Here is a listing of the stories that made a difference in 2014.

Lee karen
Managing Editor / Progressive Dairy

Margin Protection Program enacted through the Agricultural Act of 2014
The Agricultural Act of 2014 was passed by both houses of Congress and signed into law by President Obama on Feb. 7, 2014.

The act repealed existing dairy provisions, including the Dairy Product Price Support Program (DPPSP), the Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC) and the Dairy Export Incentive Program (DEIP).

It extended the Dairy Forward Pricing Program, the Dairy Indemnity Program and certain provisions to augment the development of export markets under the National Dairy Promotion and Research Program.

Lastly, it introduced two new dairy programs – the Margin Protection Program for Dairy Producers (MPP) and the Dairy Product Donation Program.


Details of the new MPP, which was developed by the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF), were formally unveiled Aug. 28 by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

Every farm producing milk commercially was eligible to sign up at its local Farm Service Agency office for the new program. The sign-up period began on Sept. 2. It was originally announced to end on Nov. 28 but was later extended to Dec. 5 to ensure that dairy producers had time after the Thanksgiving weekend to sign up for the new dairy safety net.

Farmers were able to register for coverage for the last four months of calendar year 2014 as well as for all of 2015.

The program allows farmers to protect the margin between milk prices and feed costs. That margin is defined as the national all-milk price minus national average feed costs.

According to an NMPF press release, margins are insured on a sliding scale, and producers must decide annually both how much of their milk production to cover (from 25 percent up to 90 percent) and the level of margin they wish to protect.

The release continued to explain that basic coverage, at a margin of $4 per hundredweight (cwt), is offered at no cost. Above the $4 margin level, coverage is available in $0.50 increments up to $8 per cwt. Premiums are fixed for five years but will be discounted by 25 percent in 2014 and 2015 for annual farm production volumes up to four million pounds. Premium rates are higher at production levels above four million pounds.

When the margins announced by the USDA for the consecutive two-month periods of January-February, March-April, May-June, etc., fall below the margin protection level selected by the producer (from $8 per cwt down to $4), the program will pay farmers the difference on two months’ worth of their production history at the percentage of coverage they elected to insure.

After 2014, farmers will be able to change their coverage during a 90-day enrollment window from July 1 to Sept. 30 each year.

New Holland pavillion

New Holland Pavilions take center stage at World Dairy Expo
On April 11, the first shovels of dirt were turned at a groundbreaking ceremony for the New Holland Pavilions at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison, Wisconsin.

Construction of the new 290,000-square-foot pavilions was complete by mid-September, just in time for World Dairy Expo, Sept. 30 through Oct. 4.

The $24 million expansion was the largest construction project the Alliant Energy Center had ever seen. It replaced 11 barn facilities with two state-of-the-art multi-use pavilions.

“It’s been an effort and initiative that has evolved over at least 10 years – among dairy cattle exhibitors, WDE leaders and community leaders. What we have is the result of lots of efforts,” Scott Bentley, WDE general manager, said in an interview with Stephanie Skernivitz for Progressive Dairyman.

The pavilions, which are able to house 2,600 cattle, include two buildings. The first, 90,000 square feet, offers air conditioning and heating capabilities, a mezzanine level and pre-function space, concessions, restrooms, showers, cattle and horse stalls, and wash bays.

This space will also be equipped to house banquets and receptions and will feature a New Holland products display area.

The other pavilion, 200,000 square feet, has concessions, restrooms and a milking parlor, donated by BouMatic. The company installed a double-12 walkthrough milking parlor. Three areas in the milking parlor will include an area to milk cows, a milk house and a mechanical room.

This space is designed to replace a previously noisy, poorly ventilated space. The area includes observation windows for public viewing of the cows being milked.

Both buildings are up to code, environmentally speaking, featuring manure storage and wash racks under 25-foot overhang covers.

These exhibitor-friendly and visitor-friendly facilities are equipped with wide aisles, superior ventilation and lighting.

Undercover videos lose luster
Last year ended with the release of a video shot by an activist with Mercy For Animals in October and November while working at Wiese Brothers Farms in Wisconsin. The video shows employees trying to get cows to move by kicking and whipping the animals and using farm equipment to drag cows.

