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NODPA Regional Round Up: March 2015

Added March 10, 2015

Roman Stoltzfoos, Secretary,
Lancaster County Graziers
South East Pennsylvania Graziers
Conference, Ronks, PA

The 22nd Annual South East PA Graziers Conference kicked off with a local Old Order Amish farmer, Elam Stoltzfus, giving many practical guidelines on how to, as he put it, “buy another farm without adding to your liabilities or property tax.”

That is, with good grazing management you can increase your dry matter production and therefore animal performance to new levels. His 30 cow dairy is in its 6th year and has had many issues solved with the move toward mobbing cattle and improving the trample and preserving the solar plate for quicker turn around times on grazing. Good management equals the advantages of more acreage by making your current acreage much more productive. Elam walked us very gently through the process of understanding how to work with grass to maximize quality production, but reminded us also that the most important thing on a farm is family. Animal care and performance are also very important. Healthy food is the result that discerning consumers will seek when coming to your farm, and they will talk to others about it.

Cliff Hawbaker from Chambersburg, PA shared how he increases quality and production by what he calls, “a well-timed spring pruning” that is done just as grass is coming off of its peak. Cliff is convinced that the most efficient and profitable way to make soil work for you is to learn how to properly graze milking cattle. He milks once a day and ships the milk from his dairy to Trickling Springs Dairy nearby. Many practical pointers were shared about using what to most seems like radical ideas to make the farm more enjoyable and profitable.

Brendon and Katia Holmes from Misty Brook Farm in Maine gave us an overview of the grit it takes to be successful in making a living from a farm. Neither one ever had an opportunity to learn it from parents nor receive help from family to get started. The team spirit that was evident in the talk is, no doubt, their greatest asset. They are on what was Henry Perkins’ Bull Ridge Farm, Albion, ME, and enjoy having the opportunity to build on what he has done for the past many years. They run a very diverse farm with a 30-cow dairy as the centerpiece enterprise. Direct-marketing raw milk and cream is a big share of their business. Cows are followed closely by hogs and vegetables and many other small enterprises that add up to a good living for themselves and about 5-6 full time workers. They know how to track the cost of each enterprise carefully so they know what the end cost to the consumer needs to be. They have a very loyal following of buyers for the high quality product that is delivered to stores in Maine. Average customer travel distance for those who come to the farm is about 45 miles.
Along with the above, we also enjoyed highlights from three other presenters.

We toured Switzerland with Judy Mudrack who does groups tours through the Alps. She gave us a PowerPoint tour of dairy farming in the Swiss Alps and shared about the struggles of the small European Dairies. Elmer Stoltzfus, an Amish accountant, gave many good pointers about keeping records and tracking costs on farm and why it’s important to budget. Simeon Yoder, old order Amish farmer from Somerset County, PA, showed us how to take worthless strip-mined soils and build it into useful and attractive green pastures that provide milk for cheese.
This two day conference had a pre-registration fee of $50 ($60 for walk-in) for both days and included a very tasty home-cooked meal at noon, and proved to be a good investment for the 180 people who attended. This is held annually during the 3rd full week in February.

To get on the mailing list, you can contact Roman Stoltzfoos at romans@epix.net. The meeting was held in the warehouse at the Lancaster Ag headquarters in Ronks, PA, making it easy for farmers to pick up supplies needed for their organic or grazing farm at home. Lancaster Ag is a huge supporter of the sustainable and agricultural community all across the east coast area. All the sessions were recorded and can be ordered from Cocalico Print Shoppe by calling
717-336-4179.

Linda and George Wright
Hermon, New York

We didn’t have much snow in December but the first two weeks of February have not been kind. We have seen a couple feet of snow and a lot of below zero temperatures. The cold is predicted to hold on for most of February.

Feed in this area remains tight but it looks like most farmers will make it through if spring gets here at a normal time or at least near normal. Sometimes freshening cows in the winter can be a challenge but so far this year seems to be going well. Cull cow and bull calf prices remain high with cows fetching 80 cents to as high as a dollar per pound. Bull calves are bringing $2.50- $4.00 dollars per pound.

One of the highlights for us this year is that there is close to half a dozen processors looking for milk and that can only mean higher prices for us farmers. I can hardly wait to see how much milk will be worth this year! I always find it interesting that the processors just can’t afford any more money for the farmers until they are threatened with losing their producers. Then it seems the sky is the limit.

