17th annual Great Lakes Regional Dairy Conference to help dairy producers weather the tough agriculture economy

The 17th annual Great Lakes Regional Dairy Conference will offer new tools and strategies to help dairy producers stay afloat in these tough economic times. The conference will be held Feb. 7-9, 2019, at the Bavarian Inn and Conference Center in Frankenmuth, Michigan.

The United Dairy Industry of Michigan (UDIM) will host an informal preconference session on Wednesday, Feb. 6, at 7 p.m. to provide an overview of the organization’s dairy promotion activities and answer attendees’ questions about UDIM programs. The meeting is free and open to people who aren’t registered for the whole conference.

Conference Sessions

The opening session on Thursday, Feb. 7, will feature Michigan State University Extension experts sharing techniques for helping farm employees become more engaged, productive and self-directed.

Next, producers will hear from Tom Vilsack, CEO of the U.S. Dairy Export Council and former U.S. Agriculture Secretary, who will share his outlook on U.S. trade relations for agriculture in general and the dairy industry specifically. Vilsack will discuss the current state of trade relations, where trade is headed and what it all means for the agriculture and dairy industries.

After lunch, Rob Rettig, a partner at New Vision Farms in northwest Ohio, will provide an overview of the operation’s unique approach to using partnerships to succeed now and as the agriculture landscape changes in the future. In a later breakout session, Rettig will share more in-depth information and answer producer questions. In addition to Rettig, producers can choose to hear from John Blanchfield on how to shockproof their farms for leaner times ahead and how to communicate better with their bankers or learn from Ev Thomas of Oakpoint Agronomics about predicting forage quality to improve their operations’ bottom line.

The afternoon will wrap up with an inside look at a Texas dairy in the producer perspective session. Donald DeJong, owner and CEO of AgriVision Farm Management LLC and co-owner and chief operating officer of Natural Prairie Dairy, will share an overview of his operation, which is one of the largest family-owned organic dairy farms in the U.S. He’ll also discuss how AgriVision Farm Management, a collaboration of family-owned and -operated businesses, works to enhance the dairy industry.

The evening will feature a reception, an exhibitor showcase and the Great Lakes Commercial Heifer Extravaganza XIV Sale.

The conference continues Friday morning, Feb. 8, with Ross Veltema of Top Grade Aggregates and Allen Bonthuis of AIS Equipment. The pair will offer a brief look at how agricultural producers can adapt waste reduction strategies from the aggregate industry to expand profit margins and improve bottom lines.

Next Kevin Dhuyvetter, a dairy technical consultant with Elanco Animal Health, will discuss the economic “macro-micro conundrum” – when economic conditions that are advantageous for the dairy industry as a whole may not be for individual producers, and vice versa. Dhuyvetter will also explain the economics of marginal milk.

Then producers will hear about current and emerging precision dairy technologies and how they relate to management, herd health and estrus from Elizabeth Eckelkamp, dairy Extension specialist and assistant professor at the University of Tennessee. Eckelkamp will highlight the economic impact of precision technologies and point out what producers need to know to make wise technology decisions for their dairies.

Drew Vermeire, president and consulting nutritionist with Nouriche Nutrition Ltd., will discuss economic strategies for raising the healthy, productive calves that are the future of dairy operations.

The morning will wrap up with a session focused on rediscovering how to thrive in tough times. If there’s one thing Mark Jewell is intimately familiar with, it’s living in survival mode. During his childhood, Jewell’s family was touched by events ranging from parental illness to fallout from animal activism. Jewell’s takeaway from these experiences is that we can learn to thrive even in the worst situations. He’ll share his “surviving to thriving” stories and uncover the ways we all can find light in the darkest of times.

Friday afternoon, attendees can choose to attend one of three educational workshops:

  • Dairy Research at MSU: Michigan Alliance for Animal Agriculture Projects – Adam Lock, Associate Professor, MSU Department of Animal Science

Since 2015, the Michigan Alliance for Animal Agriculture, or M-AAA, has supported research and Extension projects that aim to enhance the animal agriculture economy of Michigan. Attendees will learn about the results of projects funded by the M-AAA program on topics such as dairy cow nutrition, health, welfare, and reproduction; dairy farm management; and workforce development.

  • Learn From the Aggregate Industry to Expand Your Margins –Ross Veltema, Top Grade Aggregates, and Allen Bonthuis, AIS Equipment

In this follow-up to their earlier presentation, Veltema and Bonthuis will discuss how economic analysis and waste trimming strategies from the aggregate industry translate to agriculture. Attendees will have a chance to ask questions and learn key strategies to expand their margins.

  • Economic Considerations for Raising and Culling Dairy Replacement Heifers –Michael Overton, Advisor on Dairy Informatics, Elanco Animal Health

Explore the estimated cost of raising dairy replacement heifers from birth through calving, including the impact of mortality and elective culling. Michael Overton, D.V.M., will review an economic model that includes the contrasting effects of herd size, liquid diet and housing type. He will also provide an economic evaluation of a heifer culling strategy that includes both the extra cost and potential increase in value.

The final day of the conference (Saturday, Feb. 9) will feature the annual meetings of the Michigan Jersey and Michigan Holstein Associations, starting at 9 a.m.


Adult, student and farm registration options are available. Register by Jan. 25, 2019, to receive a discount of up to $25 a day. Online registration closes at midnight on Feb. 3, 2019. On-site registration is subject to availability.

For more information about the conference or to register online visit www.glrdc.org. To register by phone, call 517-884-7089.