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What’s happening in 2012: An outlook from extension experts

PD Editor Walt Cooley Published on 10 February 2012

This article was #21 of the Top 25 most well-read articles on in 2012. to jump to the article and watch the videos. It was published in the February 13, 2012 Extra. Click here for the full list of the Top 25.

Progressive Dairyman Editor Walt Cooley interviewed several dairy extension specialists in February about what they thought would make dairy news in 2012. Topics included price and availability of forage, dairy processing expansion, milk prices and immigration.



We invited the same extension experts to respond to one of two questions:
Q. Name something from 2012 that you would consider to be a ‘black swan’ event for dairy producers. Describe how you think successful managers handled these circumstances.

The drought in the Midwest causing feed prices to escalate. Things looked pretty good early on in the season for us in the Southwest, especially with the forecasted return of El Niño to get some moisture during the summer to be able to climb out of the severe drought situation from 2011 and offset some of the slipping milk prices. Look what happened. Now looking back, La Niña won, we never turned the El Niño corner and here we are.

Producers continue to improve on their management skills and continue to do more with less. It is amazing to see that with the horrible forage situation and quality from 2011, we still are hanging on to the production numbers.

Although we have lost a substantial amount of dairies: Three years of uninterrupted disaster (2009-2010 milk prices, feed costs and drought, 2011 drought and 2012’s repeat of 2009) was just too much for some. Good beef prices really helped dairies reduce cow numbers and hold on to the best of the herd.

Now, we just hold on to a new farm bill and hope for good milk prices, common sense in D.C. and rain.
—Robert Hagevoort, Extension Dairy Specialist, New Mexico State University


The biggest “black swan” event for dairy producers in the southern Mid-Atlantic states was the weather and its impact on feed prices and forage quality. Dry weather is not an uncommon occurrence for producers in our area of the country.

As a result, most progressive dairy producers have installed irrigation equipment if suitable water resources are available, and they harvest sufficient forage to provide for a six-month carryover at the beginning of each harvest season.

We also had a very warm, wet spring followed by some cooler dry weather. Early seedings of corn were often replanted due to damage from slugs or poor germination. Our better managers followed the markets closely and contracted for sufficient energy sources early in the season.

They also have tightened feed management through use of feed management software and reduced the “safety margin” for starch and protein. The use of rumen-protected amino acids has enabled them to reduce crude protein in diets and maintain high levels of performance.

Response to high feed prices was along a broad front of reducing risk in forage production and better management of feed resources.
—Bob James, Extension Dairy Specialist, Virginia Tech

Q. What do you think will make news in the dairy industry in 2013?


It is very hard to foresee the future, but I believe several topics currently impacting the dairy industry will still be in the news in 2013.

The first topic is immigration. It is no secret that the dairy industry depends on foreign-born employees and that there are almost no options to recruit and retain entry-level foreign-born dairy workers. The large turnout of Hispanic voters in the recent election might stimulate bipartisan effort in immigration, and 2013 might be the year where we would either see a comprehensive immigration reform or at least agriculture-related immigration legislation.

Feed availability and price, as well as financing availability, will also remain in the news as banks are asking for more and more equity and closely scrutinizing feed lines and other agriculture-related lines of credit. This might lead to more foreclosures, especially for dairies that purchase most of their feeds. Hopefully milk prices will continue to improve so dairy producers will be seeing a profit.
—Mireille Chahine, Extension Dairy Specialist, University of Idaho

Progressive Dairyman
Editor Walt Cooley recently talked with several dairy extension specialists from around the country after a conference committee meeting in Reno, Nevada. He asked each of them to give an outlook about what's ahead in 2012. Each responded to the question: "What do you think will make news in the dairy industry in 2012?"

Click a link below to jump directly to a specialist or area of the country:

Bob James

Extension Dairy Specialist, Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech Extension Dairy Specialist Bob James discusses the impact of availability and price of forages on East Coast dairies in 2012. Other topics addressed: nutrition, feeding, calf raising.

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Norm St-Pierre
Extension Dairy Specialist, Ohio State University

Ohio State University Extension Dairy Specialist Norm St-Pierre says uncertainty may define the year of 2012. Other topics addressed: risk management, milk supply.

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Bob Hagevoort
Extension Dairy Specialist, New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University Extension Dairy Specialist Bob Hagevoort says quality feed availability will be critical for success in the Southwest in 2012. Other topics addressed: dairy financing.

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Tom Overton
Extension Dairy Specialist, Cornell University

Cornell University Extension Dairy Specialist Tom Overton says the quality of the 2011 silage crops will soon be uncovered in the Northeast. These will likely be highly variable. Other topics discussed: dairy processing expansion, milk prices.

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Mireille Chahine
Extension Dairy Specialist, University of Idaho

University of Idaho Extension Dairy Specialist Mireille Chahine says purchased feed costs will continue to challenge dairies in the Northwest in 2012. Other topics discussed: dairy processing, milk prices, immigration.

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