On Oct. 30, I interviewed Ray Prock (@RayLinDairy) for #onthefarm. Ray is the second dairy farmer that I interviewed. When I interviewed Will Gilmer of @gilmerdairy back in August, the dairy industry was undergoing some tough times. Ray confirmed times are still tough two months later, especially in California, where Ray and others are dealing with stricter regulations than the rest of the country. Ray was also very open about his family farm, which is run in two states by he, two brothers and his father. I hope it gives you a glimpse into a modern farmer’s operation.
For the second part of the interview, we discussed Ray’s involvement in social media. Ray is an avid user, and he gives great reasons why aggies should get involved.
On a personal note, I really want to thank all those who followed the interview on Friday afernoon. I’m glad Ray and I were able to keep your attention for 90 minutes. Ray gave you quite a few good lines to retweet!
So, here’s Friday’s #onthefarm. I apologize that I moved it from Thursday to Friday on short notice, and that it took more than two days to get it posted to the blog.
Oh, and make sure you check out Ray’s blog: http://raylindairy.wordpress.com/
n_web: There’s Ray. Thanks for joining me this afternoon. Let’s talk some dairy and social media. Q1 coming up. Q1: Take a few tweets to give a bio and some background on your family dairy farm.
RayLinDairy: Thanks Nick I appreciate the opportunity that this gives farmers like myself to let ourselves be heard through. I am a 2nd generation dairy farmer in Central CA. My parents started the dairy in the early 70’s. We currently milk ~425 cows in on the dairy & farm ~130 acres with ~50 acres of pasture. On the farmground we raise Corn Silage, Forage Silage (Oat/Wheat mixture), & R currently cutting the 3rd crop of the yr Sudan. We also raise our own Alfalfa & Oat hay on a ranch near @jefffowle in Klamath Falls, OR on ~450 of the 1200 acres we have there. I manage the dairy portion of our operation and have 2 brothers along with my Father involved in the whole operation
n_web: Q2: Interesting, farming in 2 states. What’s that like? Can you share the strategy behind that?
RayLinDairy: Land cost was the biggest factor we needed to grow the operation to handle bringing in another family member. Diversifying was an added benefit the ranch needed a lot of TLC and we are finally seeing the benefits of that being done. The quality and quantity of feed coming from there has increased drastically with balanced fertilizer and soil management. As far as cost the 1200 acres in OR was purchased for the same $ 60 acres in our are would have cost
n_web: Q3: Can you explain the dynamic of your family operation? I’m guessing dad has a lot to say in what the boys do? :)
RayLinDairy: Q3 yes we are dealing with the new way versus old right now i.e. To me the computer is a tool to Dad it is a “Gizmo.” We are currently trying to work through a transition plan to move into a new “era” of management. I tend to manage the dairy or cow portion my brother here handles the farming and dad works between K Falls and here. The K-Falls operation is handled by another Brother.
RayLinDairy: There is light at the end of our economic crisis tunnel. Biggest question now is can we get there? We R so far behind we’re running out of equity to borrow against. Most dairies right now R getting to the end of the credit rope
n_web: Q5: What have you done to hang in there? Can you give specific examples?
RayLinDairy: We had already leaned out in prev yrs by doing as much repair work in house I handle 98% of the dairy equipment repair. Cutting the middleman out of our hay buying helped also. Otherwise it was just watching the bottom line.
n_web: One or two more Qs on dairy and then on to SM: Q6: What rules/regs do you abide by that would surprise non-aggies? I guess the point of that Q is to learn more about what you have to do as a farmer to bring dairy products to my table.
RayLinDairy: In our area of CA we just recently came under new Environmental regulations that are the tightest in the nation. The estimated additional costs 2 the avg dairy is ~$30-40K yr & this is unrecoverable because we don’t set the $ we sell R milk 4. We also have extensive food safety regulations to meet Dairy is most regulated food source from harvest to consumption. The milk Parlor on a dairy is inspected similar to restaurants and food processing facilities. I failed to mention the Environmental regs cover both water and air quality. To meet the environmental reg we have installed several measures to contain water on our facility for reuse.
n_web: Q7: so does the add. costs mean the dairy industry is struggling in CA? Can that mean you’ll see an exodus of dairy from CA?
RayLinDairy: Q7 More than likely most new dairies will be built outside of CA. 4 example Hilmar Cheese Co’s decision to build a plant in TX. Dairy is struggling nationwide. CA’s cost of production advantage is rapidly eroding if not gone completely.
n_web: Q9: Let’s turn to some positive stuff: You’re active in SM. What got you into it? Are your brothers interested? What’s the value?
RayLinDairy: SM addiction started w/ a webinar from Dairy Marketing Inc. and then @mpaynknoper threw more fuel on the fire. No one else in the operation looks at a computer or technology the way I do. The value isn’t 4 me personally or my biz directly however Ag in general so as to help the public understand why we do what we do. SM for me is the easiest way to connect with the most people rapidly I can connect with more ppl here daily than @ a supermarket. I am actually refocusing on relationships & the convo that comes from them in my SM activities. SM also allows many like minded individuals take down geographical barriers and collaborate on projects
n_web: Q10: As a farmer, do you feel a bit rejuvenated by SM? As in, you have more control over your story now?
RayLinDairy: SM makes it easier for me to be an advocate for Ag & farming and still stay on the farm to manage my business. If I had to travel to meet as many people as I have through SM I would not have time to do my daily job or have family time. SM is allowing the Farmer to get their voice back and reach out beyond their fencelines to all parts of the globe. SM has also made new connections on a local level i.e. the trip @modesto6 & his family made 2 my dairy & the resulting video. In short I think SM is one of the best things to become available to Ag & farmers
RayLinDairy: Q11 Yes @farm2u was born out of a collaboration between @farmerhaley @kansasfarmer & I. The idea is to allow a person to connect to a farmer easily with no politics or hard sell just relational convo. We have also worked together to help focus our message through SM. Funny thing is we have never personally met. We were looking into a “list” style project long B4 Twitter Lists among other projects
RayLinDairy: Yes exactly. The team concept behind @farm2u is to spread the workload and to hopefully not affect our personal SM efforts. The @farm2u account is also strictly a from the “farmer” by the “farmer” project
n_web: OK, I like audience Qs, so I have two and then we’ll let Ray get back to providing our dairy products.
n_web: Q: (wished to remain anonymous): can you address today’s veal slaughterhouse news, how to create value 4 male dairy calves?
RayLinDairy: Through the use of technology and science we are moving towards more Artificial Insemination products that are sorted for sex. Through the use of this technology & w/ the combination of a better market indicator system the number of male calves should B <
RayLinDairy: The herd reduction program IMO is a band aid and the true problem is to create a system w/ better market signals 2 the farmer. If we can get the correct market indicators the supply should be indicative of the signal. We need a method of clearing the market when the supply is out of control
n_web: OK, last Q: Anything else you want people to know about? Your time to pitch!
RayLinDairy: Just that we as farmers using SM are here to answer questions about how we raise/grow food. We as farmers/ranchers care greatly about our animals, our environment, and our communities.
n_web: Thanks for your time today, Ray. Educational as always. Sorry I kept you around an extra 30 min. Hope everyone enjoyed it!
RayLinDairy: No problem Nick I am more than willing to do my part to help others learn about how I farm.
n_web: Thanks to all who watched. I’ll have the transcript up on my blog over the weekend, probably Sunday night. Have a good one!