By TIM ALEXANDER
PEORIA, Ill. — Increased global demand for dairy products under pressure from population growth, urbanization and climate change tops the issues of importance for U.S. dairy farmers, according to a multiyear study conducted by scientists from the United States, the United Kingdom and Sweden.
The increase in demand will require dairy farmers to respond – at least for the next half-century – by adapting to production practices that enhance sustainable water systems, and allow for adequate water supplies and adequate growing seasons, said Dr. Jack Britt, University of North Carolina professor and dean emeritus.
“Dairy farmers in 2067 will meet the world’s demand for essential nutrients by adopting technologies and practices that provide improved cow health and longevity, profitable dairy farms and sustainable agriculture,” he explained.
The authors of the study forecast that dairy farmers will be privy to technology that will adopt methods to manage the microbiomes of bovine digestive systems and other body systems to increase animal health and well-being, Britt stated.
The study further predicts the dairy industry will increase production and safety through consolidation, modernization and specialization. “Our vision is that dairying in the future will reflect sustainable intensification that benefits animals, agroecosystems and humankind through production of key nutrients for human consumption,” he added.
There are currently approximately 9.3 million milk cows in the United States, including 93,000 in Illinois, according to the 2017 USDA-National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) U.S. and Illinois Cattle County Estimates reports. “The peak inventory (in Illinois) was back in the 1930s and 1940s and the inventory has declined fairly steadily since then,” said Mark Schluesener, Illinois state statistician for NASS.
Historical records provided by Schluesener reveal there were 1.23 million milk cows on Illinois farms in 1935, the most on record since the Census of Agriculture began in 1867 (the inventory was 590,000 then). More than 100,000 dairy cows were counted in Illinois as recently as 10 years ago, and 168,000 were recorded in 1993.
Nationally, there were roughly 13,000 dairy herds in the U.S. during 2014, compared to 24,841 herds in 1999, according to statista, an online statistics portal.
But things are looking up for dairy producers after a prolonged period of depressed margins and profits. Under the improved Margin Protection Program, producers had until June 1 to enroll for coverage that provides payments based on the difference between the national all-milk price and the national average feed cost.
The program, enacted through the 2018 Bipartisan Budget Act, made several changes to provide better protections for dairy producers from shifting milk and feed prices, according to the USDA.
In addition, to respond to the need for Illinois dairy producers to maximize efficiency and productivity to meet demand and improve their bottom line, the University of Illinois Dairy Focus Team was formed. Its focus is to provide an objective perspective to audit dairy operations for potential improvements.
“Knowing a dairy cow’s potential causes of inefficiency and efficiency is key to improving its performance,” said Ines Rivelli-Bixquert, a doctoral researcher for the U of I Department of Animal Sciences and leader of the Dairy Focus Team.
The team’s most recent data on nutrition and efficiency are available to producers for no charge at www.dairyfocus.illinois.edu
In recognition of U.S. Dairy Month, Illinois dairyists Amy and Beth Marcoot recently told the story of their seventh-generation family dairy farm on “Oprah’s SuperSoul Conversations” and are guests on the June 19 “Gastropod” podcast. The sisters’ story exemplifies the devotion to sustainability and innovation characteristic of forward-thinking producers.
From animal care to on-site food production, to the design of their facility and their efficient use of natural resources, the sisters have taken steps to ensure the land on which they farm will remain sustainable for generations to come, according to a June National Dairy Month news release from Midwest Dairy.
The Marcoots produce farmstead cheeses, ice cream and even honey at their Greenville farm, where they also operate a country store and host learning opportunities for youth and adult groups. Their podcast appearances are part of the Undeniably Dairy campaign, a month-long national effort led by the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy to spotlight the many families across the country who are devoted to dairy production.
National Milk Month, the precursor to National Dairy Month, was established in 1937. The moniker was later updated at the urging of the National Dairy Council. In 2012, sales of milk in the United States totaled $35.5 billion, according to the U.S. Census of Agriculture.