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After a delayed and unusually cool spring, we’ve finally made it to June — the month where temperatures are finally starting to heat up. And what better way to remedy spiking temperatures than with a nice, big bowl of ice cream, especially in celebration of National Dairy Month?

ice cream

Originally called National Milk Month, June was designated National Dairy Month in 1937 as a way to promote drinking milk. It was initially created to help stabilize the dairy demand when production was at surplus, but has now developed into an annual tradition that celebrates the contributions the dairy industry has made to the world.

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For years, dairy products have been a staple in the diets of Americans and people all over the world. More than that, dairy farmers in Illinois — and across the country — are true stewards of the land. In the past 63 years, the dairy industry has reduced its carbon footprint by 63 percent with the help of improved cow nutrition, cow comfort, quality of the animals and other improvements.

In fact, compared to farms in 1960, U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics show that U.S. dairy farms today are producing almost three times more milk with about half the number of cows. In addition, milk performed better than other beverages in the 2010 Nutrient Density to Climate Impact (NDCI) Index, which compared nutrient density to climate impact.

But those accomplishments weren’t easy. Farming, especially dairy farming, isn’t an exact science. Record high feed costs and fluctuating milk prices during the last several years have made it more and more expensive to continue to operate successful dairy farms. Despite that, the nation’s dairy farmers were able to produce more than 200 billion pounds of milk in 2012 – a record amount. In 2010, Illinois dairy farmers produced 1,917,000 pounds of milk from the 98,000 cattle across the state.

All of that adds up to one thing: These amazing statistics are a testament to the integrity of the nation’s dairies, 97 percent of which are family-owned and well-connected to the communities around them.

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Here in Illinois, dairy farmers also are doing their part to give back to their communities by answering consumers’ questions about how their milk and dairy products are produced. Dairy farmers are working with the Midwest Dairy Association to promote dairy products and help teach consumers how to incorporate them into a healthy diet.

They also are participating as host families for Illinois Farm Families’ Field Moms. Dairy farmers are inviting Chicago-area moms to their farms, allowing them to tour their farms and ask questions about how animals are raised and how milk is produced and sold.

In fact, Field Mom Farah Brown couldn’t say enough about the care the host family Dale and Linda Drendel give to the Holsteins on their Hampshire, Ill., farm.

“Seeing their farm and hearing them introduce us to their cows gave me such a sense of gratitude for their diligence and work ethic,” Brown said. “I loved seeing Linda Drendel interact lovingly with the cows and tell the story of how she nursed a calf back to health shortly after its birth. It’s more than evident they take great pride in this craft they have chosen.”

From continued stewardship of the land and sustainability, to working with consumers to answer their questions, Illinois dairy farmers are committed to producing the best product possible for those of us who enjoy a nice, tall glass of milk, a plate of cheese and crackers or a heaping bowl of ice cream. This June, during National Dairy Month, make sure you give them the credit they deserve and send out a big ‘thank you’ for all they do.

 

In agriculture, there are many hot button issues. One of the biggest is between the pro-and anti-GMO advocates. Studies have shown that it is difficult to change peoples’ minds once they have formed a strong opinion on a subject, such as the use of genetically modified food crops.

Mark Lynas was once an opponent of GMO’s, organizing protests and even participating in crop vandalism. However, after some time submerged in research, he has changed his mind:

It is now apparent, from 20 years of safety research and hundreds of scientific papers, that, in the words of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, “the science is quite clear: crop improvement by the modern molecular techniques of biotechnology is safe.”

Mark Lynas’s opinion article, “Why I Turned From GM Opponent to Advocate,” is part of Sci.Dev.Net’s global debate on “What’s wrong with GM?” It’s definitely worth your time.

Tomorrow is World Environment Day – a day designated by the United Nations as a day to raise awareness of the need for protection and sustainable use of natural resources around the world. This day is celebrated by many countries – including the United States.

Of course, today isn’t the only day to be thinking about our environment. Members of the agriculture community are committed to improving the environment and increasing sustainable practices – something that cannot be accomplished in one day, but must be focused on each and every day.

For example, our organization, the Illinois Farm Bureau®, encourages the continued use of Best Management Practices (BMPs) by farmers in all phases of their farming operations in order to maximize nutrient utilization, minimize negative environmental impact and improve water quality.

