For many of you, the work you do off the farm is almost as important as the work you do on the farm.

In early December, I received a call from one of our magazine's advisers, Dick Kleinhardt, of Clare, Mich. He had just attended a meeting of the Michigan Milk Producers Association, and one of the topics was the proposed U.S.-Australia Free Trade Agreement. Based on what he heard at the meeting, Kleinhardt concluded that if Australia gained free access to U.S. markets, the results would be "devastating" to our dairy industry.

Kleinhardt and others are getting the word out about the U.S.-Australia Free Trade Agreement. Sure, it takes time. But, when you consider the impact that some of these issues have on producer profitability, it is time well spent.

Think about it. Unless producers contact their legislators regarding the U.S.-Australia Free Trade Agreement, it may be too late to stop any attempts — however, well intentioned by the Bush Administration — to reward Australia for that country's participation in the Iraq War.

Opening the doors wide to Australian imports of butterfat, milk proteins, cheeses and other dairy products "will flood the market and cause substantial decreases in U.S. farm milk prices," according to a recent letter sent out by the leadership of Dairy Farmers of America, the nation's largest dairy cooperative. 

On other issues, such as animal welfare, the stakes are equally as high. As we explain in an article on page 34 of this month's issue, fast-food restaurant chains and supermarkets have been prompted by various societal changes to audit the way animals are treated on farm. While most dairy farms don't have to worry about being audited in this manner, the very fact that the fast-food restaurants are involved should be viewed with a certain degree of apprehension.

There's an old story about the camel in the tent. First, the camel sticks its nose in the tent. Then, meeting no resistance, it sticks its head in, then its neck. Pretty soon, you find yourself lying down next to the camel.

Some of the "camels" that come into our tent may be somewhat benign, and, hopefully, that is the case with respect to the animal-welfare audits. But, others need to be shooed out. We don't need to be opening our borders to free and unfettered dairy imports from Australia.

We should be grateful for dedicated individuals, like Kleinhardt, who are out there trying to keep some of the more burdensome "camels" out of the tent.