Study tour to Wisconsin USA 16
It has been well documented that the challenge of low dairy prices is a global one, with this in mind a group of a dozen farmers accompanied by Mark Causey, Pete Davis and John Cann from CMC travelled to Wisconsin in America to see how they were adapting to the challenges they were facing.
The group visited farms of varying sizes from 3000 cows down to 300 and were surprised to find that along with margins, land and labour are their primary concerns.
Land was a limiting factor on all the farms visited, with manure disposal being one of the major challenges. There is tightening government legislation on manure application rates coupled with a very short time window for slurry application. One of the ways this was being addressed was through the use of sand reclamation. Most of the larger units (1000 cows plus) had adopted this practice due to the cost of using virgin sand and the associated reduction of solids to be disposed of.
Most farmers were concerned that the potential changes in the political system in the US, could threaten the supply of Hispanic milkers, but felt that the mass deportation of their labour pool was highly unlikely. Quality labour was the major issue, with good stock people and young talent being very hard to find, a situation not dissimilar to this country.
All of the farmers visited said that their milk price was very low and that they were breaking even or losing money. However, every one of them saw this as a natural cycle and that it would get better soon. The farmers felt they had to be better at producing milk, and that whatever the milk price looking after the cow and knowing your costs was the key to survival. Interestingly some of the farmers saw their neighbours as their competitors, and that they had to be more efficient than the farmer next door.
Very few cows in Wisconsin are grazed, but production from forage was still a high priority. In order to achieve this and maximise their milk from forage the focus was on improving the production of high quality conserved forage and better forage utilisation through varietal selection, feed presentation/storage and rationing.
The overall message from the visit was that farmers had to learn to produce milk cheaper. All the farmers that were visited were trying to cut costs in order to make their business more sustainable. However, the main costs they were looking at cutting were fixed costs rather than variable ones, so overheads rather than direct input costs. The strap line that we kept hearing was cut costs on everything that the cow wouldn’t notice.
The three nutritionists and their customers found that even 5000 miles away dairy producers had the same problems as in the UK. Land, Labour and milk price. However, they were uplifted by the fact that the Americans where trying to solve these problems in the same ways as farmers in the UK, by knowing their costs and trying to reduce them and by trying to be better dairy farmers