SERA15: Competitiveness and Sustainability of the Southern Dairy Industry

(Multistate Research Coordinating Committee and Information Exchange Group)

Status: Active

SERA15: Competitiveness and Sustainability of the Southern Dairy Industry

Duration: 10/01/2015 to 09/30/2019

Administrative Advisor(s):

NIFA Reps:

Statement of Issues and Justification

The first Southern Dairy Conference (SDC) was held on February 5-6, 1976 in Atlanta, Georgia with the overall objective of focusing on problems and issues affecting the entire dairy industry in the South. The original program committee, made up of southern agricultural economists and dairy scientists with diverse research and extension responsibilities in dairy, envisioned this conference as a forum for the discussion of issues of mutual concern to producers, processors, retailers, regulatory personnel, cooperative leaders, government officials, university specialists, and others with an interest in the dairy industry. That affiliation has evolved into the Southern Extension and Research Activity Information Exchange Group (SERA-IEG-15). An annual SDC has endured as the signature product of that affiliation. The SDC fosters relationships between participants, producing beneficial outcomes as a result of those joint efforts. This document requests renewal of SERA-IEG-15.

Under the auspices of the current SERA-IEG-15, members have planned and conducted five annual SDC meetings. The SDC is a one and one half day conference held in late January or early February in Atlanta, Georgia bringing together a variety of stakeholders in the southern dairy industry. Stakeholders include dairy producers, dairy industry personnel responsible for matters impacting the economics as well as the technical and public health aspects of the dairy industry, university personnel responsible for both dairy research and extension oriented activities and representatives shaping state and federal dairy policies. Conference topics and the identification of individuals best suited to address those topics are chosen in the late summer by SERA members via telephone conference calls, emails, and other modes of communications. The Southeast United Dairy Industry Association, Inc. (SUDIA) participates in program planning to help identify conference topics and speakers. A number of SERA members are also on the SUDIA Scientific Advisory Board. SUDIA holds their annual Scientific Advisory Board Meeting in the afternoon following the SDC morning session on the second day.

Due to the diversity of the Southeast dairy industry, annual SDC programs feature repetitive and contemporary topics. Repetitive topics address national and regional dairy situations and outlooks, one or more aspects of current or proposed dairy policy, and the future of the Southeast dairy industry. Frequently presented topics during the last five years have included the current dairy situation and outlook, dairy policy and the farm bill, U.S. milk production and global markets, margin insurance, and factors impacting farm milk prices and price volatility. Examples of some of the contemporary topics and topic areas presented during the past five years have included organic milk production in the Southeast, on farm processing, somatic cell counts and milk quality, animal well-being, enhancing dairy’s image, pasture based dairying in the Southeast, using social media, and research on nutrition and health benefits of dairy foods. Proceedings of the 1999 through the present SDC can be found at:, a web site currently maintained by the University of Kentucky. The 1999 through the current proceedings are also available on S-PAC (Searchable Proceedings of Animal Conferences). Members of the American Registry of Professional Animal Scientists (ARPAS) can also receive required continuing education units for attending the SDC.

The existence of the SERA project has served to facilitate discussions leading to various collaborations and also as a way to share results from such collaborations within the region. The following is a partial list of collaborative activities that are occurring in the SERA states. Many of these efforts involve work that our SERA members normally perform and some are direct outcomes from initiating and planning of the SDC by the advisory committee.

• The Southeast Quality Milk Initiative created by Dr. Steve Oliver of TN is a collaborative outreach, educational, and applied research program on mastitis quality control by scientists at six Land Grant Universities in the Southeast and is supported by a 5-year AFRI grant. A survey of farmer’s attitudes and perceptions about mastitis and their ability to affect outcomes is being conducted in seven Southeastern states. Although this work was initiated outside of our group, it is not totally separate from the work that many of our SERA members perform.

• The Southeast Dairy Herd Management Conference was combined with the Georgia Milk Producers Conference in 2012. The GA Milk Producers conference draws producers from SC and FL and a SERA member is on the program committee.

• The Louisiana/Mississippi Dairy Conference is held annually in January or February in McComb, MS. This conference is planned by extension representatives in LA and MS.

• A graduate student from Mississippi State University conducted part of his analytical work in the Dairy Nutrition Laboratory at LSU, and Dr. Cathy Williams, LSU, served on his graduate committee. Dr. Stephanie Ward, a SERA member from MS, will be serving on a graduate committee for a dairy nutrition student at LSU.

• The University of Georgia and University of Florida have a joint Corn Silage Field Day targeted to dairy and beef producers. The 2014 meeting was held on May 29th in Citra, FL and rotates annually between Tifton, GA and Citra, FL. Mary Sowerby coordinates a FL/GA Dairy Grazing Group which meets three times per year at various grazing dairies in the morning and forage or dairy science speakers in the afternoon.

• Multi-state cooperation has produced a Mid-Atlantic Dairy Grazing Conference every other year for the past several years. The 10th Mid-Atlantic Dairy Grazing Conference is being hosted in GA in 2014. Other conferences have been held in VA, NC, and MD.

• Albert DeVries and Mary Sowerby of FL are co-PIs with Curt Lacy, GA and Mohammed Ibrahim (Fort Valley State University, GA) on a SARE grant for Improving the Profitability and Sustainability of Grazing Dairies in GA and AL.

• A calf and colostrum management survey is being conducted in AL, LA, and MS. This effort is being led by SERA members in LA.

