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  • Blockbuster benchmark dairy survey due in fall
    By By Tom VanDusen - AgriNews Staff Writer

    KEMPTVILLE - The most comprehensive survey of Ontario dairy practices ever conducted will be shipped out to DFO's full list of producers by Oct. 1, project coordinator Beth Wheeler told The AgriNews.

    The Benchmark 2000 survey was originally scheduled to go out before spring planting but it became so long, it was decided to hold it back and trim it down to a more manageable 15-30 min. response time, Wheeler said.

    She said there are a lot of pent up questions to ask with, for example, DFO not having comprehensively questioned its membership in a decade.

    "I've been cutting, slashing and burning to make it shorter," said OMAFRA's Kemptville-based dairy nutritionist. "I've gone back to some of the question suppliers to see if they could cut back."

    As originally constructed, the survey would have taken up to 1 hour to complete; Wheeler said sample producers told her that was simply too much of a time investment.

    Sponsored by OMAFRA, DFO and the University of Guelph, the survey seeks individual information on the full range of dairy farming practices, everything from feeding, housing, financial and management style, to expansion plans and computer usage.

    Results will help the re-aligned OMAFRA plan its future extension approach, Wheeler said. For example, its difficult to advise on Total Mixed Rationing (TMR) without having a fairly sound idea of how many farmers are using it.

    Speaking of which, Wheeler is now busy planning a full-day feeding systems workshop to be held at Alfred Oct. 19. It'll be a "dirty hands-on" session with TMR the focus of the day. She'll use it as an opportunity to remind participants to complete their surveys.

    As a nutritionist, Wheeler is very interested in the extent of TMR use in the province; 6-8 survey questions cover that topic alone. And she has some novel ideas about the feeding system.

    A custom TMR service traveling from farm to farm removing cost and inconvenience from the plates of busy dairy farmers?

    That's one development Wheeler would like to see in Ontario, a service similar to one already thriving just below the border in New York State, often provided by retired dairy farmers who want to keep a hand in the business. The service is not unlike custom croppers, a fully accepted part of Ontario agriculture.

    The custom mixers are sparing farmers a major cash outlay needed to convert to a TMR system, major time loss dealing with it every day, and a major headache trying to get the balance just so.

    As the Alfred workshop will discuss, converting to TMR involves much more than an investment of $15,000 to $100,000 depending on sophistication of the system; it involves a management switch, a "big leap of faith" in getting used to feeding cows as a group rather than as individuals, as well as constant monitoring of moisture and other impacts.

    Wheeler is part of the new agricultural technology resource super centre at Kemptville, a product of the recent re-alignment of OMAFRA services which resulted in the closing of front-line field offices across the province.

    Kemptville's Earl Pollock is now regional manager of client services for all of southern Ontario east of Brighton including resource centres there and at Alfred. With staff at Kemptville boosted from six to 20, OMAFRA offices on the KCAT campus have been considerably enlarged, said former Winchester agricultural representative Phyllis MacMaster reincarnated as regional information officer.

    Focusing on dairy along with Wheeler is Blair Murray, dairy genetic improvement specialist. Under the new regime, surveys to assess the mood and methods of the farming population will become more commonplace.

    Wheeler said adoption of TMR systems has been much slower here than in the U.S.; she estimated that about 35 per cent of Ontario herds are now on TMR. She pointed out that other experts in the field give both higher and lower estimates, reinforcing the need for the survey.

    Among reasons for the TMR holdup, Wheeler points to the high cost of quota on this side of the border; Ontario farmers can't simply invest $100,000 in TMR and expect to recoup it through heightened production and automatic extra milk sales as can their American counterparts.

    However, the economics are still pretty good with TMR-fed herds resulting in impressive gains in production and the experts insisting that the full genetic potential is curtailed with more traditional feeding concentrates.

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