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Illinois Dairy Days offers advice for visit from EPA
Illinois Correspondent

EUREKA, Ill. — Dairy Days 2006, an educational conference and workshop for dairy producers, moved into Eureka College’s Cerf Center Jan. 6, offering about 80 local farmers a chance to learn how to run their operations more efficiently and to “chew the cud” with fellow producers.

The conference, hosted by the University of Illinois Extension in Urbana, featured four Extension dairy experts discussing eight current topics of importance to dairy producers, a commercial exhibit, and a luncheon. The event represented the 27th Dairy Days and the fourth at Eureka College’s Cerf Center, said Mike Hutjens, an Extension dairy specialist.

“We’re reaching about 40 percent of the state’s dairy producers this month, from the biggest operations in the state to the smallest,” Hutjens said, describing Eureka’s Dairy Days event as well as those scheduled for later this month in southern and northern Illinois. “We cover everything from herd health to nutrition to animal identification to government regulations…it’s a very wide program.”

As Dave Fischer, also an Illinois dairy specialist, gave a lecture on preparing for a farm visit from the Environmental Protection Agency, other Extension reps and exhibitors mingled with producers from Eureka, El Paso and area towns.

“We make ourselves available to the producers who want to talk,” said Hutjens.

“A few dairymen come specifically to put a question to us, and then leave. All they want is 10 minutes to get a very specific answer to a very specific question.”

Ken Ropp, a dairy producer from Normal who owns 60 head of registered Jerseys with his father, Ray, said the Jan. 6 gathering was his third or fourth annual pilgrimage to Dairy Days at the Cerf Center.

“It’s neat to get a few new ideas and it’s nice to visit with the other producers and see what’s going on around the area,” Ropp said. “The lunch is good, too.”

Marla Behrends, industry relations specialist with the Midwest Dairy Council and American Dairy Assoc., manned an informational booth at the event. Surrounded by dairy producers, she may have been preaching to the choir, but Behrends was determined to detail the importance of dairy in a well-balanced diet.

“A little-known fact is that dairy contributes only 9 percent of the calories in the nation’s food supply, but 73 percent of the calcium,” said Behrends, who was in charge of the “butter cow” and other dairy promotions at last year’s Illinois State Fair. “There is a calcium deficiency out there, and teen boys and girls are really at risk. People just aren’t getting their proper requirements.”

Topics of importance to dairy producers which were discussed at the event included Managing Milk Components, Bright Ideas in Dry Cow Management, Implementing Health Management Controls, 2006 Feeding Challenges, Update On Premise And Animal ID, Growing Forages for Quality and Quantity, On-Farm Clinical Mastitis ‘Culture and Treat’ Program, and Fischer’s talk on facing an EPA visit.

Producers who attended the event were particularly interested in Fischer’s remarks, considering the recent national, regional and local media attention that has focused on large hog and dairy farms.

“(An EPA visit) is a serious situation,” Fischer said. “As we know, as our herd size grows larger, the public’s perception of how those larger operations are managed becomes more important. We have concern with a number of producers in Illinois who have been filed with a registered complaint of polluting the waters of their state, or air pollution.”

Fischer recommended those facing a surprise or complaint-driven EPA visit to, first and foremost, remain calm.

“Handle it methodically, don’t get all excited, and make sure to understand the charge against you so you can work with the EPA to rectify the problem,” said Fischer. “Ninety-nine percent of the state’s producers are doing a good job, environmentally.”

Fischer told farmers there are five reasons why the EPA is rigorously monitoring dairy operations - with the most common offender being feedlot runoff that finds its way into the state’s waterways. Fischer described methods of preventing runoff, including installing diversions such as dikes and gutters.

“Producers have to prevent runoff from happening … it all starts on the farm somewhere,” Fischer said.

Farmers must also be vigilant in corralling runoff from manure stacked outdoors and when applying manure to farm fields, said Fischer. Overfilled manure storage facilities and milk-center waste round out the list of offenses likely to result in an EPA visit.

“When a producer finishes milking, he must wash the pipe line system and floor and clean the bulk tank, and all that water has to be controlled and put into some sort of containment. If that is allowed to flow into streams, that milk has a very high BOD (biological oxygen demand). It takes a lot of oxygen out of the water, so it does cause fish kill if it gets into the streams.”

Fischer said the goal of his presentation was to “help producers better understand that there will be regulations on how we handle our waste, and we need to be able to work with inspectors on that.”

Joining Fischer and Hutjens as presenters were Geoff Dahl, Extension dairy specialist, and Dick Wallace, Extension veterinarian. Around 15 agriculture-related businesses had display kiosks set up at the Cerf Center, which is also home to the Ronald Reagan Museum.

For information on upcoming Dairy Days in southern and northern Illinois, see the website and browse the “calendar/activities” section.

Published in the January 11, 2006 issue of Farm World.