On Jan. 1, 2017, the National Dairy FARM (Farmers Assuring Responsible Management) Program grew some teeth, with the voluntary program now taking on the look of a more mandatory program that will require certain agreements and training. The most controversial aspect of the updated program is 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), come in response to both consumer and food company demands. Some companies have long argued a program that allows farmers to opt out has little credibility with consumers.
Had FARM not made these changes, some companies would have created their own programs, and individual farms could have been faced with multiple animal care programs and inspections.
"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."
FARM 3.0 also requires a signed Veterinarian- Client Patient Relationship (VCPR), farmers to annually train employees on dairy cattle care and ethics, and document that they do.
If a farm 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 practices 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.
Some farmers are balking at these new requirements and many understandably feel overwhelmed. 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, these requirements are the new cost of doing business.