By Mary Hookham for Dairy Business Association
Farmers and dairy processors around the world rely on a secure milk supply to keep their businesses running efficiently and effectively.
This doesn’t happen by accident. Experts participating in a panel discussion Jan. 22 at the Dairy Strong conference in Madison, Wis., recommend implementing a basic plan for handling diseases and viruses on all farms and facilities that house and care for animals and animal products.
“As farmers and processors, when outbreaks happen, they shake you to your core,” Mike Starkey of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture said. “It’s imperative that we figure out these issues before they occur.”
Maintaining a secure milk supply requires the collaborative efforts of farmers, dairy processors and facility visitors, the panelists said. They pointed out the website securemilksupply.org an effective tool for learning more about creating a plan.
Farmers and processors should begin by asking themselves what would happen at their facilities if there was an outbreak, Starkey said. He recommends gathering employees to help brainstorm, write a plan and implement it.
“When your farm is affected but not infected, you need to think about where the problem is coming from — the tires of your feed guy’s truck or somebody’s boots who was on your farm recently,” he said. “What risks are you willing to accept? And how will you ensure everybody and everything coming onto your property is clean?”
Becki Slater of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) recommends keeping electronic records of animals and animal products. This is an efficient way to trace infected animals.
“The faster we can show where those animals have been that have been on your farm, the faster we handle the problem,” she said.
Slater also encourages farmers and processors to maintain comprehensive bio-security practices. When someone is allowed onto the farm or inside the processing plant, a disease or virus can also come in, she said.
Starkey said planning for these events is crucial so their mechanics are understood. “We need to understand how animals move in states and how we can keep those animals moving during these events.”
International markets and trade hinges on having healthy animals around the globe. Dr. Darlene Konkle of DATCP said a proactive approach will give farmers and processors a leg up when it comes to disease prevention and handling outbreaks.
“Our first tool when we discover a disease is to stop movement,” Konkle said. “I know that’s painful for the industry, but in order to get a handle on the situation, we need to get a handle on what we’re dealing with.”
A basic plan is a great start, she said. But in order to be most effective, farmers and producers should conduct employee training regularly, raise awareness and do mock-ups of actual outbreaks to learn the process.
“Have somebody specifically in charge of the plan and its execution,” she said. “Know the protocols with protective clothing, cleaning processes, allowing visitors in and maintaining facility cleanliness during outbreaks.”