Members of the Illinois Farm Bureau aren’t the only ones focusing on improving environmental quality. Farmers around the country, in all areas of production, are too. Go to www.watchusgrow.org for more information on sustainability and conservation efforts straight from Illinois farmers!

This infographic produced by the USDA also demonstrates some of the progress made:

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I love bacon

Warmer weather is finally making an appearance and, along with it, grilling season. But if you’ve been to the grocery store recently to purchase that perfect pork chop to throw on the grill, you might have noticed an uptick in the price of pork.

The price hike is due to a disease that affects pigs called Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus, or PEDv. PEDv was first identified in the United Kingdom in 1971, but has since spread across the world, making its first appearance in the United States in May 2013.

While it sounds scary, there are some things you need to know. First and most importantly, pork is safe to eat and remains to be safe, despite the disease. In other words, humans are not affected by PEDv and cannot catch the disease.

PEDv does, however, affect pigs — and dramatically. The virus causes extreme diarrhea in young pigs, and mortality rates can be very high. In fact, if it spreads into a sow herd with young pigs, mortality rates can range from 80 to 100 percent.

In many cases, economists and industry insiders predicted staggering PEDv losses this winter, with some predicting more than 11 percent of baby pigs would died due to the disease. But preliminary numbers from this winter show that about 7 percent of the baby pigs in the U.S. did not survive, with most of those deaths attributable to PEDv.

Farmers have been able to fill the hole left in the meat market by raising hogs to a heavier weight. Additionally, most pork producers were already into an expansion phase this winter, leading to a 3 percent increase in births. The three percent increase in birthing pigs coupled a 7 percent loss over the winter adds up to just a 4 percent loss overall — much better than predicted and, hopefully, easier to overcome.

But like most things, time will tell when it comes to pork prices in the grocery store. Obviously, summer months tend to bring out the highest demand for pork products, and it’s tough to tell how June and July hog supplies will impact harvesting runs and meat availability.

The good news is warmer summer weather may be helping curb PEDv losses. According to Chris Hurt, an agricultural economist at Purdue University, PEDv thrives in cold winter temperatures and this year’s harsh winter may have just been the perfect storm for the disease.

And what are farmers doing to curb the spread of PEDv? Farmers are increasing biosecurity mandates on their farms, requiring stricter cleaning policies and closer inspection of visitors and suppliers.

In the end, it’s important to remember that farmers are doing everything they can to prevent the spread of the disease on their farms and produce a safe and sustainable product for your dinner table.

 

 

Feels like all we’ve talked about lately is dairy. We’ve talked about milk prices and we’ve talked about raw milk — both in the last two weeks!

But this post, shared by our friend Katie Pratt at Rural Route 2: The Life and Times of an Illinois Farm Girl, was just too good to pass up.

It comes from the TheCowLocale and is a guest post authored by Utah State Dietetics student and former vegan, Kayla Thomas. In her post, Dairy Sustainability Made Me Rethink Being a Vegan, Kayla talks about how her visit to two Utah dairy farms showed her just how sustainable dairy farming is — and just how much dairy farmers care for their animals.

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It’s an excellent read, so be sure to check it out!

Cheerios

In January, we told you about General Mills’ most recent marketing ploy aimed at reeling in more cereal buyers: adding a GMO-free label to Cheerios, it’s most popular cereal brand.

Now, it looks like General Mills is flip-flopping like a cornered politician.

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A few weeks ago, General Mills announced that, despite the change in its sourcing of ingredients to make original Cheerios GMO-free, they hadn’t seen any increase in sales. And now, they’ve decided to give very public backing to the science and safety of GMO products.

Previously, General Mills has supported GMO products — mostly because they’ve used them in their other products. But in their recently released 2014 Global Responsibility report, General Mills affirmed biotechnology as a key to feeding a growing population. In fact, in the report, General Mills noted that “Global experts project that to meet the growing needs of an increasingly hungry world, we will need at least 50 percent more food, 45 percent more energy, and 30 percent more water.” The reporter went further to say:

“SAFE – We know consumers care about the foods they eat – and we care about the foods we provide. As genetically modified (GM) ingredients become more common in the global food supply, particularly in the U.S., we know that some consumers may have questions about this technology. On safety – our No. 1 priority – we find broad and deep global consensus among food and safety regulatory bodies that approved GM ingredients are safe. Those who have approved biotech crops to be as safe and acceptable as their conventional counterparts include: the WHO, U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, European Food Safety Authority, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and Health Canada. The National Academy of Sciences, American Medical Association, and the British Royal Society also say there is no health risk associated with GM foods or ingredients.