Wiese Brothers Farm supplied milk to Foremost Farms, which in turn supplied cheese to DiGiorno for its pizzas. After learning about the animal cruelty, Nestlé, which owns the pizza brand, told Foremost Farms it no longer would accept cheese made from milk from Wiese Brothers.

Wiese Brothers said it was unaware of the animal cruelty happening at the farm. The farm said it has taken steps to address the situation, including firing two of its employees, removing a third employee from animal-handling responsibilities, cooperating with law enforcement, hiring an independent animal care auditor to evaluate the farm’s written protocols for animal handling, updating its employee animal treatment pledge and implementing secret supervision to make sure employees are following protocol.

Eleven months later, another farm in America’s Dairyland was depicted in video released by Mercy for Animals. The video shows Andrus Dairy Farm employees working with “down cows” in order to help them stand on their own; some of the practices appear unnecessarily forceful. Other footage shows cows being hit and tail docking.

The farm, located in Birnamwood, Wisconsin, sells their milk to Mullins Cheese, a supplier to Great Lakes Cheese, which is headquartered in Hiram, Ohio. The video, released through the organization’s social media properties and through a Cleveland television station, was accompanied by a local media push and the launch of a new microsite aggregating MFA content related to the dairy industry as well as a petition.

After the release of the video, Great Lakes Cheese advised Mullins Cheese that it would no longer accept any cheese made with milk from Andrus Dairy.

A statement by the farm says, “We were shocked to see some of our employees not following appropriate animal handling practices on our farm. No one in our family was aware of such conduct occurring on our farm.

We don’t condone this kind of behavior and have immediately begun to work with our farm veterinarians and dairy industry resources to access and implement training and enforcement mechanisms to address proper animal handling with our workforce.”

The Shawano County Sheriff’s Department and the Shawano County District Attorney reviewed the video and determined that no laws were being broken. The dairy farm family has cooperated fully with the Shawano County Sheriff’s Department investigation.

While news of the video at Wiese Brothers Farms blew up all over the media just before the holidays last year, word of a similar incident at Andrus Dairy Farm was much more subdued.

Undercover videos may be losing their steam in stirring up the media and alarming the public. In one state, a law was signed to address them.

In February, Idaho’s Governor, C.L. “Butch” Otter, signed into law a bill aimed at hampering secret filming and recording of animal handling procedures at Idaho’s agriculture facilities.

Otter signed the bill just two days after it arrived at his desk. Previously, both the House and Senate threw in their support for the measure. The bill punishes for up to a year in jail those who are caught filming or recording without permission on ag facilities, according to an article by Katie Terhune in the Idaho Statesman.

The bill, dubbed the “ag gag bill” by its opponents, was prompted by a video secretly recorded at an Idaho dairy in 2012 by the animal rights group Mercy for Animals, depicting animal abuse at the facility.

Later in the year, a federal judge denied Idaho’s request to dismiss a lawsuit over the so-called law.

The case, Animal Legal Defense Fund et al. (ALDF) v. Otter et al., was filed in March and claims that the law unconstitutionally restricts First and Fourteenth Amendment protections, according to the Idaho Statesman.

The defendants were originally Otter and Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden. However, Judge B. Lynn Winmill’s ruling on Sept. 4 dismissed Otter from the case.

The judge also determined that the Animal Legal Defense Fund and other plaintiffs did not have standing to challenge the section of the law that prohibits “caus(ing) physical damage or injury to (an) agricultural facility’s operations.” The plaintiffs’ claim against that section was dismissed in the order.

However, Winmill did not dismiss claims that the law punishes criticism of animal agriculture, bans forms of protected speech and bans conduct preparatory to protected speech.

The ALDF alleges that “the law was drafted by the Idaho Dairymen’s Association ‘with the express purpose of disadvantaging animal rights and whistleblower speech’ and was supported by multiple legislators ‘specifically because it would silence animal protection organizations,’” which would violate the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause and is therefore subject to scrutiny.

The additional scrutiny does not mean that Winmill will find the law unconstitutional, “but only that the court will examine any potential reasons for the law with particular care to determine whether the statute reflects an impermissible bias against animal rights activists,” said the order.

The case is currently awaiting trial.

Additional farming films brought to the screen
Farmland, a feature-length cinematic documentary about six farmers and ranchers from around the country, opened in U.S. theaters in June. Allentown Productions produced the movie with financial support from the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance.

Director James Moll provided a first-hand glimpse into the lives of young farmers and ranchers who are responsible for running their farming business.

