This past February, we announced an exciting new stage to an already prolific partnership. This year, the FARM Program and the beef checkoff-funded Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) program will collaborate to offer more training opportunities for farmers and ranchers.
Education is the key to preventing health and wellness problems for cattle down the road. The BQA partnership will extend the scope of the FARM Program’s educational materials, as well as harness the expertise that BQA’s educators can provide to our producers. Working together, we will continue to assure consumers that their meat and milk comes from animals that receive optimal care throughout the animals’ lives.
To help our FARM Program participants understand this opportunity in more detail, FARM spoke with Chase DeCoite, associate director of the BQA program:
What was behind the decision to partner with the FARM Program?
The decision came about after looking for a better way to reach dairy producers with educational material and information about beef quality. The Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) program already had a Dairy BQA program that had high-quality information and resources, but not a wide audience of dairy producers. With FARM undergoing its Version 3.0 revision process, we thought it was a great opportunity to work with FARM administrators and dairy industry leaders to incorporate some of Dairy BQA’s key principles into a program that was already reaching our target audience.
Dairy animals have a dual purpose. After spending their lives producing milk, those animals work their way into the beef supply chain. Therefore, dairy producers participate in the beef checkoff and as such, the checkoff-funded BQA program has long felt it was important to offer those producers the same resources and information as it does to beef producers.
What are some similarities and differences between BQA and FARM?
BQA has a long history of providing beef producers with educational tools and resources to continuously improve their operations. While FARM is a younger program, it has the same goals. Major similarities revolve around record keeping, animal health plans, minding withdrawal periods when administering animal health products, and low-stress stockmanship principles.
While the goals and resources of both programs are similar, the programs have different approaches to reaching their respective audiences. BQA is a grassroots educational effort with a wide network of BQA trainers and coordinators in most states. It is a nationally coordinated, state-implemented program. Individuals that complete BQA trainings are certified as an individual. This communicates that the individual has been trained in BQA best management practices and understands the overarching concepts of BQA. The FARM Program is different in that the educational resources and trainings culminate in an on-farm evaluation process. BQA does not require evaluations of operations, though it does provide beef producers with assessment tools that they can use, should they desire.
Tell us more about the training opportunities available to dairy producers as a result of this partnership. What makes them so valuable and where can producers access them?
BQA supports a program called Stockmanship and Stewardship, which travels the country and provides live cattle-handling demonstrations to both beef and dairy audiences. Because Version 3.0 of the FARM Program has a greater emphasis on stockmanship, we are working to expand our program to reach a larger dairy audience. Our Stockmanship and Stewardship clinicians have been presenting to dairy audiences for years and are excited for the opportunity to do more with the dairy sector. Dairy producers should keep an eye out for programs coming to their region soon.
Additionally, we are working with FARM to develop stockmanship training modules that producers and employees can access if a live demonstration is not available or they prefer to train that way. Both in-person and online training will satisfy the stockmanship training requirement for FARM Version 3.0.
Stockmanship and BQA training are hugely successful because producers will typically start noticing things they can do to improve their operations. We often hear testimony of how beef and dairy producers have made simple changes in how they handle their cattle and notice improvements in milk production, worker safety and the overall work environment.
Will dairy farmers be able to access any BQA resources through this partnership? If so, how can they do it?
Yes! BQA resources are available to all beef and dairy producers. We have a wide array of resources, from BQA guidelines and manuals to online training modules, as well as a robust and growing YouTube channel. We encourage dairy producers to check out all of these tools at www.bqa.org. We are also working with FARM to tailor some key resources that will be posted on the FARM Program website.
What does BQA see as some of the looming pressures in the marketplace related to beef sourcing and quality (i.e. more claims about no antibiotics used in meat production)?
The beef industry faces many of the same pressures as dairy. Consumers today are increasingly interested in where their food comes from and how the animals are raised and treated.
Specifically, we see a lot of questions from consumers and retail partners about antibiotic use and animal welfare. Some retailers are looking to provide more choices to their consumers, and others want to be assured that their products are being raised according to industry best practices. Largely, we are seeing that BQA and FARM are answering these questions and concerns once folks learn about the programs. Still, both the beef and dairy industries must continuously evaluate and improve their programs to meet consumer demands while also remaining committed to the best management practices developed from sound science and research. I hope and expect that more retailers, restaurants and foodservice groups will adopt and endorse BQA and FARM as programs that satisfy their expectations and animal welfare policies.
What is one thing you want dairy producers to know about BQA and this partnership?
BQA has long been committed to providing producers with the tools, resources and materials to improve their operations. We see this partnership as the next step in that commitment. We provide resources and training that complement the FARM Program and give dairy producers the tools to be even more successful in their quest to provide high-quality, wholesome, delicious milk – and meat! We look forward to working together to improve and enhance the beef and dairy industries.