My friends in town would have appreciated the discussions at a recent dairy meeting that I attended in Columbus. About 150 dairy farmers in the group were focused on several things, but one main topic was milk quality.
They know that they produce their healthy product, milk, to be consumed and enjoyed by families every where. And they know that quality is essential for their milk to be enjoyed, along with the many great dairy foods that come from milk.
As you would expect, when a group like this gets together, they have many things on their minds. Making sure that the milk they produce is top quality is a priority.
But more than that, they like to know that consumers are also aware of their good, healthful product and want to buy their milk and other dairy products.
So selling their product was part of their discussions. Looking at ways to encourage more use of milk and dairy products was a lively topic.
Finding ways to tell the story of their products to family members, young and older, were on their minds. They had a chance to look at a company up in Minnesota and Wisconsin that has taken a very aggressive approach to selling their dairy products.
Next year's milk price was an important subject. One problem is that dairy farmers do too good a job of producing milk.
While the number of cows in the U.S. keeps dropping every year, the reduction was smaller than usual in 2011. On top of that, milk production from each cow last year was up about 185 pounds. So the milk supply in the country is about 3 percent more than we consume. That is enough to keep farm prices down so dairy farmers may not get as much for their milk this year.
Combine lower farm milk prices with continued high feed prices causes dairy farmers to be concerned about a reasonable profit for family living. Volatility seems to be the word describing farm milk prices.
Global production of milk is also part of the picture. Dried whey, nonfat dry milk, butter and cheeses can be shipped long distances. In 2011, about 13 percent of the milk in the U.S. was exported in these forms.
But other countries, such as New Zealand and Australia, if they have a surplus, can do the same thing. There is competition among countries for the export market.
Informal discussions around the dinner table tend to bring out what dairy farmers and those in the marketing field are really thinking about.
Concern was expressed about the 14 trucks in a feed lot in California that were burned by an animal rights group. "Terrorists" was the name given to these groups. Dairy farmers are rightfully concerned about the extreme tactics animal rights groups will use to try to force livestock farmers out of business.
Too many government regulations were a part of dinner table talk. Regulations that affect farmers include who they can hire to help on the farm, duplicate pesticide regulations that might stop the use of some well-recognized and safe pesticides, dust control on the farm, new water regulations and more.
Weather is always a topic. This open winter has been good for work around the barn and farm buildings. And it's always easier to work around the cows when the weather is warmer. Milking parlors where lots of water is needed to wash udders and equipment are more comfortable.
Dairy farms selling out was another part of the conversation. There were rumors that three and maybe four dairy farms in this part of Ohio are selling out this spring. Fewer and fewer farms but more milk seems to be part of the picture.
It was an interesting meeting with much to think about on the way home.
Parker is an independent agricultural writer and works with the local Farm Bureau Board.