*Krissa Welshans holds a bachelor's degree in animal science from Michigan State University and a master's degree in public policy from New England College. Welshans has long been involved in agriculture and has worked with numerous agricultural groups, including the Animal Agriculture Alliance.
THERE has been a significant change in worker demographics in the dairy industry across the globe. Today, the industry depends largely on immigrant employees working long hours under sometimes difficult environmental and social conditions.
To address challenges of the modern dairy industry, Colorado State University (CSU) recently hosted the International Dairy Research Consortium. The workshop focused on worker health and safety issues related to the dairy industry worldwide.
"As dairies have increased in size, the labor needs are being met by immigrant workers globally," said Stephen Reynolds, director of the High Plains Intermountain Center for Agricultural Health & Safety at CSU and organizer of the workshop. "The inexperienced workers are at greater risk for injury, ergonomic and respiratory illness and a number of other problems. Our group is working to help the industry with knowledge and risk management resources to sustain a healthy, productive workforce."
The group explored dairy research and outreach opportunities in economically developing regions and developed collaborative research and outreach projects.
Reynolds and colleagues at the High Plains Intermountain Center, the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and the University of Milan organized the International Dairy Research Consortium in 2010 to share best practices and collaborate on research and outreach projects that result in a reduction of injuries and illnesses among dairy workers internationally.
The dairy research consortium first met in July 2011 in Colorado, and its members now represent 12 countries.
According to Vicky Buchan, director of CSU's School of Social Work doctoral program, the workshop is the only international group that meets about dairy issues and research.
"The workshop provides the opportunity to learn from each other as various regions of the globe struggle with some of the same issues, such as workforce training needs, ergonomic and respiratory concerns and equipment changes," Buchan said.
The changing dairy industry and the health and safety of its workers are also featured topics in the current issue of the Journal of Agromedicine. Reynolds served as the guest editor of this edition of the journal.
"Advances in milking technology and dairy animal science have facilitated a rapid increase in the size of dairy herds worldwide," Reynolds explained. "Expanding dairy production has required a larger workforce, most often consisting of immigrant labor, often with little experience in agriculture. Dairy farming is also among the most dangerous occupations, with high rates of injury, illness and employee turnover."
Reynolds led an international team of guest editors in reviewing the status of the dairy industry, highlighting current occupational health and safety research and identifying knowledge gaps and programmatic needs.
"For dairy farmers trained to manage cows, the operation of a modern dairy employing a large immigrant workforce is a daunting challenge," Reynolds said.
Limited current research indicates that immigrant workers on dairies are at higher risk, yet there is little work in the peer-reviewed literature specifically addressing the core issues.
The journal articles provide an overview of the industry and examine key areas such as respiratory health, ergonomics, injury and fatality and psychosocial and mental health. Other articles address occupational health and safety regulations, leadership and management and guidelines for animal handling. All of the papers note the lack of peer-reviewed publications regarding effective health and safety interventions.
In addition to Reynolds, guest editors, who are all members of the research consortium, include Claudio Colosio, University of Milan; David Douphrate, University of Texas; Christina Lunner Kolstrup and Peter Lundqvist, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, and Dr. Matthew Nonnenmann, University of Iowa.
"Research is needed to develop and evaluate cost-effective solutions," said Journal of Agromedicine editor-in-chief Matthew Keifer, who is also director of the National Farm Medicine Center at the Marshfield Clinic Research Foundation. "We believe this special issue of the journal will be a resource to help guide future research to enhance the health and sustainability of the dairy workforce."
Dairy commodity sales
GlobalDairyTrade (GDT), an online trading platform for international dairy commodities, recently announced that it passed the milestone of $10 billion in cumulative sales, reflecting what GDT calls its growing reputation as a credible business.
GDT director Paul Grave said by helping determine a reference price for international dairy commodities, the company has brought more transparency to international dairy prices.
GDT, which is celebrating five years of business, now offers dairy products to more than 800 registered bidders from 90 countries.
According to Grave, more than 900,000 metric tons across nine product categories have been traded through GDT's auctions just in the past year.
An average auction for GDT will sell enough product to completely fill a container ship that holds around 2,475 standard 20 ft. containers valued at $100-200 million.
The trading platform is open to all qualified buyers and sellers in the market. While it operates through its owner Fonterra, the auctions, in accordance with market rules overseen by an independent advisory board of sellers and buyers, are conducted by CRA International on behalf of GDT.
Fonterra chief executive officer Theo Spierings said GDT was one of the most important innovations he has seen during his more than 25 years in the dairy industry.
"GDT provides a reliable platform for price discovery, setting a baseline for globally traded dairy commodities that enables us to focus our efforts on (adding) value," Spierings explained.
DairyAmerica CEO Hoyt Huffman added that GDT "has become an integral part of DairyAmerica's sales strategy. The ability to access GDT's base of global skim milk powder customers has enabled us to build new relationships with new customers in new markets."
He said selling through GDT allows DairyAmerica to focus on managing the customer relationship, which is critical to the company.
Other producers that use GDT to sell their product include Arla Foods, Amul, Murray Goulburn and Euroserum.
The Dairyland Initiative, a University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine outreach program that works with farmers to optimize cow comfort, health and milk production, has received a $50,000 grant from the Dean Foods Foundation to make its web-based resources available at no cost to dairy farmers across the country.
"The Dairyland Initiative operates under the well-established premise that dairy cows produce at the highest levels when they're immersed in an environment that accommodates their comfort needs," said Nigel Cook, professor of food animal production medicine. "We intended to create a resource where, in one location, dairy producers can find all the information they need to build welfare-friendly facilities for their cattle. Three years later, we can make this resource available to all U.S. dairy farms, free of charge."
The Dairyland Initiative delivers building plan assessments and other valuable information based on the latest dairy animal research and years of collective field experience in dairy housing.
For example, its experts work closely with farmers to plan new construction and remodels of dairy barns, which includes: updating old tie-stall or stanchion barns with mattresses and sawdust bedding to safer tie-stall designs and sand bedding, modifying freestalls for improved comfort and planning entire dairy housing facilities for calves through adult cows.
Changes like these will help reduce injury, disease and lameness, often leading to an increase in milk production.
"As a dairy company, responsible agriculture is a key focus area, and we are committed to promoting improved animal welfare among dairy farmers," said Liliana Esposito, Dean Foods Foundation president. "We are pleased that farmers nationwide can now take advantage of this program that offers up-to-date information and best practices on farm resource management provided by experts in this field."
Dairy farmers can take advantage of The Dairyland Initiative's services through consultations, workshops and web-based tools. Previously, Wisconsin farmers could access the website for free, while those outside of the state paid a nominal fee. The grant will help make the website available at no cost to farmers and university extension programs nationwide for two years.
The Dairyland Initiative can be accessed online at http://thedairylandinitiative.vetmed.wisc.edu.