since 1937, June has been designated as “Dairy Month.” Initially promoted to jumpstart summer milk sales during pasture season, its legacy lives on in celebration of dairy products’ nutritional benefits and the dairy industry’s contribution to the national economy.

According to the American Dairy Association, dairy is the No. 1 agricultural business in California, Idaho, Maine, Michigan, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Wisconsin, greatly supplementing their state wealth.

Consider this case in point (State Sen. Darrel Albertine-NY):

“New York’s dairy industry is the foundation of the state’s agriculture industry, supporting the infrastructure necessary for farmers in all sectors, whether they produce fruits and vegetables or meat and poultry. Every job on a dairy farm creates another 1.24 jobs in the community and almost two dollars enter into the economy for every dollar generated by the sale of milk. Dairy processing creates nearly five jobs for every job in the plant and generates another $1.26 for every dollar of product sold. According to a 2002 study, each dairy cow has an economic impact of $13,737, meaning that two cows have the economic impact of creating a $27,500-valued job.”

Not only does the industry help consumers economically, but dairy farmers will also invest more than $250 million to help fight childhood obesity in schools by supporting access to naturally nutrient-rich foods, providing nutrition education and encouraging physical fitness, according to the National Dairy Council (NDC).

The nutritional benefits of milk, dairy’s most revered product, cannot be denied. In fact, it’s the most nutritious, natural drink available, containing protein, calcium, riboflavin, phosphorous, vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin B12 and pantothenic acid.

In addition to dairy farmers playing roles in the health and wealth of society, they play an environmental role, as well.

A Cornell University study showed that in the past 60 years, dairy farmers have reduced their carbon emissions by 63 percent and the industry is committed to further reducing carbon emissions 25 percent by 2020, according to the NDC. Dairy farmers utilize advanced energy-saving technology and practice conservation methods to safeguard land, water and air.

Dairy Facts
  • 99 percent of all U.S. dairy farms are family owned
  • Most milk is transported 100 miles or less from farm to grocery store
  • There are about 60,000 U.S. dairy farms
  • There are dairy farms in all 50 U.S. states and Puerto Rico
  • U.S. dairy farms produce roughly 21 billion gallons of milk annually
Like all industries, the dairy industry invests in its future. The American dairy industry is represented by the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF), which represents most of the U.S.’ dairy marketing cooperatives. It has created a new roadmap for U.S. dairy policy called Foundation for the Future (FFTF).

FFTF proposes, “…much-needed change to many aspects of current dairy programs, some of which have existed for decades.” The group notes that today’s dairy market is influenced to a much greater degree by global demand, using the record dairy prices of 2008 and dramatic dairy-price decreases of 2009 as an example of this instability.

FFTF Recommendations

1) Revise existing Federal Support (Safety Net) Programs; 2) create a new Dairy Producer Margin Protection Program to protect against both severe and unsustainable loss of margin; 3) reform the Federal Milk Marketing Order system; and 4) establish a Dairy Market Stabilization Program to help address imbalances in dairy supply and demand.

The dairy industry is hopeful that legislators seriously consider these regulation changes to protect the agricultural sector.

Though dairy farms are valuable assets, recent media coverage has addressed dairy farm animal cruelty. Images of abused cows have been publicized to damage the reputation of livestock farmers nationwide, also tarnishing the dairy industry’s image. However, it’s important to note that these questionable images are not reflective of the majority of dairy farms throughout the country. Most dairy farmers understand the responsibility that accompanies their job and take pride in the proper care of their cows.

“Healthy cows produce high-quality products, so it doesn’t make sense for a farmer to give his or her cows anything less than the best treatment,” states DairyFarmingToday.

Consumers should be grateful for the dairy industry not only in June, but each month of the year. Dairy farms provide the cheese, yogurt, ice cream and other dairy products that make every day taste better.

Southern States writer Matt Mullen says it best in a recent story, “Dairy farming is a challenging business, and the people who provide milk and milk products deserve our support for their work on behalf of our health, environment and economy.”