• A dairy crossbreeding project using Holsteins and Jerseys involved Virginia Tech, Kentucky, and NC State as an example of multi-state collaboration in the past decade. This project was part of a long-term regional/national dairy genetics research project that was initiated in the South many years ago.

• Since 2006, the Southern Dairy Challenge has become another venue for faculty at various institutions to expand the learning opportunities for dairy-interested students across the region. As many as 20 different colleges and universities (public and private) have had students participate in one or more Southern Dairy Challenge events which have been hosted in VA, LA (2), NC, KY, MS, FL, and SC.

Stakeholders in the dairy industry in the Southeast have definitely benefited from the dialogue and interactions that have occurred as a result of the join planning and conduct of the SDC. The current dairy industry in the Southeast is declining despite increasing demand for dairy products fueled by an ever increasing population in area of the U.S. Effective communication between the remaining educators and researchers and the declining number of stakeholders should be continued to help sustain the dairy industry in the Southeast.

The six objectives proposed below for the replacement SERA-IEG-15 project facilitate both the creation of dialogue and the involvement of stakeholders in appreciation of regional and national dairy industry challenges and priorities. Because the focus of an IEG is on the creation of dialogue which entails human interaction, these objectives complement, by promoting synergy among members as contrasted to duplicating or competing with, on-going dairy work in the Southern region. For these reasons, a SERA is the best mechanism for achieving these objectives because a SERA accommodates the involvement of any individual with an interest in the Southern dairy industry regardless of their disciplinary training or defined land-grant responsibilities.

The benefit or impacts from the accomplishments of SERA will follow from the dialogue that it promotes among its members. This dialogue, in turn, is expected to generate serendipitous effects similar to those that created the refundable tax credits in some SERA states and the realization of SARE or other multi-collaborator grants.


  1. To provide an annual conference, the SDC, focusing on the competiveness and sustainability of the southern dairy industry. This conference strengthens relationships by bringing together various stakeholders including producers, processors, and regulatory and academic personnel with a common interest in the competitiveness and sustainability of the Southern Dairy Industry.
  2. Obtain feedback from SDC attendees through use of an evaluation form (evaluate topic areas, individual presentations, meeting location, etc.) to be completed and returned at the end of the conference. Results will be distributed to all planning committee members and used to improve attendance and plan future meetings.
  3. Keep stakeholders informed about dairy related research and/or extension activities conducted by the sponsoring Southern Land Grant Universities by having one or more presentations at the SDC that discuss research and/or extension activities currently being conducted by the sponsoring Universities.
  4. Maintain a website to post proceedings and disseminate information from the SDC.
  5. To use the annual SERA meeting, prior to the SDC, along with schedule conference calls as a venue to enhance relationships and initiate and/or expand collaborative research, teaching and outreach activities at Land Grand Universities in the Southeast.
  6. Maintain a strong relationship with Southeast United Dairy Industry Association, Inc. (SUDIA) personnel in the promotion of the dairy industry. SUDIA personnel will be included in SDC planning meetings and also the annual SERA meeting prior to the SDC.

Procedures and Activities

The SDC has a history of involving participants from external agencies as their actions impact the competitiveness and sustainability of the Southern Dairy Industry. These agencies range from the Environmental Protection Agency to the Dairy Division of the Food and Drug Administration. External groups such as the Dairy Division of USDA, Federal Milk Marketing Order administrators, and executives of dairy marketing cooperatives and dairy manufacturing companies will be invited to send representatives to selected SERA activities. Continued participation by SUDIA will be encouraged because it provides that organization with access to a core of southern dairy industry workers at a common location and time.

Expected Outcomes and Impacts

  • The objectives will be accomplished by conducting one yearly meeting of SERA-IEG-15 members just prior to the SDC. The purpose is for planning and implementing the annual SDC and to report on appropriate state and multistate activities. Conference calls will also be used as needed throughout the year. Additional contacts among subgroup members are a natural consequence of face to face discussions and familiarity with interests and abilities of other members. The collective set of contacts serves to create the dialogue that is key to the satisfaction of Objectives 1, 2, 3, 5, and 6. Objective 4 will be satisfied through the posting of information at and posting proceedings on S-PAC.
  • Some of the existing collaborative efforts currently involving SERA members and states will carry over into the proposed project. The results of these efforts in applied research and educational programing will be reported to SERA members during the annual SERA meeting. Additional states will be asked to participate in these efforts as appropriate. The information obtained from these collaborative efforts will help sustain the Southern dairy industry
  • The annual SDC will continue to provide a venue for disseminating current, relevant information to stakeholders as well as fostering interactions among participants. Information from the participant survey will be used to improve programs and enhance attendance at future Conferences and to help direct research and extension programing to help increase sustainability of the Southern dairy industry.
  • The replacement SERA will continue to provide a venue that will encourage faculty in the Southern Land Grant Universities to come together to exchange ideas and develop multi-collaborative grants and extension programs that help cope with declining dairy personnel and resources in the Southeast. A USDA-AFRI CAP Grant focusing on research, teaching and extension programming to increase sustainability of the Southern dairy industry will be submitted.
  • SUDIA holds their annual Scientific Advisory Board meeting immediately after the SDC. During this meeting SUDIA provides media training and educational programs for SERA members on their Scientific Advisory Board. This training is a valuable benefit to SERA members and their Universities in dealing with the media questions about various aspects of the Southern dairy industry.

Projected Participation

View Appendix E: Participation

Educational Plan


Literature Cited


Land Grant Participating States/Institutions


Non Land Grant Participating States/Institutions

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