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Director's Column

by Desmond Jolly, director, Small Farm Program

The American dairy farm, perhaps more than any other type of farming operation, has typified the popular image of the American family farm. For that reason, along with the significance of milk to human nutrition and health, public policy has not only regulated the safety and quality of milk, but has supported a dependable and adequate supply. As science and its applications to animal selection and breeding have increased the productivity of dairy cows, public policies have protected dairy operations by stabilizing milk prices. A key method of accomplishing this has been through the purchase of manufactured milk products.

But public policies are changing, and dairy price supports will be eliminated by the beginning of the new millennium. This will impose a new marketing environment on dairy producers, and necessitate adjustments of various sorts. This issue of our newsletter presents three different models of adjustment to the changing economic and political landscape. The first model represents a fairly traditional approach that entails efforts to increase cow and resource productivity by increasing volumes and decreasing costs. The latest wrinkle in this approach is the development and marketing of the hormone BST. Its use is complicated by concerns about animal welfare and consumer reactions.

The second model is provided by the case of Clover Stornetta Farms, which has repositioned its product, production methods, and marketing to respond to consumer concerns and consumer preferences. Yet a third approach to marketing is organic milk and milk-derived products, described here by the case study about the Straus Family Creamery. Clearly, as the policy environment for milk and the dairy industry changes, the industry will become more differentiated. Entrepreneurial approaches will vary according to the resources, interests, preferences, and constraints of the various operations. But the three approaches described here show some patterns that are emerging as options utilized by producers or groups of producers.

20th Anniversary Celebration

This year the University of California Small Farm Program celebrates its twentieth anniversary. Created by legislation in 1979, the Small Farm Program has endured and evolved in its efforts to effectively serve small-and moderate scale agricultural producers and alternative marketers in the state of California.

Through applied research, demonstrations, workshops and conferences, the Program has extended cutting edge information to users. Through our web site, our newsletter, and our information system, we now have a global reach.

This year of celebration will be initiated by the Continuing Conference on Small Farms on March 30 and 31, which includes the Celebration Banquet on March 30th. U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Deputy Secretary Richard Rominger will be the Celebration Banquet's keynote speaker. Awards of Excellence will be presented for exemplary achievements in farming and agricultural education and research. Other activities throughout the year are planned to commemorate the 20th anniversary.

USDA Settlement with African-American Farmers

USDA is a farflung enterprise operating in some areas under constraints imposed by regional or local cultures. African-American farmers have charged in a lawsuit against USDA - and USDA now seems to have implicitly agreed - that the manner in which USDA field offices in the south operated was tantamount to expropriation of their land. The USDA settlement may be viewed as too little, too late, but it represents a form of reconciliation. The farmers, who had in some cases been wrongfully dispossessed of their farms, will not be made whole in terms of restoration of their farms. But the settlement will stimulate greater efforts at equal treatment in the allocation of resources and the extension and operation of services to USDA clientele.