Five dairy farms targeted over workers
Federal immigration officials say five Vermont dairy farms are being asked to provide records proving their workers are legal. But the names of the farms aren’t being released. The farmers were targeted as part of a national crackdown on employers by federal officials. The federal immigration agency plans to audit the hiring records of 1,000 employers as part of a national effort against businesses suspected of using immigrant workers who have entered the country illegally.
—From AP newswire
USDEC identifies measures that impede dairy trade
The U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC) has identified a list of trade measures and policies that should be highlighted in an annual government report that details significant foreign barriers to U.S. exports. In joint comments filed with the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, USDEC listed nearly 20 measures from nine countries that should be included in the U.S. government’s “2009 National Trade Estimate Report on Foreign Trade Barriers.”
The report serves as a companion piece to the President’s Trade Policy Agenda published in February. Among the barriers listed were several that USDEC say impede U.S. dairy exports to China, a “swift growing market, making any trade challenges of particular concern to our industry.” Another long-standing concern highlighted was restrictive levels of Vitamin D fortification for milk in Mexico, which are far lower than those of Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the U.S. USDEC also cited concern with standards recently implemented in Canada that changed the composition standards for cheese.
— From USDEC news release
Feds to probe low milk prices paid to farmers
New York Senator Charles Schumer says he’s launching an investigation to find out why prices being paid to dairy farmers have dropped nearly 50 percent but the price for milk at the store is only down about 15 percent. A federal investigator is scheduled to meet with upstate New York dairy farmers in the next few weeks. —From WHEC-TV TEXAS Study finds CWT has enhanced milk checks by $1.54 per hundredweight Cooperatives Working Together has generated a return on investment of $1.54 per hundredweight so far in 2009, according to an independent economic analysis. That evaluation was released at the 2009 NMPF annual meeting in Grapevine, Texas, by Dr. Scott Brown of the University of Missouri.
Brown evaluated the impact of CWT’s two completed herd retirements in 2009, along with the lingering effect of the two conducted in 2008, as well as the herd retirement in 2007. He also noted positive contributions to price because of the bred heifer option that CWT has offered in recent years, along with CWT’s Export Assistance program, which while dormant this year, was active in 2007 and 2008. Brown’s analysis also showed that the combined effect of CWT’s cow-removal programs, as well as its export assistance program, added $2.4 billion to farm-level milk receipts in a year when dairy income is expected to shrink by more than $10 billion because of the global recession. The program has produced an average return of $0.67 per hundredweight since 2004, Brown reported.
—From CWT news release
Governor seeks solutions to aid dairy farmers
Governor Edward G. Rendell responded in a letter to the Pennsylvania Milk Marketing Board, identifying gaps in the state’s over-order premium and milk pricing structures that, if closed, will benefit dairy producers. The board has recently granted a petition filed by dairy farmers’ cooperatives to increase the over-order premium $0.50 to $2.65 for milk produced, processed and sold in Pennsylvania until December 31.
The over-order premium is an additional amount required to be paid to dairy farmers per hundredweight of fluid drinking milk above the minimum farm price set by the USDA. Governor Rendell is urging the board to take more aggressive action to help dairy producers, including:
• Closing the gaps in the current system that result in Pennsylvania dairy farmers not being paid the board’s mandated over-order premium on fluid drinking milk if their milk is processed or retailed out-of-state.
• Begin calculating the volume of fluid drinking milk sold in Pennsylvania on which consumers pay the board’s minimum retail price, but processors do not pay the over-order premium to a dairy farmer.
—From Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture news release
Debt finance report for U.S. farm businesses released
Income and wealth for farm businesses have changed noticeably this decade. Debt levels have been rising, asset levels have outpaced debt despite a recent fall in land prices, and equity has more than doubled for farm businesses. Total farm sector debt reached a record $240 billion in 2008, a $26 billion increase over 2007. Debt is expected to decline to $234 billion in 2009. Farm income growth, along with competition for farmland for nonfarm uses, has driven up the value of agricultural land, which accounts for 87 percent of farm assets. With higher farm returns and a larger collateral base, the farm sector is in a better position to borrow and repay farm debt than it was 20 years ago. The sector’s debt-to-asset ratio fell from 21 percent in 1986 to less than 10 percent in 2007.
