March: From birth of dairy policy to labor pains

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We’ve just made it through one of the longest involuntary waiting periods in the life cycle of creating dairy policy. Conceived in politics and gestating in the womb of USDA, dairy farmers should have a more definitive picture of what it holds for them, after final rules are written.

New informational resources and meetings pop up almost daily, not only detailing components of the Dairy Margin Protection Program (DMPP), but also offering ideas on how farmers can incorporate the program into their current risk management strategy.

Many dairy farmers may use the new program as a “default” for risk management, while others may implement it as just one tool in a bigger toolbox.

To help you get a head start on making decisions, Dairy Herd Management turned to several milk marketing/ risk management advisers to get their thoughts. You can find a summary of DMPP on page 18, followed by the risk management discussion on pages 19-20.

Immediately after the Farm Bill was signed, it looked like Congress was preparing to tackle an even bigger issue – immigration reform. However, those reforms appear unlikely to advance advance any further in this election year.

Some responses I’ve received from Dairy Herd Management website posts show how emotional the topic is, even among some dairy farmers.

For example, I posted a press release regarding the Agriculture Workforce Coalition, an organization involving many major U.S. dairy and agricultural groups. They joined forces with the Partnership for a New American Economy to launch a month-long social media campaign for immigration reform.

One of the first comments coming back to me started like this: Dear Unpatriotic Treasonous Dave Natzke  … The comments went on to say small and beginning farmers were being thrown under the bus, so large dairies can access cheap labor.

Also on the political front, there’s the issue of raising minimum wages. Based on statistics I’ve seen, the average wages paid by dairies are already well above even some of the highest proposed minimums. However, higher minimum wages will, in all likelihood, add to the competition for available labor.

Regardless of how you feel about immigration reform or minimum wages, labor supply and quality are at least partially behind what I perceive to be a seismic jump in the interest for robotic milkers this winter.

There are some other items attracting my “labor” attention. I live near a north-central Wisconsin paper mill town suffering through a decline.

There had been some good news – the paper mill was hiring – so I asked someone who worked there how it was going. The person said 40 people had applied for the open positions … but that 30 of them had failed drug tests.

That didn’t sound like a very large pool of quality labor.

A week later, the local paper carried an article pertaining to aging “baby boomers” and the impact on available workers.

Statewide in Wisconsin, 14.4% of the population was older than 65 in 2012. By 2030, that’s expected to grow to 24%. Currently in the three-county area where I live, 52% of the population is considered “working age” (25-54 years old). That number will drop to 44.4% by 2030.

That opens a whole additional box of issues, from health care to Social Security.

We’re headed for some labor pains to be sure. We’ll be tackling dairy labor issues in our May 2014 issue.

Dave Natzke is editor of Dairy Herd Management. To contact him, e-mail dnatzke@vancepublishing.com.


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About the Author


Dave Natzke
| Dave Natzke is editor of Dairy Herd Management. He was raised on a northeast Wisconsin dairy and diversified livestock farm, the oldest of seven children. He attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison, majoring in Meat & Animal Science and Agricultural Journalism. His perspectives come from more than 33 years of experience covering dairy and agricultural issues. Prior to joining Vance Publishing in January 2014, he served as managing editor for two Wisconsin agricultural newspapers, Wisconsin State Farmer and Agri-View. He then served as editor and editorial director for DairyBusiness Communications for more than 12 years before taking the helm at Dairy Herd Management.



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