With visits to each farm throughout a year, Moll not only showed the effort it takes to grow food but also the passion producers have in doing so.

On the other end of the spectrum, Chipotle Mexican Grill released a series called Farmed and Dangerous on the streaming television service Hulu.

The four-episode series uses satire to advance the food chain’s marketing platform that today’s food system is controlled by “corporate agribusiness” and therefore is unsustainable and unhealthy.

The series raises concerns about American agriculture’s reliance on fossil fuels, animal care on large-scale operations and technologies such as hormone supplements, antibiotics and genetic modification.

Data showed Chipotle’s foray into the entertainment business was not a big hit with consumers. On Feb. 17, when the series premiered, online conversation about Farmed and Dangerous represented just 3 percent of total mentions of Chipotle, and within days it fell to about 1 percent.

Goodbye ‘got milk?’ hello ‘milk life’
The Milk Processor Education Program (MilkPEP) decided to replace its “got milk?” slogan with a message of “milk life.” While “got milk?” had more than 20 years of iconic status, spokespeople for MilkPEP indicate the “milk life” slogan will help convey the message of milk’s protein content and its place in a healthy lifestyle. Instead of milk mustaches, the new campaign shows ordinary people becoming extraordinary with the power of milk.

Farmers faced with drought
On Jan. 17, Gov. Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency for California, saying it’s facing perhaps the worst drought in more than 100 years.

Snowpack in California’s mountains was 20 percent of normal average, while its largest reservoirs were below record lows, according to a CNN report by Michael Martinez.

California has suffered from “extreme dry conditions” since 2011. The USDA had designated 27 of California’s 58 counties as natural disaster areas because of the drought, according to an article by Kurtis Alexander in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Other Western states are also threatened by drought. According to an article in the Yakima Herald, the USDA had designated moderate drought status for 93 percent of Washington; 75 percent of Oregon is in severe drought.

A report from the University of California – Davis (UC Davis) reinforced that California agriculture is weathering its worst drought in decades due to groundwater reserves.

The study released on July 15 found that the drought – the third most severe on record – is responsible for the greatest water loss ever seen in California agriculture, with river water for Central Valley farms reduced by roughly one-third.

Groundwater pumping is expected to replace most river water losses, with some areas more than doubling their pumping rate over the previous year, the study said. More than 80 percent of this replacement pumping occurs in the San Joaquin Valley and Tulare Basin.

If the drought continues for two more years, groundwater reserves will continue to be used to replace surface water losses, the study said. Pumping ability will slowly decrease, while costs and losses will slowly increase due to groundwater depletion.

Failure to replenish groundwater in wet years continues to reduce groundwater availability to sustain agriculture during drought – a situation lead author Richard Howitt of UC Davis called a “slow-moving train wreck.”

California’s organic dairymen searching for organic feed also faced a grim outlook due to the drought.

High organic feed prices have caused some organic dairies to shut down or switch to conventional milk production.

The farmers’ difficulties are seen on retail shelves. A CBS San Francisco report from Petaluma showed bare shelves in area supermarkets. One grocery store had a sign attributing the shortage to a nationwide increase in demand. With low water and feed supplies, the store expected the organic milk shortage to continue through December.

Meanwhile, there are signs of drought recovery in Texas. After being hit hard by drought in the last few years, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service Specialist Dr. Ellen Jordan said milk production in the Texas Panhandle has increased as a result of rain received since May, according to a recent AgriLife Today article.

“We had a number of very rough years with the drought in 2011 and 2012, and producers kind of held their own,” Jordan said. “Now we are beginning to see a little growth again in our industry. We aren’t seeing so many new farms go in, but some of the dairies that are here have expanded a little bit.

“In addition to seeing an increase in the number of dairy cows in this region, we are processing the milk in this region, so we are keeping additional jobs in this area for economic development,” Jordan said.

Another sign of recovery is declining feed prices. “As that reduction happens, it has really been positive for dairy. We are starting to see that with our soybean and protein costs,” Darren Turley of the Texas Association of Dairymen said in a NewsChannel 10 report. PD

The $24 million expansion was the largest construction project the Alliant Energy Center had ever seen. It replaced 11 barn facilities with two state-of-the-art multi-use pavilions. Photo by Ray Merritt.

karen lee

Karen Lee
Progressive Dairyman