Speakers focused on what dairy producers can expect in the marketplace in the coming year during the 43rd annual Monett Dairy Day, held Tuesday at the National Guard Armory in Monett.
Joe Horner, state agriculture business specialist, offered mixed news in providing the dairy outlook for the year. Horner said dairy prices run on a three-year cycle, and 2012 will be the low year. Prices will drop from high marks set in 2011. Producers should anticipate break-even conditions for the first six months.
Although prices are lower, the scenario will be better than the 2009 down year. Horner said three factors will help make 2012 a better year.
First, Horner said the end of the drought in Texas and Oklahoma will make feeding conditions better. Lower feed prices this fall will relieve some of the financial pressure. Third, high beef prices will pull low-producing dairy animals into the beef market, making it easy to rapidly cull herds.
The federal Farm Bill will run out in 2012. Horner said it's anyone's guess if another bill can work its way through Congress in an election year, or even if the terms of the old bill will be extended until the next Farm Bill is authorized. Milk income loss contracts established under the old Farm Bill will pay producers through September.
For producers facing a year of lower prices, Horner recommended maintaining a healthy amount of working capital and avoiding becoming over-leveraged. He advised lowering costs by stockpiling home-grown silage and alfalfa.
Feeding cows for dairy production offers choices. Dr. Stacey Hamilton, Extension dairy specialist, said the goal of grazing is to get as much pasture in a cow in a year as possible, which is supplemented with grain. In a traditional feeding strategy, the farmer brings all the food to the cow.
In a hybrid dairy, like the one operated at the Southwest Research Center near Mt. Vernon, high quality feed like alfalfa is the primary feed. Cows then graze in the pasture as a supplement to the grain.
Hamilton said grazing can replace 10 pounds of alfalfa at specific times of the year. From March to May, between 40 and 50 days are available when annual grasses, wheat and cereal rye are growing. Another potential 40 to 50 days open summer when millet, Sudan grass and crabgrass are available before late season grasses become dominant.
Graphs from feed consumption at the Southwest Research Center's dairy showed quality in forages can equal or surpass alfalfa for producing milk. Hamilton said the center pays $315 per ton for alfalfa, or almost 16 cents per pound. Grass, as a quality alternative, can be grown for 4 to 5 cents per pound.
The risk with grass comes from weather and rainfall impacting growth, Hamilton said, making the cost an uncertain estimate, compared to buying alfalfa. Another alternative strategy is to strip graze in a small area. Cows can eat in sections for 20 days before moving, going to a summer crop when finished.
Two speakers concentrated on changes within the dairy industry.
Mark Witherspoon, general manager for Mid-South Dairy Records, discussed production information for individual farms through the Dairy Herb Improvement Association. Many records that used to be mailed are now available electronically.
Witherspoon said the Android software for phones and tablets has opened new ways to communicate in the past year. Darron Schoen, a local dairy producer, has been one of four beta testers in the nation for the software and commented on benefits he has seen.
Jim Ingle, with H.R. Professional Solutions in Monett, spoke about hiring issues impacted by changing laws. Lawmakers in Washington, D.C., have proposed extending E-Verify to farms. Ingle said with a shortage of farm labor, hiring available people presents different verification standards that have not existed previously on the farm.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has begun targeting larger dairy producers for inspection in Wisconsin. Ingle said the federal scrutiny has not extended to southwest Missouri or smaller producers yet.
Around 50 people attended the conference, one of the highest attendance figures in recent years. Lunch was provided by the Monett Chamber of Commerce.
The conference was a joint undertaking sponsored by the Monett Chamber, University of Missouri Extension and trade show exhibitors.