December 27, 2016

FARM Program Grows Teeth

 |  By: Dairy Talk

On January 1, 2017, the National Dairy FARM (Farmers Assuring Responsible Management) Program will grow some teeth, with the voluntary program now taking on the look of a more mandatory program that will require certain agreements and training be in place. The most controversial aspect of the updated program is that tail docking will no longer be allowed.

Some dairy farmers have bristled at the changes. But the changes, approved by dairy farmers serving on dairy co-op boards and the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF), comes in response to both consumer and food company demands. Some companies have long argued that a program that allows farmers to opt out has little credibility with consumers. Significantly, Dean Foods is now on board with the FARM program.

Had FARM not made these changes, some companies would have created their own programs, and individuals farms could have been faced with multiple animal care programs and inspections. Tail docking had been scheduled for phase out in 2022, but FARM 3.0 moved that up to 2017. 

“Tail docking has never been a best management practice under the FARM Program guidelines, and the FARM Program Technical Writing Group had long proposed a finite phase-out period,” says Emily Yeiser-Stepp, Director FARM Animal Care. “The advice of these technical experts, coupled with the recognition that the credibility of the FARM Program was at risk if customers imposed their own deadlines, led the NMPF Board to act proactively in March and approve the accelerated phase out date of 2017 as part of the FARM Version 3.0 changes.”

“Being proactive on this issue has shown key customers that the dairy industry supports science-based decision making and encourages them to do the same,” adds Emily Meredith, NMPF Chief of Staff.

In addition, FARM 3.0 requires that a signed Veterinarian-Client Patient Relationship (VCPR)  be in place, that farmers annually train employees on dairy cattle care and ethics and document that they do.

If a farm is does not have a VCPR in place, is not doing or documenting annual animal care training or continues to dock cattle, the farm will have to complete a mandatory corrective action plan with specific dates when things will be corrected. Failure to meet these requirements can lead to suspension from the FARM Program, and it can mean the loss of a milk market if the farmer’s milk handler requires FARM Program compliance. About 98% of the nation’s milk supply in the 48 contiguous states and Hawaii is now covered by FARM.

Phase Two of FARM 3.0 will also place increased attention on having farm-specific, written and visible protocols for new-born and milk fed calves, pain management, non-ambulatory animals and euthanasia. Phase Two also includes animal observations for lameness, body condition and hock and knee scores. Failure to have these plans in place will trigger the need for a “Continuous Improvement Plan,” but will not require a mandatory corrective action plan.

Some farmers are balking at all of these new requirements, and many understandably feel over-whelmed. For large farms, it just adds to the avalanche of paper work they need to complete and keep current on animal care, environmental compliance, worker and fuel safety. Unfortunately, in a marketplace driven by consumer demand and food corporations chasing sales and quarterly profits, they are the new cost of doing business.

Specific changes to FARM 3.0 can be found here.

And other FARM resources can be found here.