Understanding Sporeforming Bacterial Entry at the Dairy Farm Level to Help Farmers Prepare for Export Markets

Dairy exports are an opportunity for NY farmers.  The challenge? Endospore-forming bacteria, which can persist through pasteurization and drying, can limit access to these markets.

This article was developed for the 2015 NYFVi annual report. More information about a subsequent NYFVI funded spore forming project can be found here and on the MQIP website.

Production of high-quality cheeses, dairy powders, and extended shelf life fluid milk starts with high-quality raw milk. Sporeforming bacteria create quality concerns in finished products and are regularly tracked in other countries.

The project, led by Professor Martin Wiedmann and Nicole Martin, the Associate Director of the Milk Quality Improvement Program at Cornell’s Department of Food Science sought to understand better the connection between on-farm production practices and the presence of spore-forming bacteria.

Researchers collected samples from the air, soil, water, feed, manure, bedding, teat and milking equipment at 17 dairy farms with a myriad of production practices to identify the spore forming bacteria that were present, and cross reference those data with bulk tank milk samples.
The analysis found that dairy relevant spores are associated with different on-farm sources. This knowledge, paired with the existing understanding of the characteristics of the various spores is of tremendous value.

For example, if a producer knows that their raw milk will be used for dairy powders, they will want to manage for the specific Highly Heat Resistant Spore associated with bedding and milking parlor equipment.
If the raw milk is being used for aged artisanal cheeses, the producer will want to control for the Butyric Acid Bacteria associated with teat ends, soil and drinking water.

While US cooperatives and processors pay premiums for low somatic cells and bacteria, increasing recognition of the importance of spore-forming bacteria is likely to create market premiums for raw milk with low spore former counts, as is already the case in the Netherlands.

“This better understanding of sporeforming bacteria is going to open up markets for my farm and my milk cooperative in the long term. The next step is to develop control strategies to show me how to produce low spore count milk for my customers based on their specific needs.”

John Mueller, Willow Bend Farm, LLC

Control strategies for reducing environmental spore loads and transmission of spores into bulk tank raw milk are being developed. This information will help prepare NY dairy farmers to capture premiums for their milk if economic incentives for low spore former counts are implemented.

Longer term, creating higher quality raw milk also allows dairy farmers to find new market areas for their product and will facilitate production of higher quality extended shelf life fluid milk products, expanding the demand for NY class I raw milk.