DES MOINES, Iowa — A 2012 report by Iowa State University showed the state’s dairy industry had already been a strong economic driver in Iowa and the Midwest – and is poised for continual growth, according to the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS).
“Iowa dairy processors have continued to grow and expand their processing capabilities with the continuing upswing in milk production,” said David Brown, IDALS dairy products bureau chief. “Farm numbers are down, but cow and milk production have grown.”
The report added “among all Midwest states, Iowa is the only one to grow for two decades, and counting.”
Currently, Iowa ranks 12th in the nation in total pounds of milk produced, milk cow numbers and production per cow, and fourth in ice cream production, with Des Moines remaining the nation’s No. 1 large-city-per-capita in milk consumption.
In addition, Iowa has 204,000 dairy cows on 1,403 farms, producing 4.35 billion pounds of milk every year, contributing $1.5 billion-plus annually to Iowa’s economy and generating 26,000-plus jobs, IDALS stated.
Dave Miller, Iowa Farm Bureau Federation director of research and commodity services, said Iowa dairy cow numbers have increased more than 7 percent since 2012.
“In that same time, milk production in Iowa has increased by 14.6 percent,” he said. “The Iowa dairy industry is seeing growth in both cow numbers and in production per cow. Both are increasing at a rate of 1.4 percent per year.”
Nationally, milk production since 2012 has increased by 7.3 percent and dairy cow inventory increased by 1.7 percent, he added.
“This would indicate that production per cow is increasing at a faster rate in Iowa than in the country as a whole, and dairy herd expansion is also greater in Iowa than in the country as a whole.”
The 2012 report also indicated: “Iowa has tremendous water resources, people resources, feed resources, transportation infrastructure, dairy heritage and consistent top markets, describing a place with competitive advantage in all the main categories.”
“This has proven to be true,” Miller said. “The Iowa dairy industry continues to grow as it capitalizes on all of the competitive strengths that the state has.”
David Lawstuen, chair of the Iowa Dairy Center at Northeast Iowa Community College in Calmar, said for the last decade, Iowa has remained static as the nation’s No. 12 dairy state. However, “our annual milk production has increased from nearly 900 million pounds to nearly 5.2 billion pounds annually, with just a modest increase of 5,000 cows.”
Moreover, while the greatest positive change is the productivity increase as each cow in Iowa produces on average 23,725 pounds annually – a 3,600 percent annual increase in 10 years – Lawstuen said “the negative would be the reduction in the number of dairy farms, from 2,130 to 1,200, indicating that 930 Iowa dairy farms have discontinued production in the last decade.”
On the other hand, Iowa dairy farmers have been at the forefront of adapting technology. “If you look at the number of dairy farms using robotic milking systems, compared to total number of dairies on a percentage basis, Iowa is right at the top,” he said.
Brown said while Iowa saw a decline in the number of small family farms, “on a more positive note, robotic milking systems have helped bring back some family members to the farm as they look to have more family time and freedom.
“We continue to see an increased interest in adding value-added products to the family dairy farm,” he explained. “We currently have 21 on-farm processors, with two more in the planning and construction phases. This is not really a new trend, but becomes more popular in trying economic times.”