Monthly Columns

There’s no doubt that 2012 was a challenging year for dairy families.  Record-high feed costs, the Midwest drought and low milk prices early in the year squeezed dairy families to the point where many had to close their barn doors. It’s estimated that more than 100 dairies shuttered in California in 2012, and that’s in addition to the more than 250 dairies that closed from 2009 to 2011.

California dairy families constantly renew their commitment to sustainability.  This means ongoing stewardship and protection of our planet’s precious natural resources, responsible and ethical care for animals, and delivering -- every single day -- nutrient-rich, healthy and safe dairy products to millions of consumers. 

It’s no secret that the California dairy community has made tremendous progress when it comes to sustainability. In an effort to tell the positive sustainability story of dairy families, Dairy Cares coalition members continue to look for opportunities to share this story firsthand with community leaders, stakeholders and other interested parties.

Marking another giant step forward for sustainable dairy farming – especially protecting valuable water resources – a non-profit project led by California dairy farmers this month entered a second critical phase to expand the nation’s first dairy monitoring network.

The recent temporary closure of a meat processing plant in Hanford, California prompted a national discussion on issues concerning farm animal handling, care and well-being.  It serves as a reminder of the importance of maintaining a food system in which consumers can continue to place their trust.

If the atmosphere of the dairy community could be summed up in one word, “uncertainty” has a strong case to make. Volatile feed costs, the Midwest drought and low milk prices at the farm make it hard to predict, much less plan for the future.

Leadership often involves taking the road less traveled, and in some cases, it means being the very first to traverse an uncharted path.

Recent headlines read, “California dairy herds contribute heavily to smog” and “LA smog: More cows than cars?” Attention grabbing? Yes. True? No.

As most dairy operators already know, water quality regulations adopted in May 2007 require all Central Valley dairies to install monitoring wells to demonstrate that management practices designed to protect groundwater are working properly. These regulations also require that samples from the wells are regularly tested at a certified laboratory to determine water quality.

With rising energy costs and the mounting number of home foreclosures, the economy continues to struggle to shake-off the effects of the 2009 economic downturn. Like other sectors, the California dairy community felt the impact of the “Great Recession," with 48 family dairies forced to close their barn doors and milking parlors just last year. That’s in addition to the nearly 200 family dairies that went out of business from 2009 to 2010.