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Weekly Digest: ‘The Amazing Cow’ studies dairy’s sustainability

Progressive Dairy Editor Dave Natzke Published on 21 January 2020

Digest Highlights

‘The Amazing Cow’ studies dairy’s sustainability

Dairying is often criticized for its alleged contributions to global warming. In reality, farmers across all facets of animal agriculture - beef, dairy, poultry and pork – have long-since embraced evolving techniques to produce meat, milk and eggs as efficiently and sustainably as possible.

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Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine (Penn Vet) are finding that cows are actually critical partners in developing sustainable, regenerative agro-food systems. Led by Zhengxia Dou, professor of agricultural systems, the team of researchers are conducting a dairy-focused project called “The Amazing Cow.” Funded by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, the study documents the types, amounts and variations of indigestible, unpalatable or unsellable biomass (IUUB) fed on dairy farms, characterizing important nutritional attributes and giving producers informed insights on how IUUB feedstuffs could be implemented on their farms.

A dairy operation in Lancaster County receives daily deliveries of apple waste from a processing facility. Another dairy gets three truckloads of vegetable and fruit discards, along with expired bread products, each week that originate from area distribution centers. Other producers across Pennsylvania have discovered the benefits of brewer’s waste as a viable source of feed.

On a national scale, livestock are consuming millions of pounds of otherwise unusable IUUB created in the production of various everyday products like soybean and canola oils, orange juice, ethanol and more.

Even post-consumer food waste generated in restaurants and consumer households can be converted into safe and nutritious feed for livestock. Dou’s team is working with Sustainable Alternative Feed Enterprises (SAFE), a pilot project in California, analyzing consumer food waste for mycotoxins, heavy metals, pesticides, microbial contaminants and nutrition parameters.

Refining the model has opened doors to other sustainable applications, looking at logistics of transport and costs, and the safe use of the materials on the farm, given their perishable natures. And the model doesn’t just focus on utilizing what goes into an animal, but also what comes out, seeking to adopt precision feeding strategies to optimize nutrient intake for high productivity while minimizing nutrient excretion in manure.

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Read: Amazing Cows Hold Promise in Pioneering Sustainable Food Systems of the Future.

Workforce Modernization Act on ‘impeachment’ hold

With the impeachment trial getting underway this week, it will take some time to get any legislation moving in the Senate, notes Bob Gray, with the Northeast Dairy Farmers Cooperatives. Specific to dairy, the Senate Judiciary Committee is the prime committee to take up agriculture immigration reform and the Workforce Modernization Act, and the key committee heading up the impeachment trial.

Tim Trotter, executive director of Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative, called on the Senate to take up the Workforce Modernization Act as soon as possible.

“Congress is at a crossroads,” Trottter said. ”Lawmakers can retreat to their corners and draw hard lines on immigration, or they can address the challenges confronting our farmers and work together so they can continue producing safe, nutritious and affordable food.”

Global factors aiding January dairy margins

With the exception of spot first quarter 2020, dairy income margins improved modestly over the first half of January as deferred milk futures contract prices continued to strengthen relative to nearby months. Forward optimism is rising as ratification of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) and the signing of the “phase one” trade deal between the U.S. and China should provide a positive tailwind to the market, according to Commodity & Ingredient Hedging LLC.

The global supply/demand balance continues to tighten, adding price support. Declining milk production in Oceania is a principal factor behind the stronger powder prices and tightening global supply/demand balance. Australia is having its driest spring on record dating back 120 years and struggled with brutal brush fires that encompassed about a third of the nation’s milk production. Drought and poor margins have pushed overall milk production to a 22-year low, with total milk output in Oceania falling short of the prior year in every month since February 2019. A January-November 2019 deficit of 1.7 billion pounds has offset 90% of the gains in milk production between the U.S. and European Union during the same period at 561 million and 1.33 billion pounds, respectively.

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Meanwhile, strong demand from China has driven Oceania to devote an increasing share of its milk supply to whole milk powder at the expense of skim milk powder, leading to strong world prices for skim milk powder and supporting the premium of Class IV milk relative to Class III.

The USDA will release December 2019 milk production estimates on Jan. 23 and the December Dairy Margin Coverage program margin on Jan. 31.

Global Dairy Trade index increases

The index of Global Dairy Trade (GDT) dairy product prices increased in the second auction of the year, Jan. 21. The overall index rose 1.7%, with most major dairy products showing price improvement:

  • Skim milk powder was up 0.7% to $3,036 per metric ton (MT).
  • Cheddar cheese was up 0.6% to $4,048 per MT.
  • Butter was up 5.5% to $4,250 per MT.
  • Whole milk powder was up 2.4% to $3,233 per MT.

The next GDT auction is Feb. 4.

Florida’s Larson family farms partner on digester project

Brightmark Energy has partnered with four dairy farms in central Florida to build and operate three anaerobic digesters that will convert dairy manure into renewable natural gas.

The project includes the construction of new anaerobic digesters at four Larson family dairy farms in Okeechobee County, including two farms owned by Larson Dairy Inc. and two farms owned by JM Larson Inc.

Projection completion is expected at the end of 2021. Once operational, the digesters will process about 230,000 tons of dairy manure per year from 9,900 cows and is anticipated to generate about 171,000 million British thermal units (Btu) of renewable natural gas each year.

Brightmark will develop, own and operate the project; the gas will be delivered into the local interstate gas pipeline system.

Brightmark Energy, a San Francisco-based waste and energy development company, also has active biogas projects in Washington, Wisconsin and New York, and is developing similar biogas projects nationwide.  end mark

Dave Natzke
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