*Photo obtained from: http://www.newscom.com/cgi-bin/prnh/20100601/DC13435

More bees, please

Who cares about a declining honeybee population?

Everyone should.

The majority of the food that we eat is reliant on honeybee pollination. As honeybees gather pollen and nectar for their survival, they simultaneously pollinate crops.

There are about 2.4 million honeybee colonies in the U.S. today, two-thirds of which travel the country each year pollinating crops and producing honey and beeswax.
Though that number may seem like a lot, the business of beekeeping, also known as apiculture, has received a lot of media attention in the past couple of years because of a scarcity in bee colonies.

Data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture reports a 29-percent drop in beehives in 2009, following a 36-percent decline in 2008 and a 32-percent decline in 2007. The scarcity results from weather stressors, the shift of the country to an industrial economy, loss of land to subdivisions and highways, price competition from imports and complications from the spread of parasitic mites. There is some speculation that cell-phone signals may also be a contributing factor.

The scarcity is of extreme importance because honeybees provide a great service to the agriculture industry.

According to The American Beekeeping Federation (ABF), “The $14.6 billion contribution made by managed honey bees comes in the form of increased yields and superior quality crops for growers and American consumers — a healthy beekeeping industry is invaluable to a healthy U.S. agricultural economy.”

According to the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service, “Depending on the part of the country and other environmental factors, a typical colony of bees can produce 80 to 120 pounds of surplus (harvestable) honey and 10 to 18 pounds of pollen in an average year.”

Pollination Facts (ABF)
  • Honeybees contribute $14.6 billion to the value of U.S. crop production.
  • Some crops, including blueberries and cherries, are 90-percent dependent on honeybee pollination
  • Almonds are 100-percent dependent on honeybee pollination
“Seventy-five percent to 80 percent of all flowering plants require a visit by a pollinator,” said Laurie Adams, executive director of the Pollinator Partnership in an Akron Beacon Journal story. “As much as one of every three bites of food we eat comes from food pollinated by animals.”

Honeybees also pollinate animal-feed crops, such as clover that’s fed to dairy cows.

While most don’t associate honeybee farming with traditional agriculture, the farm sector experiences the same variable marketplace, unpredictable weather and administrative oversight as all other industry sectors.
Beekeepers, like farmers and ranchers, are subject to state-inspection. These programs are usually administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Some states even have full time staff to manage apiary regulation.

To help boost the honeybee population, consumers can plant natural gardens, ignore bothersome honeybees instead of trying to kill them, and write to lawmakers expressing support for legislation that could positively affect the industry.

*Photo obtained from: http://www.brushymountainbeefarm.com/Resources/Nosema.asp

Regulation delays agricultural advancements

When asked about the state of the U.S. crop-protection industry, President and CEO of CropLife America, Jay Vroom, used words such as, “healthy, robust, forward-looking and extremely competitive.”

But in the next breath, Vroom expressed his concern about federal oversight hindering the industry’s continued progress in a recent podcasted Agri-Pulse interview.

According to CropLife America, “The overall goal of crop protection is to enable farmers to produce the best quality, highest-yield crops possible, in turn providing consumers with a safe, affordable and dependable food supply.”

Crop protection encompasses the research, development and application of pesticides and chemicals to accomplish four ultimate goals:
  1. Increased food production
  2. Decreased food-production costs
  3. Safeguard human health
  4. Cosmetic benefits
The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) established pesticide regulation in the U.S. It has been updated and modernized since its institution in 1947.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has submitted proposals to Congress that would eliminate spray-drift applications and regulate pesticide applications within FIFRA. The EPA’s intent is to mandate permits for the use of pesticide products that are applied directly to water such as aquatic weed control and mosquito control. The EPA suggests a “zero tolerance” for spray drift that Vroom states is unrealistic.

Vroom thinks the EPA tactics put a “chokehold on modern agriculture.”

According to its site, CropLife America supports innovative technologies that promote spray-drift reduction and advocates for scientific research about spray drift effects, but opposes “zero-drift” policies that have already been acknowledged by EPA to set an impossible standard.

