April 23 2012 06:00 AM

Maximum standard for farm shipments will drop to 400,000 and 500,000.

Idaho and Oregon will become the leaders in U.S. raw milk quality in coming months, when maximum somatic cell count limits for farm milk shipments in those states drop to 400,000 and 500,000, respectively.

We hope it is a step of strong and visionary leadership that other states will have the guts to follow.

Idaho, which adopted a 500,000 SCC limit in 2010, will lower it to 400,000 on June 1. Oregon will lower its limit from 750,000 to 500,000 on July 1. Idaho has had a 500,000 limit since 2010. California has had a 600,000 limit for many years. The federal SCC limit remains at 750,000 despite recent strong efforts by national dairy groups to lower it to 400,000 by 2014.

The proposed change in Oregon came from the Oregon Dairy Farmers Association in 2011. Idaho's change was proposed by Idaho Dairymen's Association and processors across the state.

Producer leaders in both states said the changes were made to keep their dairy products competitive with those from Europe, Australia and New Zealand, which already have a 400,000 SCC limit. ODFA Executive Director Jim Krahn said he expects his board will begin working later this year to lower Oregon's limit to 400,000.

Milk quality in Idaho and Oregon is already among the best in the country, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In a summary of statewide SCC averages for herds enrolled in Dairy Herd Improvement Association (DHIA) testing in 2011, Oregon's average of 169,000 ranked number two in the nation at 169,000, and Idaho was number eight at 177,000. The U.S. average was 233,000.