“This technology is not new. Biotech seeds have been approved by global food safety agencies and widely used by farmers in food crops for almost 20 years. Because U.S. farmers use GM seed to grow certain crops, 70 percent of foods on U.S. grocery store shelves likely contain GMO ingredients. As a result, if an American food or beverage product lists corn, soy, canola, cottonseed or beet sugar as an ingredient – and it’s not organic – it likely contains GMOs. Global food safety experts will note there has not been a single incident of harm to health or safety demonstrably linked to the use of GMOs anywhere in the world. Numerous studies have found certain benefits, however.”

The company also added:

“It’s a daunting challenge. But biotechnology shows promise to address such issues as strengthening crops against drought and extreme temperature, and delivering more nutritious food, even in poor soil conditions. We agree with the U.N. World Health Organization (WHO) that the development of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) offers the potential for increased agricultural productivity or improved nutritional value that can contribute directly to enhancing human health and development.”

That’s pretty strong GMO-backing coming from a company that, just months earlier, said they were moving to a non-GMO product because “their fans wanted it” — especially when you consider the amount of information about GMOs General Mills included in their report. They even went so far as to explain how GMOs can benefit the environment, allowing farmers to use  less insecticide and herbicide. Additionally, it explained that GM crops often require less energy use by farmers, saying “They are associated with reduced greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), improved water quality, improved nitrogen retention, and improved water filtration and erosion reduction in soil.”

So what does this all boil down to? I think it answers the question we asked when we originally blogged about General Mills’ decision to go GMO-free: Did General Mills really feel the need to switch from GMO ingredients to non-GMO ingredients, or are they looking for a little bit of free publicity at little to no cost to them?

I think the answer is pretty clear: It was just a marketing ploy after all. And it failed. Big time.

 

 

 

Yesterday, we dove into one of the dairy industry’s most controversial topics: raw milk. Today, we’re sticking with dairy industry topics, but moving in a different direction and tackling food prices.

Food prices are often a topic I deal with in my job as media relations manager. I often get calls from reporters asking questions about why food prices have jumped, or if certain issues or occurrences in the agriculture industry will affect food prices in the future.

Many times,  as food prices fluctuate or we prepare for them to fluctuate, there is a reason behind it. However, the interesting thing when it comes to dairy products, specifically milk, is that the price often doesn’t fluctuate in the grocery store.

That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t fluctuate anywhere. Often, the price changes for the dairy farmers producing the milk and the retailers buying it. It just means that consumers don’t often see those changes.

In fact, over the last several months, milk prices have reached a new, all-time high.  Growing up on a dairy farm, I can tell you that many people believe the misconception that as milk prices rise, and producers are paid more per hundredweight, retailers “jack up” milk prices in the store. Then, even as milk prices drop, retailers are slow to drop them.

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However, when you take a look at the chart below, it’s easy to see that isn’t the case. And, I have to say, even though I grew up on a dairy farm, the data was kind of surprising to me, too.

Milk Prices

When you look at this chart, the exact opposite conclusion can be made.  Retailers don’t like to change the price of their milk.  Because milk is a staple and product that consumers buy regularly all year long, they like a nice, steady price all year long. So here’s what happens…

  • In times of high producer milk prices (Illinois mailbox prices adjusted to a per gallon price), which is represented by the green line, retailers take less of a profit (the spread or difference between the mailbox and retail prices), which is represented by the blue line.
  • In times of lower producer milk prices, retailers take more of a profit.
  • The lines nearly exactly mirror each other, which shows a tendency for retailers to attempt to keep a fairly steady price for milk, despite what they pay for it.

It is also interesting to note that milk is the only commodity for which the USDA sets a minimum price.  This price is set my USDA through a survey process to determine the prices wholesalers are paying for dairy products. It is announced around the fifth of every month, and applies to the milk produced in that previous month.

So there you have it. Food prices do fluctuate — as is the case with the price of pork products right now (something we’ll tackle next week), but in the case of staples like milk, retailers try to keep prices as steady as possible. They make a profit, or take a bath, in order to keep the price steady.

 

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