Waterbeds, ice cream and family — All in a dairy tour!

By Joseph L. Murphy

Participants of the Iowa Grocery Industry Association (IGIA) annual meeting had the opportunity to tour two Dubuque County dairy farms Tuesday and learn more about where their food comes from. The tour, sponsored by the Iowa Food & Family Project along with Midwest Dairy Association, gave 20 visitors the chance to tour milking parlors, touch newborn dairy calves and learn more about milking robots and the future of dairies in Iowa.

A dairy cow watches as visitors tour a dairy near Dubuque, Iowa. (Photo Joseph L. Murphy)

A dairy cow watches as visitors tour a dairy near Dubuque, Iowa. (Photo Joseph L. Murphy)

The first stop on the tour was at the Reuter Dairy near Peosta. The family-owned dairy milks about 850 cows and produces about 2.7 million gallons of milk annually, according to Rick Reuter. The family prides itself on not only producing healthy, high-quality milk, but in making sure that the cows remain comfortable year round.

“We strive to run the dairy in such a way that consumers are confident in the both the product quality and the animal care,” Reuter told the tour group. “We focus on the end result of producing the safest, highest-quality milk for the consumer.”

The IGIA is a partner of the Iowa Food & Family Project and the tour allowed grocery leaders to gain a better understanding of farming.

A farmer describes the milking process to visitors. (Photo: Joseph L. Murphy)

A farmer describes the milking process to visitors. (Photo: Joseph L. Murphy)

Gary Munson, a representative from Kellogg’s USA, jumped at the chance to take the tour after watching a program on Iowa Public Television about a large dairy in Indiana.

“I was more impressed with what I saw today than even my expectations could match,” Munson said. ”For instance, the first place we went to was so clean, I can’t imagine how much time it would take to keep it like that. I was really impressed.”

The second farm the group visited was at the Hoefler Dairy near New Vienna. The family-owned dairy began in 1962 and sets itself apart by using three robotic milkers. The milkers allow the cows to decide when they want to be milked, which is usually three times a day.

“If the cow feels the need to be milked, she just simply walks to the robotic milker,” Joan Hoefler explained.

housed in free stall barns equipped with waterbeds and mattresses for the cows to lie on. The cows also have constant access to food and water.

Heidi Boehme, who grew up on a farm, attended the farm tours with her children to show them how farm families work together.

“Dairy is a big part of our life because my husband works for Wells,” she said. “Getting to see the process of how milk gets to our table interests me. It was also interesting to see that there is more automation today than when I was growing up on a farm. But, even with the automation, you can tell that farmers and their families play an active role.”

The tour ended with participants talking with the dairy farm families while enjoying fresh ice cream.

Originally published for the Iowa Soybean Association. Find more great stories at: www.iasoybeans.com/news

Drought dries dairy profits

By Joseph L. Murphy

I’ve been trying my hand at cooking lately and found that many recipes I make require milk. It wasn’t until a recent visit to a dairy farm that I discovered milk has its own ingredient list. Items like Hay, corn, soybean meal and silage are the ingredients that help to make delicious and nutritious milk. What happens when those ingredients dry up?

Kelly Cunningham, a Managing Partner of Milk Unlimited Dairy Farms in Atlantic, worries that drought conditions will continue to impact the dairy industry. (Photo: Joseph L. Murphy)

Kelly Cunningham, a Managing Partner of Milk Unlimited Dairy Farms in Atlantic, worries that drought conditions will continue to impact the dairy industry. (Photo: Joseph L. Murphy)

Those ingredients, or feed supplies, are becoming harder and harder to find as the drought conditions expand across the country. Ingredients like corn, alfalfa, cottonseed and hay have been impacted by the dry weather so availability is becoming less and less.

“My dairy cattle don’t know there is a drought going on,” Kelly Cunningham, a Managing Partner of Milk Unlimited Dairy Farms in Atlantic, said. “We still need to find food for them and to do that we’re bringing in hay from as far away as the four corners region of Utah, Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico.”

It would seem, for dairy farmers across the country, that possession truly is nine-tenths of the law these days. As the drought ruins more and more of the crops, possessing the hay used for feed becomes exceedingly significant in protecting it from other buyers wanting to purchase it for a higher price.

Cunningham manages a dairy farm that has 3400 cows. The cows produce milk in comfort on sand beds and in tunnel ventilated buildings. Those practices help keep the cows comfortable year round. There are 33 employees at the dairy but Cunningham is quick to point out that, for every employee, there are 15 other jobs tied to the farm in the area.

“We like to say that we’re a 15 family farm,” Cunningham said with a smile. “We provide milk to Anderson Erickson in Des Moines four times a day.”

Currently businesses like Anderson Erickson pay around $18 per hundred weight of milk. That number has shrunk from last years price of $23 per hundred weight. Combine that decrease with an increase in feed costs due to the drought and that is a recipe for troubled times.

“My milk has gone down $5 per hundred weight while my feed has gone up 25 percent,” he said. “So it is a double whammy right now.”

Cunningham went on to say that the future price for milk is expected to go up over the next three months so that should give them some relief. The duration of the drought has Cunningham worried about feed supplies for next year and beyond. At those prices, Cunningham will need milk prices to be at $20 or $21 per hundred weight to break even.

“Right now you’re pulling out of your savings account to keep your business running,” Cunningham said. “You can do that as long as you have something in your savings account. So we might have to look at scaling back the cows we milk and try to find cheaper feed. We have to make up that money from somewhere.”

Alternative feeds have been one way of closing the feed cost gap for his dairy. Ingredients like Molasses, beet pulp, and cottonseed have helped to supplement the diets of the cows while using less of the expensive commodities like corn and hard to find ingredients like hay.

“We are doing things every day to prepare for the future and prepare for the volatility,” Cunningham said. “We have cheaper feed in this area because this is where everything is grown. That gives us an advantage over other areas of the country that have to pay transportation costs to get their feed. Here in the Midwest we have as good of a chance as anyone to make it.”

Cunningham went on to say that the costs that they are paying for feed ingredients will raise the cost of ingredients in the food that we eat. So next year the gallon of milk pulled from the cooler at the grocery store could cost you 20 percent more.

Originally published for the Iowa Soybean Association. Find more great stories at: www.iasoybeans.com/news