Dairy producers and industry professionals gathered in Amarillo, Texas, for the 2012 High Plains Dairy Conference on March 7-8. The conference was held at the Ambassador Hotel. Todd Bilby, associate professor and extension dairy specialist, said that this year’s conference reached 275 attendees, a 10 percent increase from last time the conference was held. “We had a phenomenal conference,” Bilby says. “A lot of the presentations were on how we can improve different efficiencies on our dairies and adapting new technologies to become more efficient in a global market.”
Bilby is currently serving as co-chair of the conference alongside Dr. Ellen Jordan, also a professor and extension dairy specialist for Texas AgriLife Extension Service.
A 16-member committee, led by Bilby and Jordan, was in charge of planning the conference, which is held every other year. He explains that, six to eight months prior to the conference, the members meet for a planning session where topics and potential speakers are lined out.
“When we sit down at the planning meeting, our primary goal is to hash out what some of the latest and greatest topics out there and put some names together of people who can speak to those topics,” Bilby says. “We aim to provide the best and most informative conference possible for dairy producers and industry in this area.”
The conference committee usually consists of nutritionists, allied industry professionals, veterinarians, producers and academia. The conference revolves around the issues that are impacting states within the High Plains region of the country. Bilby also points out that this conference is held on opposite years of the Western Dairy Management Conference.
“Even though we present an wide array of topics, the conference is specifically focused for High Plains dairies,” Bilby says. “We have topics that are specific in this area.”
The lineup of speakers included presenters from the University of Georgia, New Mexico State University, University of Florida, Pfizer Animal Health and DeLaval, among others. Topics also ranged from reproduction to nutrition to economics to animal welfare.
“John Lee with Pfizer Animal Health gave a nice talk on residue avoidance and risk management,” Bilby says. “This is a hot topic out there right now that I think producers need to be aware of regarding residue testing.”
Bilby explains that one of the most talked about presentations was by Michael Stead with Bank of the West on where the economy is headed. Dairy producers recommended Stead to be one of the speakers for the conference this year, he explains.
“Another popular presenter was Lowell Catlett ,who is the dean of the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at New Mexico State University,” Bilby says. “Everyone was on the edge of their chairs listening to where he sees the world headed, and it’s a positive outlook, too.”
The use of smart technology was a topic presented by Kevin Murhpy with Virtus Nutrition. The focus of this presentation was on how producers and the agriculture industry in general could benefit from using smart technology such as iPhones, iPads and some of the applications available.
“Kevin went through where we have come to with the smart technology movement and popular apps within the agriculture industry,” Bilby says.
A panel of speakers was organized to address a topic very important to the High Plains area – water availability. The panel consisted of five speakers who each gave a 15-minute presentation addressing challenges with the declining water supply in the Ogallala Aquifer and methods to adapt to these declining water resources.
Ellen Jordan, Dana Porter and Brent Bean with the Texas AgriLife Extension Service, as well as John Nielsen-Gammon with Texas A&M University, were among the panelists. New Mexico dairy producer Dean Horton also gave a short presentation on how he uses drip irrigation on his farm, challenges he has encountered and the positives in terms of utilizing less water.
“At the end of the day the idea is that we all have to work together because dairies like to feed their cows crops and farmers like to sell their crops to the dairies,” Bilby says. “We need to focus on what we can do to improve our systems.”
Bilby states that the take-home message for this year’s conference was that of planning on the future and adapting to future technological advancements in order to continue dairying successfully in the future.
“I think that the High Plains area is going to be a growing, thriving dairy industry for quite some time, but we will have to meet some challenges, such as adapting to the declining water supply,” Bilby says. “We still have a good crop source, and our milk production continues to go up in this area because it’s still a good area to dairy.”
Although specific dates are not yet available for the next High Plains Dairy Conference, it is tentatively planned for early in March of 2014. PD