MOUNT HOPE, Ohio — Dairy farmers may be selling milk, but it’s the quality of protein and energy in the milk — and what farmers invest to produce it — that will be determine their success into the future, predicts Pete Hardin, editor of the Wisconsin-based dairy publication The Milkweed.
“We need to realize that were in the protein and energy business, not the milk business,” Hardin told a group of Ohio farmers Sept. 26 at the Mount Hope Auction facility. He gave an evening talk titled What’s Ahead for Milk Prices and Costs.
According to Hardin, the nation’s demand for a reliable protein source is increasing, especially on the heels of severe weather events like the droughts in Texas and across the Southwest. The rising population and rising costs at the supermarket also are influencing consumer choices for protein, he said.
From new highs in the crop markets to severe weather events, Hardin said “there is so much uncertainty going on in our midst.”
One of the biggest problems, he said, is “the price per dairy farmer is not adequate, particularly as we look at higher grain costs.”
Corn and wheat prices that have topped $6 a bushel and soybeans above $13 have made buying feed for dairy cattle and other livestock especially difficult. Corn, for example, has more than doubled in price over the last three years.
For most of the past couple decades, dairy farmers could purchase grain for less than they could grow it, and many did just that. Dairy and other livestock farms were built around the model of a large facility on a small acreage, and grain and hay was mostly bought and trucked to the farm.
A new model
But, Hardin said the shift to much higher grain prices now favors those dairy operations that have some cropland attached.
“You have to have a better balance of your animal base to your land; otherwise, that’s going to be costly,” he said. “Line up your animals and your land to be future efficient and future appropriate.”
One of the most original feed resources is grass, he said, and it’s very valuable in eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania. He acknowledged that all-grass diets may not work for every farm, but stressed the importance of this relatively inexpensive foodsource.
“Where feasible, to the degree feasible, rely on grazing to the extent possible,” he said.
Hardin said the federal milk pricing system is “long overdue for change,” but disagrees with cooperatives like National Milk Producers Federation, and the recently introduced federal policy to “stabilize” and “secure” dairy prices by controlling supply.
Instead of the current Dairy Price Support System, in which the federal government insures a milk price minimum and buys excess products from the market, Hardin suggests looking at whether those products could go toward the nation’s hunger and disaster relief programs.
He sees hunger as a growing issue nationwide, and one that will continue to be a major challenge.
“This nation’s ability to produced adequate supplies of food for its citizens is severely challenged,” he said, and “it’s only going to get tougher and tougher.”
Following his presentation, Hardin answered questions from his audience — a mix of English and Amish farmers from across the state. He said a lot more attention is being paid to food quality and safety issues, and encouraged the farmers in attendance to continue producing quality, “thick” milk.
Dale Grassbaugh, of Howard, said he enjoys reading Hardin’s publication because he doesn’t take advertisements — just prints what he believes to be the objective truth.
John Mark Weaver, a dairy farmer from Fredericksburg, said Hardin is right about farmers who have cropland having an advantage, because they can grow more of what they feed and spend less money on buying grain.
“If you can raise your own feed for your cows, it’s going to be positive for the dairy industry,” Weaver said.
He has a small herd of about 45 registered Holsteins, and 75 acres of crops.
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