14th Western Dairy Management Conference Attracts 1600

Joel Hastings

Despite the tough dairy economy and some rough travel weather, over 1600 producers and industry personnel turned out for this important biennial conference held Feb. 26 – 28 at the Peppermill Resort in Reno, Nev.  This year it was preceded on Feb. 25 by an industry meeting hosted by the Council on Dairy Cattle Breeding with a look ahead at the next 10 years of the genomic “revolution.”

Co-Chair Mike Brouk of K-State shown here with his presentation about the economics of robotic milking systems.

Co-Chair Mike Brouk of Kansas State was quick to thank the 97 commercial and media sponsors, along with the attending dairymen themselves.  His committee of 26 university dairy Extension and media staff had begun planning in January 2018.  The longtime co-chairs are Mike Gamroth, retired from Oregon State and Dennis Armstrong, retired from the University of Arizona.

The opening morning consisted of 25 presentations put on by the commercial sponsors covering a wide range of management and nutrition issues in short, direct messages with time for questions and discussion.

The conference itself opened after lunch with four featured speakers, led off by the inspirational Chris Koch, a Canadian farmer differently abled… born with no arms and legs.  His story focuses on his many accomplishments, both on the farm and in life.  He has traveled widely and presented to a wide variety of audiences with a positive approach to life mixed with his own self-deprecating humor.

Charlie Arnot, founder and head of the Center for Food Integrity, spoke about the latest consumer research.  He reviewed how consumers have lost faith in large institutions in the last 50 years, whether they be government, religious, civic, business and media.  Consumer skepticism about so-called Big Ag and Big Food is just the most recent development.  He reviewed the concept of social license for dairy and ag in which farmers must show they are concerned not only about efficient production but also their animals, their employees and the environment.

“Lead with values to build trust,” he said and then competence and science can be brought into the conversation.

Concern about how governmental authorities, especially at the Food & Drug Administration, are evaluating new animal strains are being developed using genomic tools.  That was the topic for UC Davis Professor Dr. Alison Van Eenennaam.  She explained that such animals with desirable traits were being approved as medicines currently are, requiring much more time and money, thereby slowing the process of improving productivity.  Here presentation appears elsewhere in this issue of DairyBusiness Digital (see link)

Rounding out the first afternoon was former Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack, who currently serves as president of U.S. Dairy Export Council, an entity of Dairy Management, Inc., the check-off organization.  He gave a thorough overview of the international dairy product scene.  He outlined the steps being taken to increase the level of dairy exports, aiming at a five percent increase to 20% of U.S. production.  He highlighted dairy’s sustainability achievements driven by increased productivity.  He concluded with a stirring tribute to dairy farmers’ values that emphasize family, community and country.

Former Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack, left, shown with DMI’s Stan Erwine. -photo by Blodgett Communications

The following two days consisted of 18 lectures and roundtables presented by leading University researchers and Extension workers covering the whole range of issues dairy farmers must contend with from evaluating robotic milking systems to sorting through feed additives and from managing manure systems to training employees effectively.

Along the way, attendees enjoyed sponsored hospitality and plenty of hallway conversations.

The next WDMC is set for March 2 – 4, 2021 also planned for Reno.

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