According to an old Latin adage, "Necessity is the mother of invention." That couldn't be more true in today's dairy industry.

In the past few years, new technologies have been adopted in dairy processing to meet the challenges facing the industry. Even more are being tested. The adoption of new technologies at the processor level could mean higher standards for milk quality on your dairy.

In this issue of Dairy Herd Management, you can learn about some of these innovative technologies - and, how high-quality raw milk plays a part in their success.

For example, many dairy producers have found it cost-effective to operate in the West. But, often, that has meant operating long distances from established cheese plants and population centers. As a result, some producers have turned to ultrafiltration, a process that allows them to market milk anywhere in the U.S.

Ultrafiltration uses a series of membranes and pressure to remove the water and some minerals and lactose from milk, concentrates the product three to 3.5 times, arriving at a consistency akin to a milkshake. Hauling three times the amount of product in one tanker load makes the milk's journey cost-effective. For more on ultrafiltration, please see, "Milk that moves," on page 32.

Extended shelf life products provide another example. Processors looking for creative ways to get milk into the hands of on-the-go consumers have begun investing in processing systems that keep milk tasting great longer. This could help ensure that milk is
available everywhere - from the ballpark to vending machines to the convenience store on the corner.

As a result, fluid processors are now experimenting with products that retain their quality and flavor for three months instead of the typical three weeks. For more information on extended shelf life products, see "A longer shelf life," on page 38.

High-quality milk a must
When you look at the challenges facing the dairy industry - changing consumer demands and shifting geographical patterns in milk production - high-quality milk emerges as a common denominator among the solutions.

With extended shelf life products you must closely watch the somatic cell and bacteria levels of the milk used, as they can affect product taste and quality when the life span extends beyond traditional parameters. With ultrafiltration, the same process that removes water, some minerals and lactose to form a concentrated milk product also concentrates the SCC and bacteria. That makes starting with high-quality milk a must for both technologies.

Even with emerging technologies, such as microfiltration that removes somatic cells and bacteria from milk, you still must start with quality milk, says Bob Fassbender, technical director, TC Jacoby and Co. and manager of North American Milk. That's because microfiltration can't remove the enzymes produced by both bacteria and somatic cells that survive pasteurization. These enzymes in low numbers do not affect milk quality, but as SCC and bacteria counts rise these enzymes begin to alter the taste and quality of dairy products.

All roads lead to milk quality
New technologies and consumer demands are not the only reasons to produce quality milk. You have heard many other arguments, such as increasing export sales, food safety, boosting on-farm milk production, reducing the risk of antibiotic residues and lowering on-farm health costs.

Most producers take these reasons to heart and do an excellent job. According to a research report in the December 2000 Journal of Dairy Science, the average somatic cell count level for 539,577 DHI herds was 310,000 cell per milliliter.

Yet, many producers could still make improvements. And, unless they do, they may find themselves with fewer options for selling their milk.

Jim Cullor, director of the University of California's Veterinary Medicine Teaching and Research Center in Tulare, Calif., predicts that in time, it will become necessary for all producers to meet tougher SCC and bacteria standards to ship milk off farm. No longer will co-ops and processors take milk of any quality.

When will that day come? It's hard to put a definitive date on that for every producer. But, producers who have tapped into the new technologies, such as ultrafiltration, already hold themselves to higher standards of milk quality. And, their customers have come to expect and even insist on that higher level of quality.

Regardless of whether or not the legal limit for somatic cell and standard plate counts gets changed, demands from the marketplace may make producing higher- quality milk a requirement for your dairy farm business.