“The new label statements will help reduce problems from pesticide drift,” said Steve Owens, the assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances. “The new labels will carry more uniform and specific directions about restricting spray drift while giving pesticide applicators clear and workable instructions.”

The new instructions will prohibit drift that could cause adverse health or environmental effects, stated an EPA news release.

Vroom believes that increasing federal regulation is impacting crop-protection research and development costs, as well as the end-users of those products. He also believes many people “glamorize agriculture of the 50s and 60s” without regard to the benefits of modern advancements.

In a joint global study with the European Crop Protection Association, research revealed that the cost of “staying at the table,” in regards to crop-protection development, has increased as much as 40 percent within the past five years because of severe oversight and evaluation expenses.

According to data compiled in the CropLife 100 retailer survey, crop protection product sales fell $100 million to $6.4 billion in 2009.

“Every farmer out there has got to be engaged,” said Vroom, who said that it’s important for farmers to confront urban elites and environmental activists who are attempting to change the structure of the crop-protection industry, thereby threatening its progression at the expense of agriculture.

He described a state-management system as most effective for industry oversight, using adjectives such as “most steady,” “realistic” and “articulate” in comparison to federal control. He believes that everyone harnesses the power to influence the industry when making voting decisions, noting that society supports a logical regulatory system via state and federal elections.

He also believes that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has a responsibility to disseminate the significance of crop protection to society.

Vroom is hopeful for a management structure that is free of expensive, complex regulatory hurdles and allows the industry to be competitive and viable.

“We ignore the defense of modern agriculture at our own peril.”

Individuals interested in giving opinion can do so at http://www.regulations.gov/search/Regs/home.html#submitComment?R=0900006480a66c8d

*Photo obtained from: cdmsadvisor.net

Summit to Ignite Rural America

The federal government recognizes the power of rural America.

To harness and leverage this power, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) will host The National Summit of Rural America: A Dialogue for Renewing Promise, June 3, 2010.

“This Summit will be an opportunity for rural Americans to share their vision for creating a more prosperous and promising future for rural America,” said Agriculture Sec. Tom Vilsack.

The campus of Jefferson College in Hillsboro, Mo., will welcome the event.

Participants include farmers, ranchers and foresters, as well as agriculture policymakers and community leaders, and features Vilsack, Agriculture Deputy Sec. Kathleen Merrigan and the full USDA sub-cabinet.

In addition to plenary topics, several breakout sessions are planned about rural issues concerning:
  • Creation of new jobs
  • Improvement of infrastructure
  • Improvement of farm competitiveness
  • Development of small businesses
  • Encouragement of innovation in renewable energy
A complete itinerary of the summit is located at its Web site.

The summit’s overall goal is the development of proposals into future program and policy discussions. The summit culminates the USDA’s Rural Tour – a 22-state circuit of specific rural-development discussions.

Interest in the summit is so great; registration for it has reached capacity and has been closed. But, the USDA has utilized social-media sites to help bring the discussion to as many people as possible.

Individuals can listen to the summit live at the USDA’s media center home page, or visit its Facebook page to participate in an online chat.

However, some are not as optimistic about the administration’s rural goals.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and other members of the Senate Western Caucus, wrote a letter to President Obama stating that current rural policies are hurting rural communities across the country. They requested a meeting with Obama before the summit.

“It is past time for the administration to put its misguided policies for rural America out to pasture,” said Hatch. “Before foisting more onerous federal regulations, costs and other burdens on rural communities in Utah and other states, the administration needs to consider the damage its current policies are doing to family farms, domestic-energy production and access to public lands and make a course-correction.”

Regardless of one’s perceptions about current rural strategy, it is certain that there is significant potential for expanding the capabilities of rural America to continue to economically support and to increase its economic support of our national economy.

Do you think rural America deserves this much federal attention? How can the administration utilize feedback from the summit in the most effective manner? Do Sen. Hatch and other critics of current rural strategy have a valid opinion?

*Photo obtained from www.USDA.gov