Carrots, Sticks and the FARM Program
If a FARM Program evaluator rolls up on your dairy, and says, “Hi. I’m from FARM, and I’m here to help you,” you might roll your eyes and wonder what the dude’s been smoking.
But in a sense, evaluators from FARM (Farmers Assuring Responsible Management) are doing precisely that. The FARM Program’s goal is simply to assure consumers and customers that dairy farmers are doing all they can, using science-based and -backed principles, to care for their animals, their workforce and their land in both a humane and ethical manner.
Sometimes, maybe often, that goal gets lost in the controversies that FARM can create, such as tail docking, dehorning or how cattle are housed. But the cold, hard reality is that consumers now have choices, says Emily Yeiser-Stepp, senior director of the FARM Program.
“The dairy industry has competition now,” she says, noting there are options in the marketplace that don’t have human-animal involvement. And consumers are voting with their dollars, opting for plant-based beverages and other products that they once could only get in the dairy case.
“FARM should be viewed as a member service, and not a program designed to find things that a dairy farm is doing wrong. It’s really a program about reducing the farm’s risk,” she says.
She also acknowledges that FARM will not eliminate all risk. “FARM is a good start, but unless its principles are instilled by the dairy, there could be instances of issues,” Yeiser-Stepp says.
So it’s incumbent upon everyone involved with dairy farms--AI technicians, veterinarians, nutritionists, pharmaceutical reps and so on—to ensure the FARM culture is in place. “FARM should be used as a learning experience,” she says.
Deb Reinhart, who with her husband David Geiser milk 500 cows near New Holstein, Wis., serves on FARM’s Farmer Advisory Council. Their farm was among the first to go through a FARM evaluation and has participated in even more detailed initiatives, such as Wisconsin’s Food Armor program. https://www.dairyherd.com/article/food-armor
These programs are an opportunity to involve and engage everyone, particularly your core group of employees, Reinhart says. And when they see the owners actively involved, they start to understand “why what senor is saying” is important, she says.
FARM’s Animal Care 4.0 version goes into effect January 1. It offers farmers both carrots and sticks, says Yeiser-Stepp. There will be greater accountability, shorter timelines and in some cases, immediate actions required. Some examples:
• Tail docking must end on Jan. 1, 2020. “If a farm is still tail docking at the time of their evaluation, it must have a corrective action in place within 48 hours or less,” she says.
• Pain mitigation for dehorning and disbudding. If a pain mitigation plan is not in place, the farm has three years to come up with a plan based on American Association of Bovine Practitioners guidelines.
• Written antibiotic treatment records available for review by the farm’s veterinarian of record. “When there is a residue on a farm, most often there is a gap in record keeping,” says Yeiser-Stepp. Having written records can show where a breakdown likely occurred.
For more on corrective actions, go to: https://nationaldairyfarm.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/FARM-AC-V4-Requirements-Corrective-Actions.pdf
Despite these increased requirements, the FARM Program also offers information and resources that can be helpful. For example, FARM offers a state-by-state link to human resource laws, human resources templates and safety manuals, the latter two in both English and Spanish: https://nationaldairyfarm.com/dairy-farm-standards/farm-workforce-development/
It also offers tools for environmental compliance and assessments: https://nationaldairyfarm.com/dairy-farm-standards/environmental-stewardship/ and https://nationaldairyfarm.com/producer-resources/resource-library/.
Think of the FARM Program as risk mitigation, say Yeiser-Stepp and Reinhart. Most all of it will affect your bottom line. View it that way, and your business will continue to improve.