The distribution of debt among farm operators has also been changing. In 1986, nearly 60 percent of farms used debt financing. By 2007, the number had dropped to 31 percent. In essence, farm debt has become more concentrated in fewer, larger farm businesses. Lenders and farm operators indicate that real estate accounts for the largest use of farm debt. Other significant uses of farm debt include equipment and machinery loans and short-term operating loans. Debt repayment capacity utilization (DRCU) of farm operators has dropped since the 1980s – from 27 percent in 2000 to 22 percent in 2007. Larger farms are more likely to use more of their debt capacity.
—From USDA ERS report
UVM helps ailing dairy industry
The University of Vermont is participating in the new Keep Local Farms program that allows consumers and organizations to contribute directly to the New England Family Dairy Farmer Cooperative. The pool of money is then divided up and given back to farmers. UVM students were soon supposed to see a 10-cent decrease in the price of a 14-ounce bottle of milk, but instead voted to maintain the current price and give the 10 cents back to the industry. “We can sell anywhere from 40,000 to 60,000 bottles of 14-ounce milk, so we’re looking at anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000 potentially each year,” said Melissa Zelazny of the UVM Dining Services. The 10-cent differential does not yet apply to the bulk milk consumed in UVM’s 15 dining halls, just the bottles of milk at the school’s convenience stores and retail establishments.
Milk ads filmed in New Zealand
The California Milk Advisory Board is planning new commercials touting California milk from California cows. But the ads will be shot in New Zealand, according to the Los Angeles Times. In January, the Board plans to shoot some of the 10 California “Happy Cows” TV commercials in Auckland. New Zealand’s low production costs have enticed the entertainment industry to move some of its production to that country recently. “It was a no-brainer,” Michael Freeman, the Board’s vice president of advertising, told the Times. “The dairy industry is facing the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. We have a fiduciary responsibility to spend their hard-earned dollars as efficiently as we can.”
Hired workers down 2 percent, wage rates up 2 percent from a year ago
There were 1,092,000 hired workers on the nation’s farms and ranches during the week of October 11-17, down 2 percent from a year ago. Of these hired workers, 807,000 workers were hired directly by farm operators. Agricultural service employees on farms and ranches made up the remaining 285,000 workers. Farm operators paid their hired workers an average wage of $10.91 per hour during the October 2009 reference week, up 21 cents from a year earlier. Field workers received an average of $10.25 per hour, up 20 cents from last October, while livestock workers earned $10.23 per hour compared with $10.21 a year earlier.
The field and livestock worker combined wage rate, at $10.24 per hour, was up 15 cents from last year. The number of hours worked averaged 39.0 hours for hired workers during the survey week, down 6 percent from a year ago. The 2009 U.S. all hired worker annual average wage rate was $10.82 per hour, up 2 percent from the 2008 annual average wage rate of $10.59 per hour. The U.S. field worker annual average wage rate was $10.07 per hour, up 29 cents from last year’s annual average. The field and livestock worker combined annual average wage rate at the U.S. level was $10.11 per hour, up 2 percent from last year’s annual average wage rate of $9.89 per hour. —From NASS news release
Job prospects drawing students to ag schools
There is a growing number of students being drawn to ag schools around the country not by ties to a farm but by science, the job prospects for those who are good at it and, for some, an interest in the environment. Enrollment in bachelor’s degree programs in agriculture across the country grew by 21.8 percent from 2005 to 2008, from about 58,300 students to nearly 71,000, according to surveys conducted by the USDA. National enrollment figures for 2009 aren’t yet available, but numbers from schools make clear the trend continues: The University of California–Davis has more than 5,490 students enrolled in ag majors – a jump of 210 from 2008. Purdue University has 2,575 ag students, up 40 from last year.
Many students are choosing to major in agriculture, educators from across the country say, after finding out that much of what they’ll learn is science – biology, chemistry and a long list of more specialized areas that can land them jobs at companies that produce the seeds and chemicals for farmers or in developing industries like biofuels. Demand for science graduates, agriculture industry officials say, outstrips supply. PD
—From AP newswire