Jack Brigham, St. Albans, VT

Hello from Northeast Vermont. Winter has gripped us with both hands. Below zero temps, deep snow. Our freestall barn is cold manure, frozen watertubs where they have little holes we keep open with an ax. Baleage is also frozen which makes feeding harder. We are looking forward to spring. Hope to start tapping trees in a week or so. Milk is $39.84 for 5% butterfat, 3.58% protein, SCC 179,000. Grain is $667 per ton for a 14%, baleage is selling around $60 for a 4x5 second cut clover. Stay warm!

Pam and Rob Moore,
Nichols, New York

The price of organic milk is rising, and there’s increased competition among buyers serving and moving into our region for milk. We can hear the drums beating for no-grain milk, but we don’t yet have a market for ours. We have a little bit of optimism for the first time in a decade. We’ve been shipping no-grain organic milk for 18 years now and are eager to get paid a fair price for it.

The winter weather is making farming darn inconvenient. We had to use an excavator last week to dig up the groundhog so it could deliver its forecast of 6 more months of winter. We got our first big snow at Thanksgiving and it hasn’t let up. Looks like all the moisture we didn’t get during the grazing season is coming now.

We attended a standing room only No-Grain Dairy Meeting in PA last month, where attendance was triple expectations. Markets for no-grain organic milk are expanding in the NY/PA area. Wisconsin grazier Cheyenne Christianson, who ships no-grain milk to Organic Valley, spoke about his farming practices and answered questions from the large audience of current and future no-grain dairy farmers.

We sent 4 black and white late lactation cows to the sale barn on Dec. 29th ranging from 1056 to 1264 pounds. They brought $84.50, $99.00, $101.50 and $105.50 per hundredweight, the bigger cows bringing the higher prices.
Henry Perkins, Albion, ME

This winter is beginning to wear on me, with all the snow we’ve been getting, about 50 inches in the last week and several more inches coming down right now. High temperatures are hovering around 0 degrees.

I’ve been thinking about the shortage of organic milk on the store shelves and what seems to be the obvious solution; raise the price paid to the farmer. Do you suppose that processors are following the old adage in the conventional milk industry: “that if you want to increase supply, cut the price?” This will force farmers either to feed more grain or add more cows to cover their costs. This doesn’t seem to be working for the organic milk industry, however, for at least two reasons: organic grain is extremely expensive, and many farms don’t have the land base to add more cows to satisfy the pasture requirements.

Lots of farms in my area have instead cut back on grain which, in turn, increases forage consumption and lowers milk production. This has created a real shortage of organic hay which is beginning to show up now. I no longer milk cows but I do sell organic hay, and I’ve been sold out for some time now. I’m not the only one.

When I first started shipping organic milk, the word was that there was a “glass ceiling” of $20.00/cwt. or the consumer would stop buying the stuff; turned out not to be the case. If you ask me, organic milk should be $45-47.00/cwt. I know many will disagree with me, just like back when we were asking $25.00/cwt.

Now, what I see happening is that more farmers will begin to feed less grain, and as long as organizations like Cornucopia continue to expose facilities that operate more like feedlots instead of pasture-based dairies, there will continue to be a shortage of organic milk unless the price to the farmer is increased.

Steve Morrison, Charleston, Maine

Maine Organic Milling (MOM) closed its doors after four years of milling and delivering grain to organic livestock producers. It was a cooperatively owned start-up with significant operating support from Organic Valley as well as private and public investors.

Ideally situated on a rail siding, MOM’s home was in a retired conventional feed mill previously owned by Blue Seal. It offered customers a unique opportunity: they could be an active participant in creating their own grain mix, and it was always clear what inventory was on hand and at what price it was being offered. It was distinctive in the marketplace in that customers could count on the quality of ingredients and have access to up-to-date information them.

Despite its offering of a high quality product, the mill suffered from its oversized facility; it had a capacity many times over its monthly throughput. There was also reluctance from Maine’s organic dairy producers, the mills largest volume customers, to feed much grain during a period of extremely tight margins. The mill failed just prior to the announcement of a pay price increase to organic milk producers. MOM was unable to remain viable at a time when its largest customers were forced to limit input costs to their dairy herds.

