2/2/2013 7:00 AM
By Charlene M. Shupp Espenshade Special Sections Editor
Positive Dairy Margins Predicted for Later in 2013
EPHRATA, Pa. — Mount Joy Farmers Cooperative Association members have something to crow about — it was another record-breaking year for them.
The Mount Joy, Pa.-based dairy cooperative shipped 603 million pounds of milk, an all-time high. More than one-third of the cooperative membership earned honor roll status for 12 consecutive months of quality premiums.
Members gathered Monday at the Hinkletown Reception Center to hear from cooperative leadership, celebrate 2012 and look forward to 2013.
Cooperative manager Gib Martin said it was the first year the cooperative broke 600 million pounds. The co-op’s membership also grew to a record 319 farms, mostly in southeastern Pennsylvania and one in Washington County, Md. Milk was shipped in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Maryland.
During last year’s public health rating, six farms achieved a perfect rating score.
Martin said several dairy plants have begun testing milk for aflatoxin, which had been found in grains and corn silage this past year due to the difficult growing season. He reminded producers that milk which tests positive will be handled like a positive antibiotic test.
Mount Joy Cooperative markets its milk in partnership with Dairylea Cooperative, and Dairylea’s first vice president, David White of Clymer, N.Y., spoke to the members.
White and his family operate Cabhi Farm, a 199-cow dairy in southwestern New York state. He joked that family members Justin and Fred White were the famous members of the White family, with their viral video “Farm It Maybe.”
“There is a lot of plant expansion happening in the Northeast,” he said, referring to the cooperative. “I like to think that is good for our industry. It is going to give us some opportunities. For the next generation that wants to come into dairying, there will be opportunities, and that is a plus.”
White described his own farm as one that “slowly has progressed” and said the new plants will provide for farm expansion.
However, he said his family has placed a hold on its plans and is waiting to see how N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed regulations for concentrated animal feeding operations turn out.
Based on current regulations, the family’s farm is just below the CAFO threshold.
White also spoke about farm transitions.
“We are going through it right now,” he said, explaining that his father is transitioning out as his son is transitioning into the farm.
White told the members that if they need any assistance with their transitions, the cooperative is there to help.
Tim Virgil of Dairy Marketing Services, or DMS, said if there is anything farmers can be certain of in 2013, it’s uncertainty.
He pointed out that the weather patterns of the past two years — the floods of 2011 and the dry weather of 2012 — raises the question, what is normal?
Looking at industry trends, Virgil said traditional dairy states are showing production growth while the states that follow the Western model, purchasing all their feeds, are struggling.
“What goes on out here (in the West) has an impact on your blend price” and is something that should be watched, he said.
Dairylea economist Ed Gallagher has predicted that the first couple of months of 2013 would have positive margins, according to Virgil, but that national dairy margins will be negative in the summer and won’t reach positive levels again until the fall.
Corn and soybean prices could drop by fall, as well, Virgil said.
January milk check prices, before premiums, are expected to average $19.26 per hundredweight — about a dollar less than the December price and just below the $19.36 projected for February.
Virgil said cheese prices are retreating, causing the price drops, but that prices should pick up this summer.
Virgil reminded farmers that the Milk Income Loss Contract program is back and retroactive to September. There will be a small payment from October, and February and March could have checks as well. He reminded farmers to contact their Farm Service Agency offices to make sure they have everything in order.
Mount Joy Cooperative President Don Risser congratulated the membership for its efforts in meeting milk quality standards.
But he also challenged members to think about the “cliffs” of the dairy industry and reflect on whether they are peering up the rock face or looking over the side.
Recognizing that not all members have achieved the needed somatic cell count of 400,000 or less, he said he believes the tools are there for everyone to address milk quality.
Feed cost is something farmers continue to struggle with, and Risser said he has seen farmers start to double- and triple-crop to increase homegrown forage levels.
However, as farmers look for ways to balance the ration against cost, it’s important to keep meeting the cow’s nutritional needs, he said. Cutting corners will cost the farm.
Risser closed by talking about farm labor. It’s more than just immigration reform, he said. It’s all labor, including the challenges of children working on farms.
He said it is important for farmers to work with farm organizations to balance safety against the values children gain from working on farms.
A couple of farmers were honored by the cooperative with awards presented at Tuesday’s meeting in Perry County.
The first went award to Ken Balmer of Elizabethtown, Pa., for his years of service on the Mount Joy board of directors.
Mervin Martin of Lebanon, Pa., received the Superior Management Award, which recognizes a farm for quality milk production and inspection scores.