Editor's note: The following article appeared in the July 2014 issue of Dairy Herd Management.
In years past, the process of getting food from “farm to fork” drew little attention. Farmers and ranchers simply went about their work, but were not a highly visible part of the value chain.
Today, consumers – and hence retailers and processors – now have expectations about transparency that didn’t exist a few years ago. Both the traditional and social media are shedding much more light on food production practices. And in the livestock sector, much of this focus is directed at how farm animals are raised.
The National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) recognized the need to deal with these new expectations, and in 2009 launched the National Dairy FARM Program: Farmers Assuring Responsible ManagementTM (FARM Program) in partnership with Dairy Management Inc.
2013 FARM Manual Cover The FARM program is a national, verifiable animal care program. Since its launch, it has been implemented by cooperative and proprietary processors handling 75% of the milk supply. Producers can participate independently, or through their cooperative or processor, and there is no participation fee.
Many benefits for farmers
The program was designed to bolster public trust in the dairy industry and to demonstrate the industry’s commitment to the highest levels of animal care. But it also benefits farmers in the following ways:
• Because it was developed by farmers and animal care experts, and is overseen by those familiar with the dairy business, it is a practical, science-based program that works toward continuous improvement of on-farm practices and addresses consumer concerns. Rather than punish or exclude farms, it encourages adoption of best practices with the understanding that all businesses can continually improve.
• By creating a national animal care standard acceptable to all retail and foodservice companies, farms won’t have to cope with multiple standards, each created for a separate customer but similar in expectations.
The key to the FARM Program is the philosophy of continuous improvement. The program operates on a three-year cycle, focusing on a rotation of education, on-farm evaluation and third-party verification. As our understanding of animal care evolves, so too do the guidelines underpinning the program.
click image to zoomThe three-year continuous improvement cycle provides a road map to valid audits. Participating farmers are given training materials and are involved in an on-farm evaluation by a veterinarian or another trained, certified professional. Evaluators provide a status report and, if necessary, recommend areas for improvement. Farms must be reviewed by evaluators at least once every three years as part of the cycle.