Northern Vermont Farmer

One farmer reported that he is feeding less grain because of rising costs. He feeds grain based on the following formula: 1-100 DIM- 1 pound of grain per 2 ½ pounds milk, 101-200 DIM- 1 pound of grain per 3# milk, 200 DIM-dry- 1# of grain per 4# milk. Milk and production weights come from monthly DHIA testing. His total herd size is 150 head with 52 cows currently in milk and his grain, purchased from Morrison’s, is costing about $7500/month. He milks Holstein and Jersey Holstein crosses; ships to OV through the St. Albans Co-op; and with winter premiums in place, is making $37.50/cwt.

The farmer had to have his faithful dog of 15 years put down the day before. He recounted a story of the dog saving his life when he had been knocked flat by a bull. In desperation, the farmer yelled at his dog to go for the bull, and not thinking twice, the dog grabbed the bull by the nose, allowing the farmer to get himself up. The farmer reflected, “That dog was a trooper; he was a loyal friend and will be well missed.”

Leon Corse, Whitingham, Vermont

Mailbox milk price, including quality is currently $ 37.53- 4.0 fat, 3.0 protein. Our custom pelleted 14% grain mix is going for $706/ton.

We are buried in snow. We haven’t seen this much in many years, seems like it was when I was a kid, 50 years ago! Now we have a week of bitter cold with a wicked wind, too. We had lots of ice in December so that makes plowing fun as it hasn’t melted.

Cows are not milking like most years, partly breeding challenges, so days in milk are way out. Lower production is also due to the fact that we’re trying to be less grain dependent.
We have plenty of feed which tests pretty good and lots of potential buyers for our surplus. Price for 2nd crop baleage (4 foot) is $42, and 1st cut dry (5 foot) is $65.

We are really looking forward to spring.

Darlene Coehoorn, Rosendale, Wisconsin

This winter in Wisconsin has been cold, windy without much snow. We are concerned that the winter grains may not make it with all of the extreme cold without snow cover. Competition for organic milk is still very strong with producers having a choice where they want to market their production. Prices have come up some as supply of organic milk is still short. Sadly, conventional prices are headed much lower as that milk supply seems to be out of balance.

Encourage your conventional neighbors to take a look at organic production as an alternative to the periodic plunges in the conventional pay price and to help supply the growing need for organic products.

Chores have been really arduous as the cold takes its toll on equipment, animals and people. Needing a break, we decided to take a road trip to the National Farm Machinery show in Louisville. In an effort to make the ride more enjoyable, we took the scenic route (two lanes instead of four) which took us thru more farmland. We always enjoy the chance to see how others farm and what they are up to.

For the most part, this time of year, all you get to see is bare ground and the rare field of corn that didn’t get harvested last fall. As we drove along we only saw three farms with livestock- a beef herd, some sheep, and one dairy. As we were driving along, we began to take notice of the lone sentinels along the way-the corn cribs of days gone by. We enjoyed the chance to take in the beauty and the diversity of designs in the different cribs. We questioned why they were built in the style that they were as we saw round cribs, rectangles and several variations of both. Some were made of brick and some were wood, some were sided at an angle lending even more interest and beauty. I didn’t count the different types and I am not sure if some of them were region-specific as we had a long drive.

We shared our thoughts on when they were last used and I questioned how much they held. We would have loved to have had the time and warmer temperatures which would have enabled us to seek out permission to take a closer look, and learn more about some of the unique designs. Some of the cribs were standing strong; many were the only structure left for miles as the old farmsteads were no more; bigger equipment, bigger farms. I guessed that the cribs were left as a potential storage when the farms were rented out or sold and now it is more work than it is worth to remove them. Others were leaning and showing signs of their age, still others were mere piles of rubble, left abandoned and having succumbed to many years of neglect.

I am glad to see many of these testaments to past farming surviving, at least for now. I enjoyed the distraction that they gave our trip, and I hope that each of you will also enjoy the old structures and equipment that were farming in the past. We are fast losing this part of history and we need to acknowledge the treasures we have while they are here. I usually look for different styles of barns, as so many of them are disappearing since the farms no longer have livestock and the barns become costly to repair without a good use for them. While at the farm show, we made sure to take the time to thank and encourage those who had the courage to resist GMO’s in their products and seed. We always make a point of questioning about the availability of products that can be used for organics as a way to encourage their production.

We are excited about the MOSES Organic Farming Conference in La Crosse, WI next week. This is our winter opportunity to connect with many organic producers and to fill our minds to overflowing with great information and tips to try on our farm. We always greet old friends and meet new ones at this event. It is a wonderful opportunity to share insights on organic production and to catch up on the latest organic family news. May God Bless you with enough time and energy to fully enjoy life’s treasures.