Tag Archives: DASC

Improving milk quality proves profitable for Virginia farmers

A Virginia Tech student milks cows at the new Dairy Science Complex – Kentland Farm.

A Virginia Tech student milks cows at the new Dairy Science Complex – Kentland Farm.

Virginia generates 1.7 billion pounds of milk per year.

Though the dairy industry  in Virginia is small compared to other states, the commonwealth produces 207 million gallons of milk annually, worth about $481 million according to the Virginia State Dairymen’s Association.

However, hot, humid summers add challenges to milk production in the region. Reduced milk quality results in increased production costs for farmers while decreasing revenues and sustainability.

Christina Petersson-Wolfe, associate professor of dairy science and Extension specialist, wants to help improve the quality of the state’s milk.

Petersson-Wolfe, working with the Southeast Quality Milk Initiative, is helping dairy producers in the commonwealth and the region compete more effectively by lowering bacterial counts in milk, thus commanding better prices in the marketplace. Virginia Tech has partnered with the University of Tennessee, University of Kentucky, University of Georgia, and University of Florida to implement the $3 million multistate project funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Milk quality is commonly measured by the somatic cell count and standard plate — or bacteria — count. Most buyers in the region require the milk they purchase to have a somatic cell count of fewer than 400,000 cells per milliliter, but farmers strive to attain a count closer to 200,000.

Since the inception of the program, the average somatic cell count in Virginia has dropped 5.8 percent. These numbers can add up when dairy farmers receive their milk premiums — cash above and beyond the standard rate of about $17 per 100 pounds. Premiums can add up to thousands of dollars per month. One dairy farm that benefited from consultation with the milk initiative saw an increase of $8,640 per month.

“Our overall goal is to enable dairy farmers to move toward production systems compatible with a sustainable industry,” said Petersson-Wolfe.

Posted in Agriculture | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Adding value pays off for Virginia cattle producers

Cows in a field.

“Having the ability to add value to Virginia’s beef cattle operations is critical to the sustainability of Virginia agriculture and rural communities,” said Scott Greiner, Virginia Cooperative Extension beef cattle specialist.

With more than 1.4 million head of cattle across the commonwealth, Virginia’s beef cattle industry is big business.

But while the cattle market has been favorable over the past few years, producers understand the need to continually improve their operations to stay competitive.

The Virginia Quality Assured certified feeder cattle program provides producers with the means to add value to their cattle, enabling them to receive premium prices for
their calves.

Virginia Cooperative Extension partnered with the Virginia Cattlemen’s Association to develop and administer the program, which encourages the use of research-based health and best management practices for feeder cattle. Participants are eligible to market feeder cattle through the Virginia Quality Assured initiative.

The program, which started in 1997, has marketed more than 125,000 head of feeder cattle, resulting in $6.4 million in value-added income for Virginia’s beef cattle producers.

“Having the ability to add value to Virginia’s beef cattle operations is critical to the sustainability of Virginia agriculture and rural communities,” said Scott Greiner, Virginia Cooperative Extension beef cattle specialist.

The initiative would not prosper without the coordinated efforts of all parties involved.

“Part of what makes this program so successful in our area is the collaboration among Extension agents, the Virginia Cattlemen’s Association, Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Abingdon Feeder Cattle Association, Tri-State Livestock Market, and the producers,” said Scott Jessee, agriculture and natural resources Extension agent in Russell County. “We all have a role to play.”

Throughout the year, Jessee and his fellow Extension agents and specialists provide producers with valuable health, management, genetic, and marketing information. This education is offered through a variety of methods, including field days, on-farm visits, group meetings and workshops, demonstrations, and distance learning. Extension agents also serve as third-party verifiers to ensure that producers have followed the required vaccination and management protocols.

The eligible animals are evaluated and described by VDACS livestock marketing representatives. The cattle are then grouped by similar traits and offered for sale in truckload lots at scheduled intervals on the Virginia Cattlemen’s Association Tel-O-Auction. The livestock market provides the facility and equipment to sort, weigh, and load out cattle.

Philip Bundy, a Russell County cattle producer and president of the Abingdon Feeder Cattle Association, has been marketing cattle through the program since it started in Southwest Virginia 11 years ago.

“We’ve built a reputation of providing high-quality, weaned feeder calves,” said Bundy. “Our cattle are highly sought after, and we are now outselling western cattle.”

The program has taken off in the past couple of years. In 2014, producers in Southwest Virginia more than doubled the number of cattle marketed through the program in 2013.

Posted in Agriculture | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment