Good Morning Readers By: Fred M. Hall (Nov/Dec 2017)

Sunrise over a farm American Farming Publication

On my trek back to Iowa from the World Dairy Expo, I got to thinking about Expo’s past. “The Big Dance” has been a part of my life for many years- starting with trips as a kid with Bill Gustafson, years as a fitter with herds like Elginvue, Sancrest and Oak Grove and finally taking my youngest son with his first heifer.
This year was unique. As an Extension dairy specialist, I had no cattle to fit and kept busy assisting in the ring. It was a new perspective and it gave me the opportunity to really “see” the show- from start to finish. Of course, I visited with exhibitors and fitters in the barn and it was exciting to see friends from across the country. But, I have to admit, not handling a clipper or top-line brush left a hole in my day. However, watching this new crop of fitters gave me chills so it’s probably a good thing my clipper stayed in the showbox.
While I was in Wisconsin folks here in Northwest Iowa saw several days of rain- some locations getting over five inches. It stopped harvest for a few days, but combines where running again this week. Corn silage is mostly done and many producers were surprised at the tonnage, 22 to 28 seemed to be common yields. Early reports of 50- 60 bushel beans are encouraging; hopefully corn yields will follow and beat pessimistic expectations.
Whether in Iowa or Wisconsin, dairymen are talking about the “farmgate” price for milk and where it’s headed. U.S. Dairy Export Council CEO Tom Vilsack spoke at World Dairy Expo and shared his insights. He noted that in 2016, cheese exports from the five leading global dairy traders—Argentina, Australia, the European Union (EU), New Zealand and the United States—increased five percent to a record 1.66 million metric tons. Over the four months from March-June 2017, exports from the top five grew 10 percent from the same period the previous year. Cheese shipments to China, South Korea and Mexico increased more than 25 percent each, while exports to Southeast Asia and Japan jumped 16 percent and 8 percent, respectively with the main beneficiary for that four-month period was the United States, which boosted exports 32 percent compared to the previous year.
His organization estimates the U.S. dairy industry needs to increase U.S. dairy export volume from about 15 percent of the annual milk supply to around 20 percent—an effort they are calling The Next 5%—to maintain strong overall U.S. dairy industry growth.
Early in October, a USDEC report noted that Mexico can be seen as both a guide and a proving ground for U.S. export efforts. The United States expanded cheese exports to Mexico from less than 5,000 metric tons in 1995 to about 90,000 metric tons last year. Developing close partnerships has been one of the keys to growth. U.S. cheese makers going above and beyond to work with buyers to create Gouda suited to Mexican applications and tastes went a long way to demonstrating how seriously U.S. suppliers wanted to build relationships.
The issue is compounded by the fact for several years, U. S. dairy farmers have produced 3 billion more pounds of milk over the previous year, and it has to be processed in a timely fashion. So dairy processors are faced with the challenge of handling an ever-growing supply of milk, while anticipating the right product mix to meet consumer demand.
August data from Iowa Ag News showed Iowa with 217,000 cows in August. This is the same population as July, but up 3,000 cows from last year. They produced 434 million pounds of milk, which is up 3 percent from the previous August.
Exports, processing capacity, production and preferences by U.S. consumers will all play a role in how the market will move, right now it looks bleak for producers in 2018.
Till next time!
Fred M. Hall grew up in rural Fort Dodge on the family dairy farm, showed Holsteins and is a graduate of Iowa State University. He has been a livestock photographer, cattle fitter, newspaper editor, plus county Extension agent in Iowa and Texas. Currently he is the Iowa State University Extension Dairy Field Specialist in Northwest Iowa.

By Fred M. Hall (Alton, Iowa)