The National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) board of directors recently approved changes to the National Dairy FARM (Farmers Assuring Responsible Management) Program to strengthen the effectiveness and credibility of its animal care standards.
Revisions to the FARM Program occur every three years and are based on input from farmers, veterinarians and others involved in the FARM Program’s Technical Writing Group and the NMPF Animal Health & Wellbeing Committee and on recommendations received through a public comment period.
The revision process began in May 2015; the NMPF board’s decision to approve the recommended revisions was the final step in the nearly 10-month process. The updates approved March 8 during the NMPF board of directors meeting will be reflected in version 3.0 of the Dairy FARM Program when it is implemented starting Jan. 1, 2017.
“The core of the FARM Program is the concept of continuous improvement,” NMPF president and chief executive Jim Mulhern said. “Not only do dairy farmers in the program work hard to evolve and improve their practices over time, but we work hard to ensure that the FARM Program guidelines reflect the more up-to-date scientific research and advice from our technical experts.”
One outcome of the revisions is a greater emphasis on accountability among program participants. The advisory committees identified several FARM Program guidelines that they felt deserved heightened focus and attention.
“One of the things we heard consistently throughout our revision process was about the idea of accountability. There was really a heavy push to put some additional accountability into the program that helped ensure that the continuous improvement that is fundamental to the program was happening and that we could demonstrate it was happening,” Emily Metz Meredith, NMPF vice president of animal care, said.
As a result, the new FARM 3.0 version includes two separate phases to help prioritize key issues within the industry and increase accountability on higher-priority issues.
For example, for Phase One, the highest priorities, as determined through the revision process, include mandatory criteria with a greater emphasis on employee training, having a documented veterinarian/client/patient relationship and the cessation of tail docking. Producers who fail to comply with any of the Phase One priorities are given one year to make changes. If, after one year, no changes have been made to bring the farm into compliance with these criteria, the farm will be placed on a probationary status that could ultimately lead to suspension from the FARM Program.
Phase Two of the new version 3.0 will focus on components that both of the advisory groups felt were really critical when it comes to talking about best management and animal care practices. While the components are still key priorities for the industry, Phase Two focuses more on continuous improvement than mandatory requirements.
The Dairy FARM Program measures its reach by the volume of milk. With 84 cooperatives and processors, 94% of the U.S. milk supply comes from FARM Program participants.
The program also currently has 370 trained and active farm evaluators. To date, more than 30,000 second-party evaluations have been done. Metz Meredith estimated that somewhere between 32,000 and 35,000 dairies are enrolled in the program today.
“It is the vast majority of the producers and the milk; the number is only increasing,” Metz Meredith said, adding that she expects the number to increase this year to almost 100% of the milk supply coming from program participants.
Although evaluations on the new version of the FARM Program won’t begin until January 2017, new resources and training materials will be available to program participants beginning this April to help prepare for the changes.
See the April 4 issue of Feedstuffs for extensive coverage on this topic.